By Meghan Ferriter, Ph.D., Project Coordinator, Smithsonian Transcription Center
While it’s true that we think of the Transcription Center as a site of discovery, we don’t always anticipate which specific connections will be uncovered in the process of transcription.
Recently, I had the opportunity to learn about the delight of discovery directly from one of our volunteers. Siobhan Leachman and I talked via e-mail about her experiences transcribing from New Zealand – and what she had learned about Field Book Project researchers and expeditions. I asked Siobhan to share more about how she got hooked on transcribing, after she noted that she was a bit tentative at first.
SL: The project that really got me addicted was Vernon Bailey's field notes. I started on that not long after it was uploaded. The main reason I enjoyed that project so much was Vernon’s spare but descriptive writing style. He was writing about wolves, which to me are a lot more interesting than insects or plants, and was also describing the conditions he had to put up with on his trip as well as the people he came in contact with. It made his journal come alive. I worked solidly on his journal over one weekend and transcribed most of it in the space of three days with the help of some other enthusiastic volunteers. I was completely hooked and kept working on it as I wanted to know what happened next. For me it was like reading a movie script, I had images of “Dances with Wolves” going through my head, and there was always something interesting happening just on the next page.
|Page 3 of Vernon Bailey's field book, "Journal kept by Bailey on field trip to Wyoming and New Mexico, March 15-June 1906 ." Smithsonian Institution Archives. RU007267, Box 2, Folder 4.|
Siobhan previously shared that, after working on Vernon’s field notes, she was most interested in Florence Bailey, Vernon’s wife. Fortunately, Florence was also a researcher and ornithologist – if you’re a regular Field Book Project blog reader, you may recall a post written by Lesley Parilla about the couple and their long research careers. Before Florence’s field notes were available in the Transcription Center, however, Siobhan had the chance to work on Frederick Coville’s field notes. Very quickly, connections between the projects were becoming clear:
SL: Once I started doing more transcribing more names started to become familiar. Vernon Bailey mentioned C. Hart Merriam, who I’ve since learned is Florence Bailey’s brother. Florence of course being Vernon’s wife. Then there are Coville’s field notes, that also mention a person called Bailey, who I’m assuming will either be Florence or more likely Vernon. After a while I realised that these groups of people working in the same area, at the same time, and are of course colleagues. They mention each other in their diaries and journals. It makes it a more interesting experience for me if I know the background of the people I’m working on.
We also have Leonhard Stejneger’s field notes from an expedition with C. Hart Merriam in the Transcription Center! Right alongside our volunteers, we are learning about the social histories and political relationships outlined in the transcriptions. As the Field Book Project digitizes field notes for easier access to this wealth of scientific activity, it also gives us insight into daily lives in different regions of the world. Siobhan emphasized that the details drew deeper connections into these projects.
SL: I’ve enjoyed [Vernon Bailey and Florence Bailey] field journals. They are such descriptive writers who go to the trouble of describing their surroundings and in particular other people. Florence describes tuberculosis patients as well as their family members on a train. She eaves drops constantly on conversations and is very good at giving you a real image of what it was like. You could almost be sitting next to her on the train. …[Also in her] description of San Francisco in 1907. I found it fascinating that she didn’t mention the word earthquake at all, but went into great detail about the devastation of the fires on the city.
|Page 29 of Florence Merriam Bailey's field book, "Journal, California, 1907." Smithsonian Institution Archives. RU007417, Box 1.|
We love the idea of taking a train ride with some of the Field Book Project scientists – a viewpoint you’ll get if you help review Florence’s notes in the Transcription Center. You might take on Siobhan’s thoughtful advice on transcribing from the “volunpeer” perspective.
SL: My advice for any new volunteer transcriber is find a project you love. If you are anything like me, you’ll feel like you are making wonderful new friends, even though the people whose work you are transcribing have died long before you were born. I would have loved to have invited Vernon and Florence to dinner. And I know they would have loved New Zealand. Particularly Florence as we’ve got so many native birds she’d never have seen. She would have been fascinated.
Indeed, the Baileys would surely be fascinated by New Zealand natural life. Many thanks to Siobhan for sharing her story. We are grateful to our dedicated volunteers and always welcome new members to our community. Have you transcribed in the Transcription Center? What have you discovered? Get in touch with us via e-mail or on Twitter and share your story.