From the journal of Donald Erdman. Smithsonian Institution Archives. SIA RU007428, Box 1 Folder 2. Photograph courtesy of Lesley Parilla.
In 1948, Donald Erdman participated in a fisheries survey of the Persian Gulf and Red Sea under the auspices of the Arabian American Oil Company. Between March and August of 1948 he collected nearly 5,000 fishes for the US National Museum. His journal for the survey is an incredibly rich, daily narrative of collecting events and observations. Though his collecting notes focus mostly on fish, his entries also document collecting or observations of corals, shrimps, crabs, mollusks, sea mammals, birds, reptiles, and amphibians. The journal is full of detailed (sometimes colored) renderings of sea life, birds, landscape, activities of local inhabitants and, as seen in the photograph above, subjects that are a little less scientific.
“During the summer months, thoughts often turn to traveling, exploration and adventure.” Perfect time to talk about the high seas. We love that OCLC recently discussed their methods of documenting ships in catalog records. [via OCLC Research]
William M. Mann (1886-1960) began his scientific work as an entomologist and was employed by the Bureau of Entomology, U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), 1916-1925. He is perhaps best known for his work as the fifth Superintendent of the National Zoological Park, 1925-1956. During his years with the National Zoo, Mann worked on the Zoo’s building program and took part in several well publicized expeditions to collect live animals in order to increase the zoo population. Some of these collecting trips were during the years of World War II.
The effects of military conflicts are not often explicitly stated in the field books, though we have come across a few. Mann’s Diary for 1940 is one such document. The diary primarily describes his work and travel during the Smithsonian-Firestone Expedition to Liberia, but also includes a folded insert. It is a 3 page letter to "Campbell c/o R.H. Weesner Jr" detailing 1939 conditions of zoos in United Kingdom, France, Switzerland, Holland, and Belgium, specifically noting damage from the on-going war.
“Diary, 1940”. Smithsonian Institution Archives. Record Unit 007293, Box 7 Folder 4. Picture by Lesley Parilla.
Special thanks to the “volunpeers” at Smithsonian Transcription Center for their assistance with this post.
Specimens and field documentation can come from unexpected sources. We’ve touched on a few of these sources in the past—road kill and expeditions with former presidents to name two. We came across another one that just had to be highlighted, and maybe it will even help you choose your summer reading list! It turns out that some well-known novelists contributed to natural history collections.
The search started after learning about the book, Walden Warming: Climate Change Comes to Thoreau’s Woods, (University of Chicago Press, 2014). In a recent interview on NPR’s Science Friday, the author Richard B. Primack discussed how he was able to use information Thoreau recorded in his personal journals to document changes in climate. This was partly due to Thoreau’s strong interest in the natural world; he didn’t just record details about weather but also about plant phenology. I came to wonder, did he limit his interest to recording natural history observations, or did he perhaps collect specimens?
It turns out that Thoreau has botanical specimens deposited in the herbarium at the University of Connecticut! So we began to wonder, are there other writers who may have helped document the natural world? Here are a few we found.
Vladimir Nabokov, author of Lolita, had a well-documented fascination with butterflies. His specimen collection is part of the holdings at Harvard University’s Comparative Zoology department.
John Steinbeck, author of The Grapes of Wrath,collected with marine biologist Ed Ricketts in the Sea of Cortez. Steinbeck describe the trip in his book, Sea of Cortez: A Leisurely Journal of Travel and Research (1941).
In 1934 Ernest Hemingway, author of the The Old Man and the Sea, helped to collect fish with Henry W. Fowler for the Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia.
Do you know of other novelists that expressed their interest in the natural world through collecting? Let us know in the comments section below!
The Field Book Project is an initiative to increase accessibility to field book content that documents natural history. Through ongoing partnerships within and beyond the Smithsonian Institution, the Project is making field books easier to find and available in a digital format for current research, as well as inspiring new ways of utilizing these rich information resources.