by Lesley Parilla, Field Book Project
There are many skills needed in the natural sciences. Successful and thoughtful study of natural history relies on a host of individuals whose skills and personalities vary dramatically depending on their role. There must be someone to excel at collecting specimens (and dealing with all the challenges that come with that), study the specimens, taxonomy, collection management, and explanation of resulting scientific findings. Modern natural history also requires the ability to communicate its value to a wide variety of audiences. Needless to say these skills rarely exist in one person.
At the Field Book Project, we are most familiar with those who excelled at collecting specimens and observing natural phenomena. The person who is blessed with the ability to understand the natural world is not always one who is blessed with the ability or desire to explain it to others. This may explain why I have been so struck by a number of collectors’ whose words seem to break through the decades and impart a strong sense of personality, opinion, and often humor.
Some of these names are still well-known in scientific circles; others are only documented in archives and personal memory. However through the written word, one can still feel the force of their temperament, interests, and wit.
Slowly but surely more of their field books are becoming digitized; and to my great delight, these characteristics are helping their field book documentation become more accessible. Their ability to eloquently and clearly describe their field work is inspiring volunteers in Smithsonian’s Transcription Center to connect with the creators and their scientific work.
The individuals listed above are just a few of the creators whose words have stuck with me. Take a look through the field books on Transcription Center; new materials are continually added. You might be surprised by who and what you find.