View of Forest on way to Hakone, Japan. A. S. Hitchcock. Smithsonian Institution Archives. RU 000229. SIA2011-0555.
By Julia Blase, Field Book Project Manager
Last Thursday, I sat down to scan two diaries of Bohumil Shimek, a botanist, zoologist, and geologist of Czech descent whose field books came to the Smithsonian along with his extensive collection of specimens after his death in 1937. He is well-known for his long career and extensive study of the geology and ecology of the American prairies, particularly in his home state, Iowa, though he is also remembered as a champion of education and a supporter of Czechoslovakian independence . In fact, his travels to Europe in 1914, initiated by his invitation to visit the Charles University of Prague, Bohemia, as exchange professor in Botany in 1914, are what led to the two remarkable items I scanned as part of the Field Book Project. Our cataloger, Lesley Parilla, wrote a piece about these items almost a year ago, because they are indeed striking. The volumes capture Shimek’s first impressions of the unfolding of the beginning of World War I:
“There we had the first definitive news that Austria had declared war against Serbia (on the 28th), but still everywhere hope was expressed that peace would come, and it was reported that the King of England would arbitrate the dispute.” (July 29th, 1914)
Page 74 of Bohumil Shimek's "Diary, European trip, 1914 (2 of 2)". Smithsonian Institution Archives. SIA RU007082, Box 3 Folder 4.
As the rest of the field book continues, Shimek begins to record more and more impressions of his group’s attempt to travel across countries now at war, while still documenting observations of the countryside’s flora, fauna, and geology. He mentions seeing towns empty of men, being on trains full of soldiers singing about going to war, witnessing women already meeting each other with tears for their absent husbands and sons, and the difficulties of crossing border after border to get back to England and, from there, the United States. On pages 184 and 185 in volume 2 of his diary, he mentions watching their boat go through a row of blockading ships in order to land in England. Finally, in his last few pages, he records his impressions of London, Liverpool, and the passengers on the “St. Louis.”
It is moving to witness Shimek’s progression from the hope in his July entries that England would arbitrate the dispute, to a certainty of war and (in one memorable quote) that “War is indeed Hell!” By September, he writes a no less moving but also chilling statement near the end that the English “are beginning to realize the seriousness of the war.” A war just beginning, whose anniversary we commemorate 100 years later. I’ve transcribed a few of the last pages below and the full journal will soon be available on the Smithsonian Transcription Center. In the meantime, you can find it on the Biodiversity Heritage Library website and read for yourself Bohumil Shimek’s memories of the first few months of the “Great War.”
|Page 190 of Bohumil Shimek's "Diary, European trip, 1914 (2 of 2)". Smithsonian Institution Archives. SIA RU007082, Box 3 Folder 4.|
Sep. 5, 1914, Saturday
Arose at 6 o’clock. A misty, somewhat windy morning.
(Supplementary notes) While we were at London Mr. Washa had meetings with Mr. Kopesky and other local Bohemians, and a police commissioner with officer called on him to investigate. The English are very careful. Of course Mr. Voska had no trouble to show who he is, as he is a “Times” correspondent.
The English have also been watching us closely, but we move about here with a different feeling, as we are among friends. The bearing of the Englishman is less overbearing, and indeed the entire atmosphere is different. We are congratulating ourselves that we are out of the oppressive atmosphere of Austria, and of bullying, insolent Germany. The boasted “culture” of Germany is certainly displaying itself!
We were informed yesterday that the steamer “Teutonie” was taken by the government. It was to sail yesterday. We saw two passengers at the hold who had succeeded in getting 3rd class passage on our boat, the “St. Louis.”
We see bodies of soldiers marching down the streets, and we have seen a few small camps in the country on our way here, but on the whole there does not seem to be any visible effect produced on the activities of the people. There is not that absence of men so noticeable in Austria and Germany, and evidently the English have not more than commenced to use their resources. This promises that England will have the final say in the decision of the great conflict vehicle which is sweeping the world.
[Page 103] In Liverpool (and London) I was struck with the large number of women employed everywhere. There are sales girls in almost every business, the fishmarkets, vegetable and fruit markets, etc., are conducted by them, there are bar maids in hotels, and I presume in drink shops generally, and everywhere they are in evidence. They sell papers on streets, etc.
The fishmarket at Liverpool is interesting. I visited it yesterday. The most common fish is the flounder. There are also eels, and a number of fishes which I do not recognize. Also crabs, lobsters, shrimps, oysters, claws, periwinkle, etc. What of this is cheap food, and such a market must be a blessing.
This is the day when we are filled with joy and hope at the prospect of starting for home! May the good Angel that has been with us continue to shield us! We finally landed, at almost 2 o’clock, on the St. Louis, after examination of eyes, & passports. We found when we got aboard that we were just into the steerage. I am now located in the lowest hold with 2 young Americans. We are trying to have matters improved, as we were sold 3rd class tickets and were then put into the steerage. A great crowd is aboard. …
We left the dock at 5:30 P.M., but delayed a long time before really going out. We are trying to sleep in the 2nd Cabin smoking room.
We have a good many German Americans on board, and most of them are German sympathizers, as might be expected. I found one exception, a New York German who says that [page 104] he has been in America 43 years, and this is his first visit, and he says that he will never go back. He came from Eastern Prussia, and saw the Russian invasion.
When we were on the tender Mrs. Cerny made the remark that we had our hardest time going through Germany. An old German (from St. Louis?) flared up when his daughter (?) told him what Mrs. C. had said, and declared that it was some “damned lies,” and he was not a German! I told him that we know what we had experienced, and he did not. Things quieted down, but it is evident that there is much subdued German sentiment aboard.
The conversation of Englishmen on board indicates that they are beginning to realize the seriousness of the war. They make the war one of principle, for they resent the attack of Germany on Belgium. English papers are full of newer comments on the brutality of the Germans, and there is much raillery at their culture, etc. The German has certainly lost standing with the English, as well as with the rest of the world, and his vaunted culture is a byword.”
3. -Q. macrocarpa var. depressa. Prairie border. S.W. corner of Lyon county, Iowa, circa 1878-1936. Photograph documents Bohumil Shimek's geological and botanical field work, 1878-1936. Smithsonian Institution Archives. Smithsonian Institution Archives. SIA RU 007082, Box 5, Folder 3. SIA2012-3228.
|Fastener found in Florence Bailey's Journal for Bermuda, March 1890. Smithsonian Institution Archives RU 007417 box 1 folder 5. Photography courtesy of Breann Young.|
By Breann Young, Conservation Intern, Smithsonian Institution Archives
During the past couple of months, I have been interning at the Smithsonian Institution Archives in the conservation lab. I am an undergraduate student at Kutztown University and my work here, for the most part, has been to absorb as much information as I can about book and paper conservation, as I am still new to the processes and techniques of this field. One of the first assignments I received was to go through a couple boxes of field books and papers belonging to Lawrence Walkinshaw and remove the numerous damaging staples within them.
Walkinshaw (1904-1993) was a 20th century dentist who was also a leading expert on cranes in and around the Michigan area. He is credited with recording some of the first field surveys of cranes and other Michigan birds. He wrote three published books and kept large quantities of personal field books. Interestingly, he often adapted his field books very specifically to his needs, including using staples to hold large sections of pages or photographs together within one particular spiral bound book. One of the staples had even, somehow been placed inside the metal coil and latched on to four pages, a situation I had never seen before and which still makes me wonder about how it could have happened. Of course staples, while helpful to Walkinshaw, are damaging to paper over time, and create plenty of work for conservation staff like my colleagues at Smithsonian Archives.
As my internship progressed, I was able to gain enough experience to move from staple removing to mounting fragile botanical specimens. Field researchers often picked samples of the plants that they were researching and pressed them in between the pages of their notebooks or placed them in separate folders. Surprisingly, preserving plants often does not require any special chemicals or special paper. They just need to be pressed under weight between two pieces of paper and left to dry for two to three weeks.
One of the very first field books I worked on was Florence Bailey’s journal from Bermuda, dating to around 1890. Florence Bailey (1863-1948) was a pioneer naturalist who dedicated her life to the preservation of birds and their way of life. She was a very active woman in a male-dominated profession, and accomplished a lot of firsts for women in the scientific field.
Botanical specimen found in Florence Bailey's Journal for Bermuda, March 1890. Smithsonian Institution Archives RU 007417 box 1 folder 5. Photography courtesy of Breann Young.
|Botanical specimen found in Florence Bailey's Journal for Bermuda, March 1890. Photography courtesy of Breann Young.|
|Botanical specimen found in Florence Bailey's Journal for Bermuda, March 1890. Photography courtesy of Breann Young.|
In these field books, the botanical specimens are attached by small pins that are poked through the page twice, securing the small plant into place. Unfortunately for conservators, these pins are a challenge because those pin holes destroy portions of manuscript on the other side of the paper. In other cases, these pins are poked through multiple pages and possibly rust, getting stuck in place. Now with a beginner like myself, this work can be difficult because I had to be very aware of not damaging both the incredibly fragile plant and the paper itself. Only once did I have to deal with a particularly tricky pin, and I was thankful to have the help of my supervisor. All the other pins that I removed were fully cooperative. After the pins were all successfully dislodged from their homes, I mounted the plants onto a sturdy card stock and placed them in protective folders, where they would be preserved safely for years to come.
From removing small little staples to pins holding a fragile plant, one of the biggest lessons I’ve learned while interning here at the Smithsonian is to balance problem solving while caring for fragile objects. Every day in the lab is completely different. You never know what you’re going to encounter and what problems may be ahead of you, waiting to be solved. That’s the beauty of conservation.
A lime kiln, near Uyuni, southern Bolivia, 1923-1924. Smithsonian Institution Archives. SIA RU 000229. SIA2011-0572.
But sometimes it’s not saying what you expect…
We’ve come across a wide variety of images while cataloging field books. Some clearly document specimens, observations of habitat, candid interactions of colleagues, and others we have yet to determine the reason.
Some of my favorites are the images that seem clearly taken for one purpose until one reads the collector’s caption. We have several of these. Often these images look like pictures that could be found in any family album. Some include children or show general landscapes. They may appear quite pedestrian, until one reads the caption, and realizes the “why.” Below are a few examples. The first could pass as a picture of the family farm, the next possibly an image of long lost relatives, but each is providing important information to the scientists who included the photos in their field documentation.
Curious to see more? Check out Field Book Project Flickr sets on Smithsonian’s Flickrstream.
|Fertility erosion on ridge tops, 15 miles southwest of Pullman, Washington, March 1953. Smithsonian Institution Archives. RU 7279, Box 29, Folder 1, Envelope 16. SIA2014-00010.|
|Near view of native vegetation on sand-steppe near Heidesheim, Germany, 1914. Smithsonian Institution Archives. RU 007082, Box 5, Folder 1. SIA2012-3229.|
|Mary Agnes Chase's Field Work in Brazil, Image No. 1935. Cutting Stenotaphrum at Dr. Rolf's, Vicosa. Smithsonian Institution Archives. RU 000229, Box 20, Folder 1. SIA2012-3351a.|
(In honor of National Volunteer Appreciation Month)
The Field Book Project catalogs a wide range of field book formats. In fact, you can find more than 30 different types of field book contents in the Field Book Registry catalog. Maps are one of my favorite types. Over the years we’ve talked a lot about the photographs, drawings, and text we’ve found in collections, but the maps seemed to be mentioned less often. So it seemed appropriate to pull together some examples of the variety we’ve cataloged. There are more than 500 field book catalog records that include maps available to search on Smithsonian Collection Search Center. Below is just a small cross-section of those.
|Insect distribution maps in Robert E. Silberglied's field notes. Smithsonian Institution Archives. RU 007316, Box 13, Folder 27. SIA2012-9757.||Map drawn by Rafinesque during his travels from Philadelphia to Kentucky, 1818. Smithsonian Institution Archives, RU 007250, Box 1, Folder 3. SIA2012-6086.|
|Hand-drawn map in Richard Blackwelder's field book. Smithsonian Institution Archives. Acc. 96-099, Box 1, Folder 9. SIA2012-1257.||Killip's Adirondack Travelog, page 73. Smithsonian Institution Archives RU 007375, Box 2, Folder 10. SIA2012-8818.|
Hand drawn (or printed and hand colored) map of the glacial formations for Southern Christiana [Oslo], Norway. The colored regions indicate geological characteristics and also include location names. Map is written in Norwegian and dated 1859, composed by Norwegian Geologist Theodor Kjerulf. Smithsonian Institution Archives. SIA RU007092, Box 1 Folder 2. Photograph taken by Lesley Parilla.
They vary from rough sketches in journals to commercially printed editions that are hand colored and annotated. They can be visually arresting as well as impart important information recorded by collectors. Unfortunately due to the range of sizes and physical condition, many of the maps present serious conservation and digitization challenges. Below is an example of the type of work conservators face in order to treat the maps. We don’t often get the chance to share them online. Many of the maps cataloged as part of field book collections must be seen in person.
Flattening map folds using localized humidification, completed by SIA Preservation staff. Credit: Janelle Baktin-Hall.
Maps present another challenge. Just as field books are sometimes separated from the specimens they describe, maps are sometimes separated from the field notes they document. This may occur because they represent a storage challenge for a department, or they are no longer seen as relevant to current research. As we’ve cataloged in the departments and divisions of NMNH, we’ve continually run into a volunteer run project from the Botany Department that is taking on this challenge. With it being National Volunteer Appreciation Month, we thought it a great chance to highlight their work. Now that many of the NMNH field books are cataloged, we have been able to reconnect to some of the maps that Jim Harle and his fellow volunteers have located during their efforts. We encourage you to search for some of the following names on their website at:
Family in front of their home at Urbina, Peru. The walls are of split bamboo boards. This material is much used for houses in the lowlands. On the uplands the material is mostly adobe but this house belongs to the railroad and the bamboo was brought from Guayaquil. Photograph taken by A. S. Hitchcock. SIA2011-0569.
By Lesley Parilla, Field Book Project
|Bartschella schumannii Britton & Rose. Collected by J. N. Nelson in Northwest Mexico, on March 23, 1911. USNM 638432. Courtesy of Botany Department, National Museum of Natural History.|
Recently, the Field Book Project made available some of botanist Joseph Nelson Rose’s field books for volunteers to transcribe on Smithsonian’s Transcription Center. To highlight this new content, the Field Book Project would like to provide readers with a little more background about the scientist and the man.
Over the last three years we have frequently written blog posts highlighting personal interests and interesting facets of the collectors’ lives. J. N. Rose was a botanist with the USDA and Smithsonian Institution. He traveled extensively through the American tropics, co-wrote important botanical texts, and collected extensively for the National Herbarium. When I prepared to write this piece, I anticipated the writing would be a fairly easy task.
Though he had a full and active career, I found little that described the scientist himself. What I did find, described a man that seemed to be well regarded and hardworking; he did not readily seek attention for himself. A good amount of his botanical work was even completed in collaboration with others. He co-wrote with at least 12 other botanists. The few articles I found that offered any personal description of Rose made me wish more information was available.
William Trelease wrote in a 1928 issue of Science about his colleagues’ response to the death of Rose. He wrote that the staff of the US National Museum was called by the Secretary of the Institution, Charles Greeley Abbot, to gather in order to show their appreciation.
To those of us who listened, as speakers rose here and there in the room, the kindly personality of a friend and a talented devotion of an able man in earnest work unfolded. To those of us that spoke, the sadness of the occasion was blended with the consolation born of the knowledge that a well-rounded-out life had come to ripe fruition.
The article continues to elaborate about the diligent and conscientious lifelong work of Rose, but gives few details about the personal life of a man and scientist who was obviously appreciated and admired by his colleagues.
This appearance of privacy continues in a piece written about Rose and his work with Nelson Lord Britton. Richard S. Cowan and Frans A. Stafleu, in a 1981 issue of Brittonia, mention that going through available archival and published materials provided little personal information about the man except for his devotion to his botanical work. What is available speaks to his evident “spirit of cooperation, his invariable tolerance and remarkably even temperament.”
His spirit of cooperation and belief in the importance of scientific discovery seems a perfect complement to the work of the transcription center volunteers. Transcribing makes these materials and their contents accessible and useable in a host of new ways. We encourage you to take a look through his and the other field books now available online from Smithsonian.
Young coconut plant and Edward Stewart. Photograph was taken while Hitchcock was on a collecting trip to British Guiana [Guyana]. SIA2011-0551.
by Tad Bennicoff, Assistant Archivist, Smithsonian Institution Archives
|Loess bluffs above Aftonian gravel and Nebraska drift. S. of Turin, IA. Smithsonian Institution Archives. RU 7082 Box 5 Folder 3 Aftonian Gravel 379.|
Chances are, few of you reading this piece can define or describe a “loess.” I certainly could not, and thus referred to The American College Dictionary on my shelf (1970 edition.) Accordingly, a loess is “a loamy deposit formed by the wind, usually yellowish and calcareous, common in the Mississippi valley and in Europe and Asia.” To the untrained eye, a loess may simply appear as an ordinary hill, perhaps created by a glacier or a body of water long since receded. Such an assumption would be logical if there was additional evidence of glacier deposits or the presence of a shoreline nearby. However, what if the “hill” occurred in the plains of the United States, were the land is predominantly flat, there is no evidence of glacier movement, and no shoreline for hundreds of miles?
Bohumil Shimek (1861-1937) was a civil engineer, geologist, naturalist, and botanist. The son of Czech immigrants Francis Joseph Shimek, a cobbler, and Maria Theresa, Bohumil was born on a farm in Shueyville, Iowa. He attended the University of Iowa, graduating with a Civil Engineering degree in 1883. Upon graduation, Bohumil was employed as a surveyor for Johnson County, Iowa. His first experience as an instructor occurred in 1885 when he accepted a position with the Iowa City High School, teaching sciences. This experience led him to the University of Nebraska, where was an instructor in Zoology, 1888-1890. Shimek left the University of Nebraska to accept an instructorship in Botany with the University of Iowa, becoming an Assistant Professor in 1895 while also assuming the role as Curator of the Herbarium. He would continue his tenure at the University of Iowa until his death in 1937, becoming head of the Department of Botany (1914-1919.) Shimek also served the State of Iowa as a geologist with the Iowa State Geological Survey (1908-1929,) Director of the Lakeside Laboratory, Lake Okoboji, Iowa, and President of the Iowa State Academy of Sciences (1904-1905.)
I recently reviewed several volumes of Shimek’s field notes found in Record Unit 7082: Bohumil Shimek Papers, 1878-1936. This was my first experience using this collection, and I was immediately struck by Shimek’s extensive writing and breadth of information captured in his notebooks and diaries, the majority of which are devoted to his “discovery” and study of loess hills throughout the Midwest and the fossils found within. Several volumes of his field notes include crude, yet detailed drawings of loess hills
|This drawing is from RU 7082, Box 2, Folder 26, and pertains to a Loess site in Shelby County, Iowa, September 2, 1913. This drawing, though crude, documents different soil levels and the composition of a particular Loess Hill.|
There are other interesting historical bits as well, such as itemized lists of expenses for travel, lodging, and meals. The costs of the aforementioned are quite a contrast to present day. Travel was mostly by rail, however, there are entries for bicycle rentals, something you would scarcely find in expense records generated today.
|Expenses recorded by Shimek, 1909. Smithsonian Institution Archive. RU 7082, Box 2, Folder 21. Shimek’s field notes include many types of details beyond field work, like travel expenses, cities/town he traveled through, railroad expenses, meals, etc.|
There are hundreds of images of loess hills throughout Iowa, Nebraska, Kansas, and Missouri; beautiful black and white photographs, most with captions, documenting the untamed landscape of the plains. Now advised of precisely what constitutes a “loess,” the photographs aid in the appreciation that such bluffs were made by the wind, over a period of hundreds, perhaps thousands of years. One of my favorite photographs is entitled “Cat-Steps.”
|Loess ridge near Turin, Ia. "Cat-steps" in foreground. Smithsonian Institution Archives. RU 7082 Box 5 Folder 3. This photograph clearly demonstrates the “ripple effect” wind has on soil over a prolonged period.|
We hold two collections of Shimek papers. The previously mentioned Record Unit 7082: Bohumil Shimek Papers, 1878-1936, which is the primary collection, and Accession 91-027: Bohumil Shimek Papers, 1882-1936, which is an addition to Record Unit 7082. The University of Iowa Libraries also holds a collection of Bohumil Shimek Papers.
I only recently have had cause to review our two collections of Bohumil Shimek Papers, and I have tremendous respect for him. The more I learn about Shimek and the deeper I dig into his papers, it becomes clear that he was enthusiastic about his work, and very concise and thorough with his observations and field notes. Shimek traveled extensively and probably could have lived and conducted his research just about anywherePerhaps due to his tendency to be very focused and organized, or perhaps with a sense of loyalty to the opportunities made available to him, Shimek spent nearly his entire career in the State of Iowa, conducting research on and giving back to the land in which he and his family settled upon immigrating to the United States. , The State of Iowa honored him, posthumously, with the naming of the Shimek State Forest and Shimek Elementary School; fitting tributes to a scientist who was devoted to education, community, and the landscape in which he was raised, and sough to understand.
Unidentified botanical specimen (grass). This photograph is included in the field notes of André Goeldi and part of a collection that includes 36 black-and-white photographs of specimens. André Goeldi was a Brazilian botanist who collected in Pará, Brazil, circa 1913-1920. SIA2012-3916.
Mary Agnes Chase's Field Work in Brazil, Image No. 1847. Itatiaia. Donna Maria and Agnes Chase at summit. Photographs documenting Mary Agnes Chase's field work in Brazil, 1924-1925. SIA2009-4227.
Steamer landing and rocky bluff on Yukon River, at Eagle, Alaska. Photograph taken by Mary Agnes Chase or A. S. Hitchcock, documenting field work. SIA2012-4544.
A mountain gorge between La Paz, Bolivia and Illimani [Nevado Illimani]. Photograph was taken by A. S. Hitchcock during field work c.1923-1924. SIA2011-0570.
By Lesley Parilla, Field Book Project
The website includes creative writing inspired by photographs from Smithsonian field books.
Since beginning the Field Book Project we have been actively creating blog posts, flickr sets, and other social media to share with people what wonderful and diverse information field books include. The materials we’ve shared through social media have been intended to shed light on the Project’s process and progress locating, identifying, and describing field books to enable researchers to use the biodiversity documentation that they contain.
Over the last few months, it has come to my attention that the materials we’ve posted have inspired more than just natural history research. I shouldn’t really be surprised; documentation seems to cover just about every aspect of life. We’ve found poetry, artwork, cocktail and food recipes, in addition to the maps and detailed field work narratives one would expect.
It seems that the idea of “field notes” extends well beyond natural history. Over the last two years I’ve found some surprising examples of this. If you search Google for “field notes” of “field work” you will find that many professions use the phrase at one time or other to denote documentation of practical experience. I’ve even found field notes from bartenders.
If this term can relate to so many professions, I shouldn’t be surprised that field book content can be inspiring in equally diverse ways. One of my favorites is a website called Dr. Hurley’s Snake-Oil Cure that has a series of original stories inspired by photographs from field books (as we tend to think of them) that were posted on Flickr.
A former intern from the Botany Department at National Museum of Natural History was inspired to create artwork based on Sir John Kirk’s field book from the Russell E. Train Africana collection housed at the Joseph F. Cullman 3rd Library in the National Museum of Natural History.
Artwork by former intern (and now scientific illustrator) Eleonore Dixon-Roche, inspired by Sir John Kirk’s field book.
And this is just what we know about…
We’ve used field books as inspiration for lesson plans distributed during the last two Smithsonian Teacher’s Nights. There’s amazing amount of rich material in field books, a lot of potential inspiration for natural history research and beyond. Has field book content inspired you? If so, we’d love to hear from you in the comments!
This photograph is included in the field notes of André Goeldi and part of a collection that includes 36 black-and-white photographs of specimens. André Goeldi was a Brazilian botanist who collected in Pará, Brazil, circa 1913-1920. SIA2012-3917.
By Emily Hunter, Field Book Project
Page from F. A. McClure's Diary Record, January 1, 1941. SIA Acc. T90028, Box 9. No negative number.
Happy New Year from all of us here at the Field Book Project! As people who are constantly reading field notes, it’s hard for us to let a holiday pass without imagining what it was like for scientists who spent their holidays in the field, away from family, continuing to collect and study the specimens they so enjoyed.
New Year’s Day, for many of us, is filled with promise—a new start, a new dream, new resolve to finish our projects, perfect our character flaws, strive to be better human beings. Even field scientists felt this way; they looked up from pressing plants, packing fish, and taking field notes, and resolved to better themselves.
In 1941, Floyd Alonso McClure wrote in his diary,
I started the day off rather badly, considering that it is ‘New Years,’ and that I still consider that I could and should do everything better than I do.
Who hasn’t felt this way about a New Year? He continues,
As I look at this page, it seems that even my handwriting lacks character that statement however, cannot be true, for handwriting surely reveals character—or habit—to a certain extent, at least. Perhaps mine reveals my character more clearly as it is than it would if it were more regular. I believe, however, that the practice of a particular style of writing would have a beneficial effect… I must write more by hand.
As catalogers who spend a good deal of time trying to decipher handwriting, we can’t scoff at that resolution! (As an aside, McClure was being a little rough on himself—his handwriting was not even close to the worst that we’ve seen.) A lighter and simpler resolution might also be a good direction to go. Like this one, that McClure penned on the first day of 1925:
As for New Year’s resolutions, we read at the table at noon the list of twenty which I made out for myself at Nodoa, in Hainan, on the eve of the end of 1921. They still seem to cover the ground fairly well and so we let them stand. In short our resolution is ‘To make the most of life’.
Here we are, over 90 years later, and McClure’s resolution to “make the most of life” still sounds like a good one. We’ll toast to that one. Happy 2013 everyone!
By Emily Hunter, Field Book Project
Floyd Alonzo McClure conducting field work, possibly in China, circa 1919-1950. SIA Acc. T90028. Box 7 Folder 15. No negative number.
We get to know some interesting characters by reading field notes. Floyd Alonzo McClure (1897-1970) was one of these characters that I had the pleasure of learning about while cataloging SIA collection T90028.
McClure was a bamboo guy. (We really get familiar with these collectors, don’t we?) To put it another way, he studied Bambusoideae, a large group of genera in the grass family (Poaceae), for the majority of his career. His major work was the publication “The Bamboos, a Fresh Perspective,” which was published in 1966. McClure’s connection to the Smithsonian began in 1940s, when he joined the National Museum of Natural History as an Honorary Research Associate. But let’s start a little earlier.
McClure was born in 1897 in Shelby County, Ohio. He attended Ohio State University where he earned a BS in Agriculture in 1919. That year, McClure took a position in China teaching Economic Botany at Canton Christian College (later Lingnan University), a move that would define much of his life and career and lead him to spend 24 years in that country.
McClure found a lot to learn about in China beyond just bamboo. He studied Chinese language and culture. He was interested in the land, the people, and the local customs. As a botanist, these interests served him well. Navigating the country, speaking with farmers, and learning local uses for bamboo plants certainly must have informed his career in economic botany.
McClure’s diary from Hainan, China, 1921. SIA Acc. T90028. Box 8 Folder 24. No negative number.
McClure lived in Canton, China and went on collecting expeditions throughout Hainan province in 1921, 1922, 1929, and 1932. He collected bamboo specimens mainly, but occasionally other grasses, orchids, and other higher plants. He wrote about his daily experiences and observations in his diaries. While reading through, I found his reflections on the people and cultures he observed respectful and thoughtful. He made “tentative” observations, and allowed for differences in perspective and opinion. McClure was a humble man. His field notes made it very clear that even though he was a teacher, he enjoyed learning from others around him. The Japanese invasion of China in 1941 forced McClure to return to the United States where he would spend the rest of his life.
It’s easy to get lost in McClure’s diaries. They speak of his day-to-day life, a blend of family and botanizing. Amidst teaching and conducting botanical work in the lab, McClure went on bicycle rides with his wife Ruth, and spent a great deal of time with his two young daughters, Sophie Louise and Janet (or “Bunny”).
His entries depict a loving and dedicated husband and father. McClure’s family did, indeed, seem to become enmeshed in his professional life. The first and strongest example is the fact that McClure brought his new wife to Canton where they spent the first decades of married life together and raised two children. When McClure took trips, his wife and children sometimes came along. In 1959, Ruth became his research assistant, working with him daily until he passed away.
McClure with his wife Ruth and daughters, circa 1937. SIA Acc. T90028. Box 7 Folder 15. No negative number.
McClure saw the connections between studying plants and thinking about how they can contribute to a society, reinforce culture, and even take a role during war times.
In 1943 McClure was recruited for his knowledge of bamboo by the U.S. military. If that sentence sounds odd to you, you are not alone—I also was surprised to learn this! During World War II, the National Defense Research Committee was looking for someone with a deep knowledge of bamboo to research options for making ski poles for troops in extreme northern climates. At the time, wood was expensive and increasingly in demand. Bamboo was practical and fairly cheap. McClure was their man. McClure traveled to Central American locations to research and conduct experiments on bamboo species that could be used to make ski poles. I haven’t found a great deal of information on the result of these efforts, but I certainly hope that U.S. troops benefited from McClure’s knowledge of safe, sturdy bamboo species.
Often, interesting tidbits like this one are wrapped up in the field notes. It’s what makes field notes so unique; they are rarely cut and dry, and more often than not, include all sorts of information beyond just lists of specimens collected. McClure’s diaries can give us a wealth of information on culture, wartime activities, family life, and the man behind the books.
Meyer, F. G. (1972). Floyd Alonzo McClure (1897–1970) — A Tribute. Economic Botany, 26(1), 1-12.
Walker, E. H. & Archer, W. A. (1971). Floyd Alonzo McClure (1897-1970). Taxon, 20(5/6), 777-784.
By Lesley Parilla, Field Book Project
Image from P. A. Glick’s publication Collecting Insects by Airplane in Southern Texas in 1957. Image is Public Domain from Google eBooks.
Aviation has had significant effects on the nature of field work. It has changed not only how the collectors get to a site, but also how they see and collected, resulting in wide-ranging consequences.
By the mid-twentieth century, commercial aviation was dramatically changing the speed of travel; collectors, up to that time, would commonly travel long distances via train or boat. With commercial aviation, a weeklong boat trip to Africa became a multi-hour long flight. During the 1960’s when commercial air travel became more widespread, there was an influx of major surveys by Smithsonian departments involving large numbers of staff that would have proven far more logistically complicated prior to commercial aviation. The speed and ease of commercial air travel meant collectors could spend significantly less time getting to their sites and more time on-site. With the time they saved, collectors could spend longer at one location or visit additional ones.
The advent of planes also affected collecting by changing collectors’ perspectives. Collectors could see the environments they studied from an entirely new vantage, hundreds or thousands of feet in the air. Some scientists even took it a step further and used aviation as a way to collect the specimens. Perry A. Glick, an entomologist with the US Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Service, used nets that attached to planes, enabling insect collecting in air to study the altitudinal distribution of insects. He produced several publications about this during the 1950’s and 1960’s.
By the 1940’s, there are examples of scientists attempting to integrate the aviation into their field work observations and collecting. Some of these attempts proved less than successful, while others helped demonstrate aviation’s value to field work. I found a reference to an unsuccessful attempt with a helicopter in a journal of C. O. Handley, Jr. Judging from the results, I am assuming they did not try it again.
[Thule, Greenland, 1948] The way it turned out he flew in the helicopter instead and spent the afternoon trying to fish from that. On the water, with its rotors off, the plane blows about like a kite even in a small breeze. Thus no matter where they would land, they would soon drift in to the beach. Another disadvantage was that when the helicopter starts on the water after its rotor has been dead, the whole thing spins with the rotor until the latter attains sufficient speed to stabilize the plane.
Though the helicopter proved less than useful over water, it yielded results over land. The journal includes hand drawn maps that indicate that survey results were successful, as seen in recorded observation taken via helicopter and on foot.
Example of F. Raymond Fosberg’s observations from an airplane. Photographed by Emily Hunter.
A more successful example of aerial observations is the work of F. Raymond Fosberg, (discussed in the February 24, 2012 article by Emily Hunter), who recognized the benefits of aerial observations alongside ground observations for his field of botany. Several of his field books include extended aerial observations of sites where he collected botanical specimens. Fosberg even published articles promoting the use of aerial photographs for surveying and studying botanical distribution. He proposed using military aerial photographs (that were taken during World War II) for this purpose. I have not been able to determine whether his hopes for these photographs came to fruition, but there are now a considerable number of examples of aerial photography being used for this type of botanical study.
Botany was not the only other field to make use of aviation. Harry S. Ladd used aerial observations in his field of paleontology and geology. Field notes document his observations via helicopter, noting the shape and character of reefs in Fiji, as seen below in a journal excerpt.
May 7, 1968 Tues - By Hill helicopter from Heron Id to Gladstone [Fiji]. Flying over reefs confirms impressions obtained on ground – i.e. if lee reefs and lagoons. Reefs appear to be more saw-toothed on lee than on windward. No suggestion of lithothamnion(?) ridge to windward – only what looks like a low marinol bulge (of debris?). Lagoon of Wistari(?) appears to have small ring-like structure-comparable to that seen yesterday in Heron lagoon plus irregular.
Since the 1960’s, the use of aviation and aerial photographs has spun off in a myriad of directions. Aircraft and aerial photographs are now used for monitoring and management wildlife habitat, locating and analyzing archaeological sites, and studying plant ecology. Scientists and even the National Park Service are beginning to utilize unmanned aerial vehicles.
All of the forms of transportation discussed in our transportation series have helped shape the research recorded by the field notes we document. Sometimes they present challenges to the collectors, sometimes a new advantage or perspective. For me, it demonstrates the flexibility and ingenuity of our collectors to see and to use opportunities as they present themselves. Field work often seems to be journey of the unexpected; I can’t wait to see what comes next.
By Emmie Miller
Even having studied history in college, it is difficult to chase away the ennui of seemingly dead-end research, particularly when you imagine divulging exciting facts and uncovering lost secrets. For me, research possesses the allure of sleuthing a mystery. Spontaneous discoveries do not exist outside the realm of possibility, but more often than not, making difficult sources pliant requires context and focus. My experience with the Smithsonian Field Book Project exemplifies this process of making your search an informed one. When told I could write about almost anything pertaining to the field books, my question was, “Where to start?”! Eager as I was, I was at a bit of a loss.
Annotation from Chase field notebook #3, "Who is Ramon Corral?" SIA Acc. 11-093, National Museum of Natural History, Department of Botany. Photograph by Emmie Miller.
Then I found an ink-etched scrawl in a seam between pages of Agnes Chase’s field book: “Who is Ramón Corral?” This was my spontaneous discovery! Never having heard the name, I asked the same question. Who was Ramón Corral? A quick search explained that Corral was vice president of Mexico from 1904-1911. Corral resigned from his post as incumbent president in light of revolutionary uprisings against the government of Porfirio Diaz. Diaz and Corral’s deposition began the Mexican Revolution that made Pancho Villa and Emilio Zapata famous rebel leaders. This gave me context to understand one small mystery buried in Chase’s scientific notes.
Uncovering Corral’s identity also supplied me with the focus for this blog post. While Chase’s quick scrawl may have been a passing thought that was never answered, her presence in Mexico at this time subjected her to precarious situation, including growing revolutionary sentiments. Her exposure to this tension may have prompted her thought on Corral’s identity. Unfortunately, however, there was no other obvious record of conflict in her notes.
Full page spread of Chase field notebook; note the comment on Corral on the left page. SIA Acc. 11-093, National Museum of Natural History, Department of Botany. Photograph by Emmie Miller.
So began my hunt for other botanists with similar experiences represented in the field books. Some botanists used wartime as an opportunity for collecting, like Edward Palmer. As a Union soldier during the Civil War, his command sent him west to Colorado, a new biological landscape for him to explore; his field notes document his collecting during this time. Another botanist, Egbert Walker, received specimens mailed from American servicemen all around the globe during World War II after establishing the Servicemen’s Collecting Program, giving him access to diverse ecosystems. But the most intriguing botanical character to pursue life-threatening field work was Joseph Rock.
Rock was perhaps more an adventurer than a botanist. He spent his life collecting in Asia and studying Chinese and Tibetan indigenous cultures. Rock’s frequent use of Chinese characters in his field books demonstrates the degree to which Rock studied Chinese culture. He journaled his ambivalent feelings about China, criticizing the culture from his very Western perspective, though he often felt at home there. Context is pivotal here in explaining Rock’s experiences: Rock continually returned to China despite the five occasions on which violence interrupted or destroyed his work. This makes his field books more valuable, as Rock had, at times, poor luck preserving his scholarship. To understand the risk of his returns, you must understand Rock’s departures.
Sample page from Rock's field notes with visible Chinese characters amid his specimen descriptions. SIA Acc. 11-094, National Museum of Natural History, Department of Botany. Photo by Emmie Miller.
Message from Joseph Rock to William Maxon, sent from Yunnan, China (1922). SIA Acc. 11-094, National Museum of Natural History, Department of Botany. Photo by Emmie Miller.
One of Rock’s 1922 field books gives a cursory glance at the difficulties of working in China. In a note to Smithsonian botanist William Maxon, he says, “I will mail [my field book] to you from China if I find a post office in Yunnan.” At what point he found a post office is hard to say, but presumably the note and the field book were sent together, reaching the Smithsonian safely.
Rock’s early years in China are well-documented, and while he botanized, he experienced localized tribal conflict. In one instance he’d made preparations for the precipitous journey to a mountain pass for collecting, but fighting between Chinese Muslims and Tibetan Buddhists jeopardized the expedition and it was called off. World War II further challenged Rock’s studies. When the Japanese invaded China in 1937, Rock fled to modern-day Vietnam. 1944 found Rock evacuated to the United States as WWII intensified in the Pacific. In 1949, Rock fled China for the last time during the Chinese Revolution.
The context surrounding Rocks’ exploits explains why my article’s focus is important: scientists often find themselves in dangerous regions in dangerous times. Rock’s location in the early twentieth century posed challenges due to the dangers and inconveniences of the politically unstable region. Like the other determined and ambitious botanists mentioned in this article, Rock would not be stopped.
Beaty, Janice. Plants in a Pack: A Life of Edward Palmer, Adventurous Botanist and Collector. New York: Pantheon Books, 1964.
Chase, Mary Agnes. Field Notes, Natural History Library (1906-1959).
Jowett, Philip S. The Mexican Revolution, 1910-20. Oxford: Osprey Printing, Limited, 2006.
Palmer, Edward. Field Notes, Natural History Library (1861-1914).
Rock, Joseph F. Field Notes. Natural History Library (1920-1924).
Smithsonian Institution Archives. SIA RU007270, Walker, Egbert H (Egbert Hamilton) 1899-1991, Egbert Hamilton Walker Papers, 1923-1987. Finding Aid. Smithsonian Institution Archives. 21 September 2012. http://siarchives.si.edu/collections/siris_arc_217427?back=%2Fsearch%2Fsia_search_findingaids%2Fegbert%2520walker. 11 July 2011.
Sutton, Stephanne Barry. In China’s Border Provinces: The Turbulent Career of Joseph Rock, Botanist-Explorer. New York: Hastings House, 1974.
By Sonoe Nakasone, Field Book Project
|Recipe for a pesticide containing kerosene, water, and condensed milk. This page was in between the entries dated October 21 and 22, 1881. Smithsonian Institution Archives, RU007107, box 1, folder 10. SIA2012-2212.|
1) hypothesize (cakes become denser when more dense ingredients are added),
2) predict (if I add more cheese, which is dense, the cake will become denser),
3) experiment, and finally
4) evaluate (slight improvement; add more cheese? subtract lighter ingredients? use denser cheese?).
I usually associate the scientific method with lab (or kitchen) work, but science experiments can and often do also occur in the field. When they do, the notes from those experiments are field notes—see where this is going?
Over a year ago, I cataloged field notes by Henry Guernsey Hubbard, horticulturist, botanist, and entomologist for the U.S. Geological Survey (Smithsonian Institution Archives RU7107). Perhaps Hubbard’s blend of professional knowledge specially equipped him to perform his series of field experiments in the 1880s to develop a pesticide for parasitic insects damaging orange trees. He tested several pesticides, emulsions concocted from varying amounts of kerosene and condensed milk. The recipes, included in his field notes, are accompanied by observations on the effectiveness of each emulsion.
|Observations of orange trees infested with lepidoptera larvae, spiders, and scales, September 27, 1881. Smithsonian Institution Archives, RU007107, box 1, folder 10. SIA2012-2210.||Examination of orange trees infested with scales and other insect pests and results of experiment no. 10, October 21, 1881. Smithsonian Institution Archives, RU007107, box 1, folder 10. SIA2012-2211.||Results of experiment from emulsion no. 3, November 17, 1881. Smithsonian Institution Archives, RU007107, box 1, folder 10. SIA2012-2214.|
Hubbard’s recipes spoke to me. The thought of Hubbard mixing up a strange concoction of kerosene and condensed milk, like some mystical apothecary, made me want to test his pesticide recipes. Beyond the childish desire to mix up odd potions, I was curious to know how effective his solution would be on pests I’ve encountered.
DON’T WORRY! Spraying kerosene on plants in the 1880s might have been acceptable, but in the 21st century, the use of such a pesticide seems environmentally irresponsible and ecologically cruel. Instead, I looked for a mild and environmentally sound alternative to test on my basil. Last summer, my basil was nibbled to pieces. This summer, I took a note from Hubbard and experimented with the effectiveness of a simple pepper spray pesticide. Unlike Hubbard, I only had the time and attention span to test one solution. My hypothesis and prediction: insects would find very spicy substances repelling, so by creating a strong pepper spray, I could prevent them from eating or even being around my basil. My recipe was basic:
Boil 1 jalapeño, sliced and retaining seeds, with 2-4 cups of water for 20 minutes or more.
The water boiled down to a spicy 8oz, which I poured into a spray bottle. I bought two basil plants, drenching the leaves of one plant with my new pesticide and leaving the other unsprayed. Both were planted.
Basil plant without pesticide before experiment, Summer 2012. By Sonoe Nakasone with Ipod camera.
Basil plant with pesticide before experiment, Summer 2012. By Sonoe Nakasone with Ipod camera.
Unfortunately for me and for my readers, I didn’t do a great job at two key elements of the scientific process: the experiment and the evaluation. I was inconsistent about spraying the test plant each day and inconsistent in observing and note taking. I did, however, take before and after pictures. Although these grainy photos show very little, I hope you’re able to see that the recipe seemed successful. The plant with the pesticide received less damage than the one without. My evaluation and conclusion: this stuff works, but would probably produce better results if implemented more consistently.
Basil plant without pesticide after experiment, Summer 2012. By Sonoe Nakasone with Ipod camera.
Basil plant with pesticide after experiment, Summer 2012. By Sonoe Nakasone with Ipod camera.
Hubbard’s field notes are an excellent example of scientific experimentation. The ingredients in Hubbard’s recipes sparked my imagination as readily as the witches’ potion in Macbeth and ignited my desire to conduct my own field experiment. So, from Hubbard to me, from me to you: try a field experiment, and see how you do. And as always, please share your experiences with us.
By Sonoe Nakasone, Field Book Project
|Images of Platanthera (Habenaria) orbiculata, 1914. Page 35. RU7375, image SIA2012-8776, Smithsonian Institution Archives.|
That’s why I’m not surprised about Killip. Elsworth P. Killip (1890-1968), Head Curator of the U.S. National Herbarium from 1946 to 1950 and expert on South American phanerogams, kept a travelogue of a fun filled canoe trip down the Adirondack rivers. This travelogue is available for reference within the Smithsonian Institution Archives collection, Ellsworth Paine Killip Papers, 1914-1950. Like me, Killip couldn’t resist his habits, turning the travelogue of his vacation into part field book of observation and documentation. Although I didn’t find any evidence in the travelogue that Killip collected anything during his canoe trip, his record of the flora in the Adirondack Mountains in the summer of 1914 provides a portal through which modern researchers can observe perhaps a bygone habitat.
|“M. R. W. [Milton E. Woodams] on the Summit of Marcy” and “E. P. K. [Killip] on the Summit of Marcy,” 1914. Page 62. RU7375, image SIA2012-8804, Smithsonian Institution Archives.||“Mountain Pond” and “Cooking at Mountain Pond,” 1914. Page 20. RU7375, image SIA2012-8761, Smithsonian Institution Archives.|
It’s rather clear throughout the travelogue that Killip is on vacation. The titles (“An Account of My Canoe Trip through the Adirondacks: My First Travelogue” or “Camping in the Adirondacks”), the entries on the trials and triumphs of canoeing, and the goofy pictures of Killip staring strangely into the camera, all illustrate this well. Soon after the first few pages, however, Killip begins switching back and forth between my-summer-vacation entries and scientific recording. Killip logged the various plants he observed and included general descriptions of the flora in localities he visited. When I found photos of plants with identifications, I knew his habits had taken hold. Killip was turning his vacation into a field trip, as we have seen with so many of these darn scientists. Even in an unsuspecting image of “Mountain Pond,” the subject seems suspiciously (and purposefully) obscured by the foliage on the edge of the pond.
I don’t think there is much skepticism among our readers that such observations can be extremely useful, especially when coupled with dates and accurate locality information (but I’m still going to talk about it). Because Killip’s journal is foremost a travelogue, every location he visits is well documented. At the end of his journal, Killip even includes an itinerary of travel. That’s right Killip; go crazy and record every single plant you see if you want to. Each observation of plant life you form, Killip, is clearly associated with a date and locality. Thank goodness.
|Map of Cold River and Raquette River intersection, 1914. Page 73. RU7375, image SIA2012-8818, Smithsonian Institution Archives.||Map of Cold River and Raquette River intersection, 1914. Page 73. RU7375, image SIA2012-8818, Smithsonian Institution Archives.|
If after reading Killip’s travelogue there is any doubt that Killip’s hobby, habit, obsession—whatever you want to call it—became a large part of his trip, one need only look at the three page list of plants observed that is included in a sort of appendix.
For Killip and many other scientists at the Smithsonian (dead and living), this habit of field booking seems more like a compulsion because it shows up during times you’d expect these people to just RELAX. Knowing this, however, a scientist’s personal travelogues or diaries should not be immediately discounted from containing useful scientific information. When the record of a scientist’s travels are available, it might be worth taking a few minutes to see if they couldn’t help but record some field observations. Along with finding a unique personal narrative, you may be unlocking untapped biodiversity information.
|Glass negative, 2012, by Janelle Batkin, Record Unit 7370, Smithsonian Institution Archives.|
The Smithsonian Center for Conservation summer intern Janelle Batkin blogs about her work Putting It All Together: The Assembly and Rehousing of Glass Plate Negatives. Read it on The Bigger Picture.
|Title: Griffiths' "Cacti Glass Negatives" collection
Authors: Funk, Vicki A. Tuccinardi, C.
Issue Date: 1988
Citation: Taxon, 37: 76-107.
Appears in Collections: Department of Botany
By Emily Hunter, Field Book Project
D. Griffiths field notes, Texas and Mexico, 1905. SIA Acc. 11-106. Photo by Emily Hunter.
While cataloging the field notes of David Griffiths (1867-1935) I was intrigued to find interesting markings in one book. The book includes Griffiths’s field notes from Texas and Mexico, 1905. It looked as if something wet was stamped on the paper and then outlined in pencil. Upon further investigation, I excitedly formed a theory that remains unproven.
During the time this book was created, Griffiths worked for the USDA, where he studied grasses as well as cacti of the United States southwestern region and northern Mexico. The Department of Botany, National Museum of Natural History, has ten of Griffiths’s field books.
D. Griffiths field notes, Texas and Mexico, 1905. SIA Acc. 11-106. Photo by Emily Hunter.
|An image that possibly shows the stamped cross-section of a flower and fruit.|
Reading through the 1905 field book, I saw that Griffiths was collecting Opuntia species, focusing especially on fruit. Griffiths’s entries included detailed physical observations of cacti specimens (fruit color, flower color, size, shape, etc.) and notes on the use of fruits as food. Locally, the fruits are called “tuna” and Griffiths includes notes on how Mexicans cut and eat them.
Just from visual observation I could tell the following:
Stamp in book showing white powdery surface, possibly mold. D. Griffiths field notes, Texas and Mexico, 1905. SIA Acc. 11-106. Photo by Emily Hunter.
My hypothesis is this: Griffiths cut the fruit lengthwise and pressed the cross section against the paper to record the shape and size of the fruit. He then traced an outline, possibly to indicate the peel or skin of the fruit, and the knobby appearance of the outsides of it. The light-colored powder may be mold from the juices.
I asked Rusty Russell, Collections Manager in the National Museum of Natural History Department of Botany, what insights he could offer. He hadn’t seen anything similar recorded in field books before, but thought that my “cactus fruit stamp” hypothesis sounded plausible.
Tunas (Opuntia stenopetala). Photo by Carlos Velazco, on Flickr (Creative Commons): http://www.flickr.com/photos/aztekium/165808412/in/photostream/
I’m still unsure what the check mark means. I hoped that it meant that the specimen was collected, since collector numbers seem to be included with most entries. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find a match between specimens recorded in the field book and the collections in the U.S. National Herbarium, so all of this is still just an educated guess.
I’d love to hear if anyone else has come across this kind of field note recording. I would also be very interested to know if anyone does something similar in their own field notes! Please feel free to comment below.
Caitlin McDonough MacKenzie
My research explores the effects of climate and land use change on Mount Desert Island, Maine. I’m a graduate student in Biology at Boston University and my field work aims to re-survey the abundance, distribution, and flowering times of plants. When I am studying long-term changes in plant communities, I often wish that I could time travel. What did the island look like a century ago? What plants grew there? How abundant were they? And did they bloom later than they do now?
Champlain Boys, 1880, by Champlain Society, photograph, Courtesy of Northeast Harbor Library.
To answer these questions, I turn to field notes from the late 19th century. For over a decade, dedicated fieldwork was undertaken to catalogue the island’s flora, create an herbarium of specimens, and publish a book on the subject. However, these notes were not penned by professional scientists, or even graduate students — the entire project was the work of college kids on summer vacation. In 1880, a handful of Harvard boys sailed to Mount Desert Island and camped on Somes Sound. They hoped to study the natural history of the island — botany, geology, meteorology and ornithology — and dubbed themselves the “Champlain Society” after the 17th century French explorer who named the island.
In 1880, Acadia National Park would not exist for another three decades, and Bar Harbor’s reputation as a summering place for the East Coast elite was in its infancy. The Champlain Society allowed Harvard gentlemen a chance to get out of Cambridge and into the wild. Samuel A. Eliot, one of the Society’s members, remembered the origin of their plan:
Why not select some particular region and put in the summer studying its geological formations, its flora and fauna, its birds and fishes, its trees and shrubs? There would be a happy combination of work and play; sea and land; tramping, sailing, and reading.
|Champlain Society Camp Log, July 21, 1882. Courtesy of Mount Desert Island Historical Society.|
It didn’t hurt that Samuel’s father was the president of Harvard, with a yacht available for the sail, and a cache of camping supplies held at the head of Somes Sound.
For a decade, the Champlain Society returned to the island each summer. While the ornithology and meteorology studies eventually lost out to the luster of society ladies, hops in hotel ballrooms, and moonlit boat rides, one determined young man, Edward L. Rand, cleaved to the botanical mission. Throughout his undergraduate years, the summers while he was a law student, and then while a practicing lawyer, he always came back to his annual fieldwork. The Flora of Mount Desert Island (1894) stands as a testament to his dedication. Rand co-wrote the book with John H. Redfield, an accomplished botanist and retired businessman who summered on the island. Other botanists also contributed to the Flora; Rand reported on their efforts in the Champlain Society’s Camp Logs. Today, paging through the Flora, I can use their work to analyze changes in the plant communities here. Rand and Redfield described the abundance of each species they found on the island, and these notes provide a baseline for my comparisons. Species that were once common have become rare; one-fifth of the species that were recorded here in the 19th century have since disappeared from the landscape.
Champlain Society Camp Log, July 21 1884. Courtesy of Mount Desert Island Historical Society.
To understand the methods behind the Flora, I looked at the Champlain Society’s Camp Logs. These journals record the daily activities of the Society during their early Mount Desert Island summers, often infusing them with schoolboy humor: “Monday, July 21st 1884 — Rand went on a botanical expedition to Cedar Mt. Swamp, finding a great many specimens of black flies.” Through the Camp Logs, I was able to time travel to an earlier island, peek into the canvas tents that once peppered a field along the now forested sound, and peer over Edward L. Rand’s shoulder as he pressed botanical specimens in the evening and added annotations to his growing species list.
|Camp Pemetic, 1881, M. P. Slade, photograph, Champlain Society Log. Courtesy of the Mount Desert Island Historical Society.|
Champlain Society Camp Logs, Mount Desert Island Historical Society (http://www.mdihistory.org/)
Champlain Society At Northeast Harbor-1880 Compiled by Dunbar, Charles F. at Northeast Harbor Library (http://www.nehlibrary.org/)
By Emily Hunter, Field Book Project
Sketch showing behavioral observations of bird, from the field notes of Martin H. Moynihan , 1961. SIA Acc. 01-096. Image: SIA 2012-1914.
While cataloging field books I often come across rough sketches. The sketches usually depict specimens, and are completed quickly and roughly in the field. I love finding sketches. Besides being nice to look at, they illustrate scientific names and collector numbers. For me, they are pretty pictures, but I wondered about the reasons that collectors might make drawings in the field, and what the sketches can tell us.
I met up with Botany Collections Manager and Field Book Project Co-PI Rusty Russell to ask him for a botanist’s perspective on the value of field sketches. Rusty reminded me that to draw something is to really see it. I understood immediately. Before attending library school, I studied art. That single remark spoke directly to my experience drawing from life. To sketch something—to take in all of the lines and planes, colors, shades, textures, and nuances and put them on paper—is to really understand the physical form. Whether it’s a person, a shell, a plant, an insect, or an animal, you have to take time to observe it from all angles. The very act of rendering an object can fix it into your memory. How art and science intersect yet again!
A page with sketches from the field notes of Martin H. Moynihan, 1961. SIA Acc. 01-096. Image: SIA 2012-1899.
|Pages showing field notes and sketches of fish, from the journal of Rafinesque, Kentucky, 1818. SIA RU7250. Image: SIA2012-6106|
Illustration of a fish collected during the United States Exploring Expedition, 1838-1842. SIA RU7186. Image: SIA2011-1233.
Jenny Keller actually made this same point in her chapter “Why Sketch” in Michael Canfield’s book Field Notes on Science and Nature. Keller asserts that sketching can assist a field biologist with observing and documenting aspects of a specimen that may otherwise go unnoticed or unrecorded. She points out that photography can sometimes miss certain aspects of a specimen: it can only shoot one side at a time and often the color can come out wrong. Keller writes that sketching can ensure that you see and record all observations while you’re still in front of the subject.
I brought some of the field books of botanist T. R. Soderstrom to Rusty’s office so that we could take a look at the sketches together. I was curious why Soderstrom made sketches and measurements of bamboo in the field if he was collecting the specimen anyway. Would a sketch be necessary? Wouldn’t it be easier to take measurements and provide observations back in the comfort of the lab?
Sketches of bamboo from the field book of T. R. Stoderstrom, Laos, 1974. SIA Acc. 12-404. Photo by the Field Book Project.
Rusty explained that a sketch is “a way of collecting data visually that might not be available to you once the collection is made”. In the case of Soderstrom’s sketches, he was recording measurements of internodes (distances between nodes of bamboo) that he wouldn’t be able to take back in the lab. Because the bamboo specimens that Soderstrom was collecting were so large, only portions were collected. Soderstsrom may have wanted to get measurements for the entire specimen, and that was only possible in the field. The sketches are an obvious way to visualize, remember, and understand the data.
So, these are just a few ways that field book sketches are valuable documentation. Keller includes even more reasons for sketching in the field, and I encourage you to read her chapter in Field Notes on Science and Nature. To all collectors: sketch on!
Sketches by unknown creator, undated. SIA Acc. 12-402. Photo by the Field Book Project.
Canfield, M. (2011). Field notes from science and nature. (1st ed.). Boston, MA: Harvard University Press.
Smithsonian YES! (Youth Engagement through Science) delve into field notes of Smithsonian Botanists from the late 19th / early 20th century. Photo by Field Book Project.
Tuesday, the Field Book Project welcomed 25 students from the Smithsonian YES! (Youth Engagement through Science) summer program into the National Museum of Natural History Main Library stacks to view field books from the Department of Botany. Students explored nine original field books created between 1897 and 1946, each field book highlighting different aspects of note taking. During their internships, YES students will create their own field notes while working with Smithsonian scientists. Forensic Anthropology Lab Educator Nicole Webster was charged with developing the students’ field book curriculum and the yellow notebooks seen in the photo above. Webster has agreed to blog for the Field Book Project at the end of the summer, so please check back for more about field notes from the YES! students.
By Emily Hunter, Field Book Project
24. Calytrocarya [sic]. Photograph by André Goeldi, circa 1913-1920. SIA Acc. 12-045, Image SIA 2012-3890.
In January, I began cataloging field books in the Department of Botany. In my first week, I came across a box of materials related to the botanist André Goeldi. These materials had a note from our conservator that read “Extremely brittle!” Carefully, I opened the folder and gasped as I saw the contents--black and white photographs of botanical specimens, mostly grasses. Each one was stunning. The photographs themselves were “silvering” (also called silver mirroring)--something that happens to older black and white gelatin prints, in which the silver particles begin to oxidize, producing a blue-ish metallic look. Although a conservation problem, the silver mirroring gave the images an otherworldly glow.
The photographs depicted specimens, set upon a black background, with a tape measure in many of the images to indicate scale. The photographs were clearly taken to document Goeldi’s specimen collection, but it’s hard to deny their aesthetic merit as well. Grass is something usually taken for granted as common, but seeing the variety of grasses depicted in these 36 photographs made me think twice about the familiar plant family. Isolated clumps shown on the dark background gave focus to the form, while highlighting the elegance (and the occasionally tangled chaos) of some of these plants.
Man standing in a field with grasses and trees, possibly André Goeldi in Brazil, circa 1913-1920. SIA Acc. 12-045, Image: SIA 2012-3935.
I examined the contents of the folder for clues about the materials and their creator. A letter included with the photographs indicated that the images were sent to Albert Spear Hitchcock in 1920. Hitchcock was an expert on grasses, and presumably he and Goeldi corresponded regarding the identification or perhaps the exchange of the specimens. Also included with the photographs were specimen lists, with entries in Portuguese. These lists, handwritten on an extremely acidic paper, were even more brittle than the photographs. Some of the information had even crumbled away from the edges. After consulting with our conservator, I digitized the entire contents of the Goeldi box. This way, the information is captured digitally in case the physical objects wear down and lose additional information. From these images, I selected several of the most interesting to make up the flickr set.
List of grasses sent with photographs by André Goeldi to A. S. Hitchcock in 1920. SIA Acc. 12-045.
I was interested to find out who André Goeldi was. My initial research returned few results. I knew that André Goeldi was working in Pará, Brazil circa 1913 to 1920, and that he was not the same person as Emílio A. Goeldi, first director of the Museu Paraense Emílio Goeldi. I dug into the archives and also reached out to the Museu Goeldi to see if they had additional information. To my delight, Dr. Nelson Sanjad, researcher, History of Science at the Museu Paraense Emílio Goeldi, responded to my email and offered additional details on Goeldi’s life. Dr. Sanjad helped to fill in many of the gaps, informing me that Goeldi (name variation Andréas Goeldi) was born in Switzerland in 1872 and immigrated to Brazil in 1893. He worked at the Museu Paraense Emílio Goeldi from 1901 to 1906 and then at the experimental farm Estação Agrícola de Peixe Boi. Dr. Sanjad also informed me that Emílio and André were cousins. The correspondence with A. S. Hitchcock dated 1920 may be the last documented mention of André Goeldi’s activities, so perhaps he died shortly after.
This set of field documentation serves as an example of how materials from all over the world end up in the care of the Smithsonian Institution. Curating this set of images sparked an interesting journey for me, and required the collaboration of colleagues across various fields at home at the Smithsonian as well as abroad. The collaborative and interdisciplinary nature of the Field Book Project was something that initially attracted me to apply as an intern over a year ago. I hope that you enjoy learning about the process of bringing these images to the public sphere, and I encourage you to share any comments or additional information on the man behind these photographs.
Thank you very much to the following people for their assistance with various aspects of this project: Dr. Nelson Sanjad, Museu Paraense Emílio Goeldi, Pará, Brazil; Anna Friedman and the conservation staff at Smithsonian Institution Archives; Tad Bennicoff and reference team at Smithsonian Institution Archives; Kira Cherrix and the digitization staff at Smithsonian Institution Archives; and all of my colleagues at the Field Book Project.
By Emily Hunter and Rusty Russell, Field Book Project
Botany field books in National Museum of Natural History library stacks, photo by Anna Friedman
Last summer, Field Book Project staff and interns began to catalog the hundreds of field books that are in the care of the Department of Botany. This summer, the Field Book Project has reached a significant milestone. As of this writing, the final collection of Botany field books is being cataloged -- at least for now. “At least for now” because while the current cache of Botany field books has been documented they, like all of the collections at the National Museum of Natural History, grow and diversify. Field books are still being “found”, and some day current staff will contribute their own field books. For now, the Field Book Project only catalogs the field notes of inactive collectors.
The numbers are far greater than the original estimates. To date the Field Book Project has cataloged 1,018 botanical field books created by 168 field biologists. Many of these field books have received special conservation attention from experts at the SI Archives, and now exist in a more controlled environment. We’ve created consistent records and access points that ultimately make the field books and their content more accessible to researchers. The short version? You will have an easier time finding and using these field books.
In 1980 former Botany Librarian Ruth Schallert prepared an inventory of field books being stored in the Botany Library. For more than two decades, this listing was the only electronically available field book resource on the NMNH website. In the course of cataloging, however, we have found that some of the field books were missing. Their current storage in the Natural History Library improves our ability to maintain and preserve the Botany field books. The task of digitally scanning field books has begun, and soon researchers will be able to locate field book items through the catalog by several access points (dates, creator, locality, and others) and be able to see and read the individual field book pages.
Field books are the original source of information for collecting activities and the resulting collections. They are, therefore, even more important than specimen labels. The impact of reaching this milestone in Botany is significant in terms of improved access to this critical data, all of which bodes well for research and collections programs in the Department.
Postcard of the United States National Museum Building, now the Arts & Industries Building, c. 1915. Smithsonian Institution Archives, Record Unit 95, 2003-19543.
Summer has announced its presence in the District of Columbia. I know this because the tourists have amassed to summer vacation numbers at the entrances of the museums along the National Mall. As the exhibit halls fill with visitors, the back halls of Natural History begin to empty. For many natural history disciplines, summer is a prime time to head in to the field and collect. In my short time at the Smithsonian I have enjoyed hearing about the many far flung places researchers have traveled during this time of year.
In my experience, it seems that many scientists stay closer to home to collect during the summer, and as Smithsonian scientists often lived in and near the District of Columbia, we’ve cataloged a number of field books documenting DC field work. One of my favorite characteristics of these books has been the specificity of location identification. They frequently indicate not only DC neighborhood but also nearby landmarks (i.e. corner of US Department of Agriculture building).
While passing families peruse maps to determine their next destination on the Mall, I have begun to wonder how many of our popular attractions are documented in the field books. Hopefully my list below will spark some new ways of looking at these familiar locations.
These are just some of the locations I found in the 110 field books we have cataloged relating to the District of Columbia. For some disciplines, like botany, documentation of DC biodiversity is well established. In fact the Department of Botany at NMNH offers online access to database plant specimens of the Washington DC / Baltimore area. The website also offers maps of what’s currently in bloom.
Whether you are resident heading on your daily commute or a visitor to our fair city, I hope this inspires a new way to look at your surroundings.
By Lesley Parilla, Field Book Project
Near view of native vegetation on sand-steppe near Heidesheim, Germany, taken by Bohumil Shimek, 1914. Photograph documents geological and botanical observations. The children are not identified. SIA2012-3229.
Anyone reading my blog posts has probably noticed I tend to include more photographs from the field books than images of text. I choose photographs because they often have more visual impact when I give an overview of a collection’s contents. Blogs are so short that I rely on the ability of a photograph to inspire an emotional reaction from the reader.
Photographs commonly straddle the line between the personal and profession side of the scientist. Usually the majority of detailed scientific content comes from the text, and photographs augment. To this end, I try to catalog the images in a collection last, so that I will have in mind locations and circumstances the photographer is documenting. In the case of Bohumil Shimek, I wish I had done the images first.
Shimek is an anomaly for me in several ways. He did not work at the Smithsonian; his specimens and field books came to the Institution after his demise. Also, Shimek recorded everything in his field books. Most scientists I’ve cataloged limited details to scientific documentation and personal observations, since field books were usually being sent back to the departments of Natural History. They would not usually include information about other pursuits. Shimek includes details about his other interests and other jobs in midst of his field work documentation. This meant finding notes about repairs for area elementary schools, land survey notes, and details about meetings relating to immigration rights, between details of observed geological formations and related vegetation. Given Shimek’s background in geology, zoology, and botany, his field notes make for fascinating snapshots of biodiversity, but they scattered among a lot of information that is not within the parameters of the Field Book Project.
Q macrocarpa var. depressa. Prairie border. S.W. corner of Lyon county, Iowa. SIA2012-3228.
His personal and professional focuses became a bit muddled for me. Ironically, his photographs are the most consistently, scientifically focused part of his collection. Most of his photographs are in one of four boxes, in groupings of eight, most with a description of the location, vegetation, and geology. I can’t begin to tell you how clear his work became when I started cataloging these!
 Wind gauge and unidentified field equipment on hillside. SIA2012-3232.
There is another reason I love these photographs so much. I grew up where Shimek did much of his field work. During my childhood, my family routinely drove 8 to 12 hours through the Midwest. I spent lot of time staring out the window of the car, looking at the landscape between Iowa and Missouri. My main focus was trying to determine how close we were to our destination, and save my mother from another “are we there yet.” I watched for any variation, including the groves of trees that dot the landscape foretelling of farm complexes, wind breaks, or rivers and creeks, as well as formations like the bluffs along the Missouri river or exposed limestone along the interstate heading to Kansas City. I never really had a good notion of why these changes occurred. Lo and behold many years later, working at the Smithsonian, I cataloged a scientist that studied and documented these very topics. And, in the course of it, I learned the geography of my childhood.
By Emily Hunter, Field Book Project
Cover of Edward Palmer's field book from Durango, Mexico, 1906, Edward Palmer field notes from the Department of Botany, SIA Acc. 12-346.
As a field book cataloger, there are two types of field materials that I tend to come across the most: specimen lists and narrative field notes. Specimen lists are just that—lists of specimens collected in the field. I’m currently working on cataloging field books from the Department of Botany, so these include lists of plants collected in the field, usually with collector numbers (numbers assigned in the field by the collector) as well as name (scientific, if known at the time, or common if the specimen is to be identified later). Other information may be included as well, including the habitat the plant was found in, locality, date of collection, altitude, etc. Specimen lists are informative--they are the original source materials for catalog records of specimens.
Narrative field notes, however, are my favorite to catalog. They tend to be descriptive, allowing botany novices (such as myself) to get a visual picture of the collecting trip conditions, the route taken, the landscape and location, and the plants collected. Sometimes they read like diaries or journal entries; they describe daily activities and include reflections, thoughts, and opinions. I’ve found some collectors possess a real power of description. It seems to me, there is an art of using the English language to paint a visual picture and convey information to others or even to oneself (to remember at a later date).
As an undergraduate studying art history, the skill of written description was invaluable for relating the look and feel of a work of art. But this skill translates to the sciences as well. As we mentioned in a recent blog post on John Muir, detailed habitat descriptions can be invaluable for conservation efforts such as habitat reconstruction.
|Two entries in Edward Palmer's field book from Durango, Mexico, 1906, Edward Palmer field notes from the Department of Botany, SIA Acc. 12-346.|
Edward Palmer was particularly adept at description. Palmer was an ethnobotanist, who collected both plants and anthropological objects in Mexico, circa 1890-1910. While his handwriting was unique and his spelling and grammar a bit, ahem, unusual (punctuation was rare), his real talent was describing what he saw. Take, for example, this entry describing a plant on a trip to Durango, Mexico in 1906:
145. One of the finest blooming plants Grows in dence [sic] shade, base of mountain several long stems hanging about other plants at base some are two or three inches diameter + 25 or more feet long, flowers are cream at first then by age change to a mixture of snuff and orange the inside has bands of purple with light purple shading on each side
Can you picture it? It’s a brief entry, but Palmer hits on size, color, shape, maturity. He even throws in a mention of the plant’s superlative beauty. With a little help from the Smithsonian’s NMNH Department of Botany staff, I was able to read the determination written on the entry as Solandra guttata. I also found an image of the living plant, to compare to Palmer’s description. Check out the picture below!
|Solandra guttata (Solanaceae) [Synonym: Swartzia guttata]. Photographer: Howard, R.A. Copyright Department of Botany, NMNH, Smithsonian Institution|
Pretty good, huh? I think my old Art History professor would be proud.
By Emily Hunter, Field Book Project
I recently cataloged a small field book by a “Mrs. William Owen”. I found this book unusual (and very interesting) for several reasons. First of all, the diminutive book contains entries on only 16 collected specimens, but the entries are incredibly rich and descriptive; I can almost hear her thoughts as she wrote them. Secondly, no years are included. No specific localities (beyond Guatemala) are written. And for the life of me, I could not find biographical information on this woman! Thirdly, her entries include a wealth of information on the native names and uses of plants. Uses of plants range from medicinal, to culinary, to bases for useful products and tools.
Title page and entries of field book by Mrs. Wm. Owen, Mrs. William Owen Field Notes from the Department of Botany, undated, SIA Acc. 12-345.
Take, for example, this entry:
Chu-che’ [Indian] This tree has no Spanish name. Its Indian name Chu-Che means bad smelling (Chu) tree (che’), because the branches when broken emit a strong pungent odor. The leaves of this tree after being wilted over embers are burned to the temples to relieve neuralgia. It grows like bamboo or cane putting up shoots from the root until 3 or 4 years old, when it becomes a gnarled and unattractive tree. Of the long straight shoots of the young tree the Indian makes his blow gun (pub-che’).
What a great deal of information Owen has provided in a short paragraph! She gives a detailed physical description of the plant, including how it looks at varying stages. Even more interesting is the information she includes regarding the use of the plants by native Guatemalans. No Latin name is given for this plant, but she has indicated the local language name. I especially love the fact that this tree is used for a blowgun.
Plant specimen entries by Mrs. Wm. Owen, Mrs. William Owen Field Notes from the Department of Botany, undated, SIA Acc. 12-345.
I wish I could find more information on this woman. Was she a botanist? Plant enthusiast? Ethnographer? What years did she work? (Her materials don’t have dates!) What brought her to Guatemala (assuming she emigrated there)?
When searching for biographical information on a “Mrs. William Owen” I found some materials on someone who studied Guatemalan folklore, and was married to Captain William Owen—Mrs. Mary Owen. There isn’t enough evidence to be sure it is the same person, but this is my favorite (unfounded) theory.
So, I will put this out there for all. Do you know who Mrs. William Owen was? Comment below!
By Emily Hunter and Lesley Parilla, Field Book Project
John Muir with cane, by Francis M. Fritz [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Happy 174th Birthday, John Muir! The Field Book Project team is celebrating a day early; conservationist John Muir was born on April 21, 1838.
Who was John Muir? Muir was perhaps the most influential conservationist in the United States. Muir is credited by the National Park Service, Sierra Club, and many other sources with being the father of the U.S. National Parks. Have you ever enjoyed the natural splendor of Yosemite National Park or Sequoia National Park? If so, you’ve experienced one of the national treasures we have as a direct result of Muir’s efforts. John Muir campaigned tirelessly to establish national parks in order to preserve the pristine beauty of our country. He’s also the founding president of the Sierra Club.
In the spirit of Muir, we would like to take a moment to discuss conservation, and the role that field notes may be able to play in research on conserving and sustaining our natural environment.
Field notes often include an amazing variety of information that does not get reported in resulting publications. Over the last few years, historic field work and field books have been increasingly used by researchers for a number of conservation efforts including tracking changes in climate and bird migrations.
The Grizzly Giant, Mariposa Grove, Yosemite, California , 1861/printed after 1875, by Carleton E. Watkins, Smithsonian American Art Museum Museum, 1994.91.278
What about the field books that we are cataloging? The potential is there to use them in conservation work. According to Rusty Russell, Field Book Project Co-PI, the value may be in the descriptions and first hand observations that the field notes provide.
John Muir spent significant time documenting the natural wonders of Yosemite, including Mariposa Grove. His published words help the general reader visualize the beloved national park as seen in this quote from Our National Parks.
The more famous and better known Mariposa Grove, belonging to the state, lies near the southwest corner of the park, a few miles above Wawona. The sugar pine (Pinus Lambertiana) is first met in the park in open, sunny, flowery woods, at an elevation of about thirty-five hundred feet above the sea, attains full development at a height between five and six thousand feet, and vanishes at the level of eight thousand feet. In many places, especially on the northern slopes of the main ridges between the rivers, it forms the bulk of the forest, but mostly it is intimately associated with its noble companions, above which it towers in glorious majesty on every hill, ridge, and plateau from one extremity of the range to the other, a distance of five hundred miles, the largest, noblest, and most beautiful of all the seventy or eighty species of pine trees in the world, and of all the conifers second only to King Sequoia (page 109).
A field book of F. Raymond Fosberg documents the same locations but for a specialized audience. Take this entry, for example, which covers the same territory as Muir’s quote above.
|Fosberg’s field notes, Yosemite National Park, 1969. From Raymond F. Fosberg field notes from the Department of Botany, SIA Acc. 12-040.|
Here Fosberg is documenting what he sees. What looks like a list of plants is actually a source of valuable data. Fosberg is creating associations between specimens, and linking them to a specific date and time. Rusty Russell says, “he’s not just creating a relationship, he’s painting the picture.”
That kind of picture could be invaluable. Russell says that one way that field book information could be used is in planning habitat reconstruction. So, we at the Field Book Project wondered, “How else could this information be used”?
We are actively seeking examples of how field book notes are used in various types of research, including conservation. If you’d like to share how you use field work documentation, please leave a comment below or email Carolyn Sheffield at SheffieldC@si.edu.
Audubon Society. What are the Birds Telling Us About Global Warming? Retrieved April 9, 2012 from http://chapterservices.audubon.org/what-are-birds-telling-us-about-global-warming
Environmental Research Center. The 1911 Database. Retrieved April 9, 2012 from http://www.serc.si.edu/labs/benthic_ecology/community_ecology/accessdata.aspx
Muir, J. (1901). Our National Parks. Boston, New York : Houghton, Mifflin and Company. Retrieved April 18, 2012 from http://archive.org/details/nationalparksour00muirrich
Primack, R. B., & Miller-Rushing, A. J. (February 2012). Uncovering, Collecting, and Analyzing Records to Investigate the Ecological Impacts of Climate Change: A Template from Thoreau's Concord. BioScience. Vol. 62, No. 2. University of California Press. Retrieved April 9, 2012 from http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1525/bio.2012.62.2.10
Sierra Club. John Muir: A Brief Biography. Retrieved April 11, 2012 from http://www.sierraclub.org/john_muir_exhibit/life/muir_biography.aspx Smithsonian
Fosberg’s field notes, Yosemite National Park, 1969. From Raymond F. Fosberg field notes from the Department of Botany, SIA Acc. 12-040.
By Emily Hunter, Field Book Project
Field work can be exhilarating for the committed collector, but sometimes a series of unfortunate events can shake even the strongest of wills. Bugs, heat, cold, earthquakes, volcanoes, fires, flood, illness, and (unexpected) animals have all been known to color collecting trips. Field work can range from a bit uncomfortable to downright dangerous.
Ellsworth Paine Killip’s field notes from 1929 in Peru tell of an incident when the house he was boarding in caught on fire. He writes,
“Sun. July 7. While I was working, the arriero watching me, we heard a roar like a blast furnace door being opened. Rushed into the bedroom there where the presses were and found everything in flames, the fire creeping up the bamboo wall. The whole house was of bamboo, it should be said. Fortunately, there was a big bucket of water in the kitchen and this we poured on the fire, children bringing up additional water from a stream some distance away. Soon we had it under control but what a mess our plants were! Straps, ropes, curtains, and press-ends all burnt.”
Fortunately, most of the specimens came out ok, as did Killip himself.
|Killip's field notes, July 6-7, 1929, Ellsworth Paine Killip field notes from the Department of Botany, SIA Acc. 12-053.|
Alice M. Cornman describes a scene in which flooding rains caused her and fellow scientists and assistants to spend a wet and unprepared night (with no supplies!) in the Panamanian rain forest. They had been so caught up in collecting ferns they didn’t realize how hard it was raining. Once the group reached the river, they found it impassable. Cornman writes,
"…we tried several times to cross, wading into water above our waists, all holding hands, but the current was too swift, and we were finally convinced that a night in the jungle was a lesser of two evils.”
It gets worse! She continues,
“The sand-flies and mosquitoes were so numerous that we could not have slept, even if we had been comfortable.”
Edward Palmer had an unfortunate accident in 1906 while attempting to collect a succulent plant in Mexico. The entry for this specimen (Echeveria, collector number 248) reads:
“4 plants from holes in the side of box canon [sic]…broke from plant in the effort to secure it I fell and received several contusions and am injured [+ sprained] with left hand.”
It certainly takes fortitude to scale a canyon in pursuit of a plant (though echeveria are a favorite of mine). Palmer doesn’t add any other details of his injury, though it can be assumed he recovered quickly as he made several other collections soon after.
|Edward Palmer's field notes, Mexico, 1906. Edward Palmer field notes from the Department of Botany, SIA Acc. 12-346.|
Perhaps, unluckiest of all was William Ashbrook Kellerman, who was infected with Malaria while collecting in Guatemala in 1908. The trip ended up being his last, as he died from the illness upon returning to the United States. The Smithsonian has the last field book Kellerman kept on that fateful trip.
So there you have it. I know that I’m guilty of romanticizing the exotic trips of scientists collecting specimens in the field, but it’s no simple feat. It takes a lot of work, and perhaps, a bit of luck.
By Tad Bennicoff, Reference Archivist, Smithsonian Institution Archives
|Cover of journal kept by Rafinesque on his trip from Philadelphia to Kentucky, 1818. Smithsonian Institution Archives, Record Unit 7250, Box 1, Folder 3, Image SIA2012-6042|
When the folks involved with the Field Book Project http://www.mnh.si.edu/rc/fieldbooks/ asked me to contribute to this blog, I was uncertain of how to approach the task. The study of science and its many disciplines have never been one of my strengths. My background is in History, which has led me into a much enjoyed career as a Reference Archivist. Thus, I resolved to focus on the historic significance of the field notes held by the National Museum of Natural History and the Smithsonian Institution Archives. One of the frustrations of a Reference Archivist, especially one who has the good fortune of being surrounded by collections as diverse as those held by the Smithsonian, is that there is little opportunity to really immerse one’s self into a particular collection. The upside of course is the variety of topics and research I am permitted to pursue. Such research, however, is almost entirely dictated by the questions we receive from the public. To this end, I was recently tasked with reviewing Record Unit 7250: C. S. (Constantine Samuel) Rafinesque Papers, 1815-1834 and undated; the finding aid for this collection is available online.
Constantine Samuel Rafinesque was a Naturalist and Philologist born on October 22, 1783, in Constantinople (a brief biography is available on the University of Evansville faculty webpage). In the autumn of 1818 Rafinesque undertook a trip from Philadelphia to Kentucky, where he stayed with John James Audubon for eight days. During his travels south, Rafinesque kept a journal of his plant and animal observations. This journal is part of Record Unit 7250, and it is remarkable. Nearly two hundred years old, the journal is composed of notes (in French) and sketches of plants, shells, fish, and mammals. The sketches are not of Audubonian quality, but then again, they presumably were completed in the field and essentially are a snapshot of select specimens.
|Rafinesque’s drawings of tortoises observed along the Ohio River, 1818. Smithsonian Institution Archives, Record Unit 7250, Box 1, Folder 3, Image SIA2012-6075.|
Upon applying white cotton gloves to my hands and opening Rafinesque’s leather bound journal, carefully turning each weathered page, I began to contemplate, historically, the nature of Rafinesque’s travels. There were of course no automobiles, so transportation must have been either by horse, perhaps a horse drawn carriage, or by foot. Furthermore, there were few roads and presumably even fewer maps. In fact, Rafinesque drafted his own maps, some of which are noted in the journal.
|Map drawn by Rafinesque during his travels from Philadelphia to Kentucky, 1818. Smithsonian Institution Archives, Record Unit 7250, Box 1, Folder 3, Image SIA2012-6086.|
Technology that we so easily take for granted was absent. There were no cameras to document observations, no laptop or tablet computers to record thoughts, no cell phones, no ballpoint pens, no electric lights, no water resistant rain gear, etc. I can only image that such scientific research was indeed laborious.
|Rafinesque’s drawings of fish observed during trip from Philadelphia to Kentucky, 1818. Smithsonian Institution Archives, Record Unit 7250, Box 1, Folder 3, Image SIA2012-6107.|
Frankly, I find the lack of our modern technology in the Rafinesque journal to be quite appealing, for if there had been digital cameras and iPads, we almost certainly would not have Rafinesque’s hand-written notes and sketches. Historical documents have a way of transporting the reader to the moment in time in which they were created, and as I studied the journal, I marveled not only at its contents, but also the journey it has traveled from the untamed wilderness of 18th century America to the custom made archival box and climate controlled facility where it resides today.
|Inner cover of journal kept by Rafinesque on his trip from Philadelphia to Kentucky, 1818. Smithsonian Institution Archives, Record Unit 7250, Box 1, Folder 3, Image SIA2012-6043.|
The Rafinesque notebooks continue to be consulted by researchers and scholars, a testament to the significance of their contents. The particular journal described in this post is in the process of being digitized, and may soon be available for researchers to consult through the wonders of technology Rafinesque never could have imagined. Based upon the time, effort, and care Rafinesque invested in recording his observations, I suspect he would applaud not only that his research continues to be valued by scholars, but also it may soon be available to researchers around the globe.
Other Field Book Project articles on Rafinesque:
By Rusty Russell, Co-Investigator, Field Book Project
|Calderon journal entry for April 21, 1976, Department of Botany, Natural Museum of Natural History. from SIA Acc. 12-005.|
Two of the most dynamic words in the history of science are “explore” and “discover”. Whether in the field or in the lab, exploration begets discovery, both of which feed the powerful drive of scientists to learn. So it was with Cleofé E. Calderon.
In 1851, the French botanist Adolphe- Théodore Brongniart described a new genus and species of bambusoid grass, Anomochloa marantoidea, from a specimen being grown in a Paris garden. The seeds from which this plant was raised had an uncertain origin, but were believed to have been collected in coastal Brazil. Although additional plants were cultivated from the original, this species was never again seen in the wild for 125 years. However in 1976, after an earlier but fruitless attempt to relocate this rarity, Smithsonian botanist Cleo Calderon and her Brazilian colleague Talmon S. dos Santos were foraging the understory of cacao plants in the eastern state of Bahia when they encountered the elusive Anomochloa. I am intimately familiar with this story for reasons I’ll explain shortly so, in honor of Women’s History Month, I wanted to tell this tale.
In the months preceding the U.S. Bicentennial celebration, Tom Soderstrom, Cleo Calderon and I set out on a ten-week journey to study and collect bamboo in the mata Atlantica of eastern Brazil, an historic refugium and, therefore, a rich and diverse region for bamboo species. Operating out of CEPEC, a cacao research center between the towns of Ilheus and Itabuna, it was decided to form two teams in order to maximize our coverage of the area. Tom, I and two CEPEC assistants would go one way, while Cleo, Talmon and two others would proceed elsewhere. The makeup of these teams was not a surprise to me because, upon beginning my career at the Smithsonian a year earlier, I immediately found myself in Cleo’s bad graces for assuming that her role was more clerical than scientific. Suffice to say that I paid for this error. It was an unforgiveable mistake, so … she never forgave me (sigh). But we maintained a cordial relationship involving minimal conversation. However, I came to greatly respect her research diligence, her work ethic, and her tremendous contribution to Botany through her collecting and publication record. The grass genus Calderonella and many grass species are named in her honor.
Back in Brazil, each foray lasted about ten days after which we would reconvene at CEPEC to share our bounty, and return to our hotel in Itabuna to share our stories. Anomochloa was always in the back of our mind as we searched for and collected hundreds of bamboos and smaller bambusoid grasses. On this trip, Cleo was inexaustible according to Talmon, himself a big strapping field veteran. Cleo had stopped smoking the year before and commented often about her improved ability to tromp through the field and climb hills without losing her breath. Then, at the end of our penultimate trip, Tom and I were relaxing at the hotel having returned a day early (I’m sure there was cerveza nearby), when we recognized the beat up black jeep roaring into town with horns blaring. Tom understood immediately.
When I learned that Ana Tkabladze, an intern on the Field Book Project, was digitizing Cleo’s field books, I got curious about her record of that trip and, specifically, that historic discovery. First of all, Cleo was fluent in Spanish, her native language as a full-bred, soccer-loving Argentinian, as well as English and Portuguese. Most Brazilians did not even recognize her accent. So, as I began to read her 1976 journal, I was struck with how seamlessly she moved through all three languages, sometimes in the same daily entry. Navigating her field book is, therefore, a bit of a challenge. I thumbed ahead to April 21st, anxious to read her account of the rediscovery of Anomochloa, expecting to find multiple exclamation marks, asterisks or smiley faces. Nope. Collector No. 2381, date, location, distances from landmarks, elevation, and photo numbers, all faithfully recorded per usual. Only one thing distinguished this record. Cleo indicated (n.sp.?) the possibility of this being a new species. Ha! She didn’t assume that she had rediscovered A. marantoidea, but considered the possibility that it was a second, unknown species. She had kept an open mind.
Cleo passed away in 2007. Her research relationship with Tom Soderstrom was such that, shortly before he died in 1987, she had left the Smithsonian, never to collect or publish again. But like so many other stories of exploration and discovery, Cleo Calderon’s exploits live on through her collections and field notes. And in our memory.
For a picture of Cleofe Calderon, see her obituary in this issue of Bamboo Science & Culture: http://www.bamboo.org/publications/e107_files/downloads/ABSJournal-vol21.pdf
By Lesley Parilla, Field Book Project
|SIA2009-4227. Photograph taken during Mary Agnes Chase’s field work on Pico das Agulhas Negras in Itatiaia National Park [Parque Nacional de Itatiáia], in Brazil.|
The Field Book Project has made of a point of posting quarterly flickr sets, to highlight some of the great hidden treasures we catalog. In the honor of Women’s History Month, I would like to announce our newest set, featuring images of Mary Agnes Chase and her field work.
During the 1920’s and 30’s Mary Agnes Chase conducted field work in the mountains of Brazil collecting grasses now housed in the Department of Botany Herbarium, National Museum of Natural History. Much of her time in the field is documented in correspondence to A. S. Hitchcock and photograph albums she compiled that are now part of Smithsonian Institution Archives Record Unit 229 and Mary Agnes Chase Field Books, 1906-1959 in the National Museum of Natural History, Department of Botany. During her time in Brazil, Chase wrote to Hitchcock discussing challenges, progress, and observations of local life. Chase was a woman of strong opinions and wit, as you will see in the quotes shared below.
The first quotes are from Chase’s chronicle of her excursion to Serra do Caparaó (November 19, 1929). During the trip, the trail and overnight camping were made more difficult by persistent rain.
“We were to camp in at a cave. We reached it about 4:30. It looked very inviting at first, being dry, until the guide commented on the pulgas (fleas) then I saw that the dusty earth was alive. I got back into the rain and began to collect while the guide burned dry palm leaves over the ground. I went back and warned Mrs. M as they came up. It was raining hard and I supposed we would have to stand the surviving fleas.”(page 7)
“Serra de Gramina [sic] which I climbed with the Rolfs was the only rain forest I had seen before. Everything was covered with ferns, from little filmies(?) to tree ferns. It was wonderfully lovely in spite of the discomfort and weariness. The trail had not been used for two years, the guide said, and he had to do a lot of cutting.” (page 9)
Chase goes on to describe preparations for the trip up Caparaó, and her struggles to find local guides and staff, recounting the men who refused to assist, stating their belief that if the trip was difficult for men they knew, it would be impossible for women. Chase was a woman of unusual energy and endurance. Despite being in her fifties at the time of her ascent, she climbed several of Brazil’s peaks during her field work throughout the decade. The field work proved challenging, but she persevered with good humor, as shown in the recounting below when she and a female participant reached one the campsites during the climb.
“We struggled out of the bamboo and saw the men resting on the camps. I shouted for joy and old Antonio grinned and said something about “muito(?) courageus” for senhoras to make that ascent. He said no women had ever done it before and very few men.” (page 11)
The last quote I’d like to share exemplifies the humor that was typical of Chase. It was taken from Chase’s letter to A.S. Hitchcock, from Brazil in December 21, 1929:
“The summit was almost as rough and finding nothing up there I hadn’t found climbing up I stepped and slid downward to the more open campo near the base, getting in a drop on saccharoides group, not saccharoides itself and a few other things. Knowing my capacity for getting lost I told myself I could not get lost this time with the mountains ridge on one hand and river on the other.”
Publications about Mary Agnes Chase over the decades have often focused on her dedication to her work, sometimes overshadowing her many other qualities and interests. Late in her life a story was commonly written in several articles about her. The story said that when meeting new people, she would ask "and what grasses do you work on?" If the person didn’t answer in the affirmative, the conversation came to an abrupt end. Chase’s ability to laugh at herself sharply contradicts the characterization of Chase as a serious woman only interested in her botanical specimens. It is this and many other qualities that make Chase a fascinating subject.
To see more of Chase’s images, see her Flickr set.
Sherwood, John. (January 12, 1977). “Notes on Gentle People and Their Honest Love. “ The Washington Star.
National Museum of Natural History. (1978). The Magnificent Foragers : Smithsonian Explorations in the Natural Sciences. Smithsonian Institution, Washington DC. p. 24.
Jessica C. Linker, University of Connecticut
Science Hill Female Academy Records, The Filson Historical Society, Louisville, KY.
I began my professional work – exploring women’s historical relationship to scientific practice – through a quirk of geography; I grew up in the same town as Almira Lincoln Phelps, the famous nineteenth-century botanist, and have spent the last decade chasing her across time and space in order to sate my curiosity. What circumstances had permitted her to become a scientist? Who had taught and encouraged her? At first, Phelps seemed an anomaly. Yet, in tracing Phelps’s teachers and students, I discovered a widespread culture of American women engaged with science. By the time I opened Sarah McGrath’s herbarium at the Filson Historical Society in Kentucky, I knew I wanted to write about the various ways women practiced science between 1720 and 1860. So I have sneezed my way through many volumes of dried plants hoping to reconstruct botanical pedagogy at female academies via a close reading of these documents.
McGrath created her herbarium while attending Science Hill Female Academy, a female boarding school located in Shelbyville, Kentucky. Julia A. Hieronymus Tevis founded the academy in 1825; it became a feeder institution for Wellesley College by the early twentieth century. As may be gleaned from its name, Science Hill offered a cutting-edge program in the natural sciences, which successfully produced hundreds of scientifically-literate graduates before 1860. Typically, coursework consisted of chemistry, botany, and natural philosophy, but Tevis also offered specialized training in rotating topics that complemented scientific lectures held at local universities and lyceums. In the 1840s and 1850s, these topics ranged from ornithology to galvanism.
It is difficult to reconstruct the classroom experience in the absence of explicit commentary, but McGrath’s May 1834 herbarium reveals much about how botany was taught at Science Hill. Field work was encouraged: McGrath collected thirty three specimens of both cultivated and wild plants, all but two of which were identified by class, order, genus and species.
Rosa parviflora. Science Hill Female Academy Records, The Filson Historical Society, Louisville, KY.
The recorded classes and orders indicate that McGrath identified her plants using the older, Linnaean taxonomic hierarchies. In contrast to the newer natural system, which structured botanical taxonomy around genetic relationships, the artificial Linnaean system grouped plants by the number of pistils or stamens a flower possessed. It was not uncommon for girls to learn the artificial system before the natural system; Almira Phelps believed the relative simplicity of Linnaean taxonomy made botany more accessible to female students. In lecture, McGrath would have learned plants’ reproductive systems so she could determine class and order by counting plant parts, then would have used a descriptive index to identify the plant’s binomial name, given as Genus species. These indexes required fluency in botanical Latin, a bastardized form of classical Latin invented to create a universal terminology for describing plants. To identify Baptisia tinctoria (Wild Indigo), for example, McGrath needed to pick out the following description from all the others listed in class Diandria, order Monogynia by comparing them to her dried specimen:
Baptisia tinctoria – transcription of botanical description appears below. Science Hill Female Academy Records, The Filson Historical Society, Louisville, KY.
"Very glabrous and branching: leaves ternate, subsessile; leaflets wedge obovate, round obtuse stipules obsolete, oblong, acute much shorter than petioles; racemes terminal, legumes ovate, long stiped."
These technical terms would have been explained in class, but if McGrath forgot their meanings, she could check definitions in her text book, which was carried afield with her. The specific language of the Baptisia tinctoria description indicates that McGrath probably used an early edition of Amos Eaton’s Manual of Botany or Almira Phelps’s Familiar Lectures on Botany to identify her plants.
In addition to taxonomy, students were taught how to preserve their specimens. Once collected, plants were stored between sheets of absorbent paper as they dried; drying time depended on the thickness and moistness of the plant. Flowers were opened to expose pistils and stamens before being pressed, such that descriptive identification could be verified by the dried specimen. McGrath used a simple mounting method: she cut slits in her album’s pages to form loops that would hold each plant’s stem in place. Blossoms were ephemeral, so seeking specific specimens required time to search and foreknowledge of a plant’s preferred environment. Plants needed to be pressed within a small window of time to prevent withering, or uprooted and carried home in a wet bladder or sphagnum moss.
To summarize: collecting, identifying and preserving specimens could be incredibly time consuming. Creating even a small volume of plants required both dedication and training. My plea as a historian would be this: do not dismiss women’s herbaria as decorative albums of pressed plants or mere hobby. They are, in fact, concrete evidence of women’s long-standing interest and skill in botany.
The author would like to thank the Filson Historical Society for the use of their images.
By Emily Hunter, Field Book Project
Acc. 90-105 - Science Service, Records, 1920s-1970s, Smithsonian Institution Archives. Left to right: Unidentified man, botanist and plant pathologist Johanna Westerdijk (1883-1961), and two other women (unidentified).
For women interested in science in the 19th and early 20th centuries, botany was the most accessible field to enter, but by no means was it easy. The waning Victorian period had placed an emphasis on women’s role at the center of the home, precluding most scientific pursuits. As an endeavor related to natural theology, however, the study of plants was viewed as an acceptable hobby for Victorian (and Christian) young women.
Botanical field work was also more open to women because, unlike in zoology, it could be conducted without handling weapons or killing animals (seen as a male domain). Views of the female sex may have limited chances for engaging in robust field work or traveling abroad, but women found opportunities to collect plants in their own backyards.
Many women pursued botany in this way. They started in-home herbariums, educated children on botany, and even joined professional associations.
As botany became more professionalized (about the mid 1800s) though, it became increasingly male-dominated. Because women were less likely to receive a formal education, they had a difficult time gaining professional employment and recognition.
While researching for this post, I was disappointed that I couldn’t find comprehensive (or sometimes any) biographical information for the women in our field book collections. Collecting under a male colleague or husband’s name may be to blame, or it may be that precious little is written about them. Still harder was finding images for many female botanists.
Here is what I did find. The Field Book Project is working to catalog the field notes of at least eight women botanists, including those highlighted below.
Josephine Milligan, collected circa 1889
Josephine Mason Milligan collected throughout the United States, but particularly in her home state of Illinois. She kept a home herbarium of wildflowers of Central Illinois which she later donated to the Smithsonian Institution after her death in 1911. She was an active member of numerous professional societies, including the Jacksonville Natural History Society and the Microscopical Society. She was a founding member of the Jacksonville Sorosis, a society of women who studied and discussed literature, science, and contemporary issues.
M. Alice Cornman, collected circa 1917-1918
M. Alice Cornman’s work with ferns began with writing descriptions and copying data for botanist Ellsworth P. Killip. Eventually, this led to collecting plants herself in Panama and Guatemala. Modestly discussing her own work, Cornman writes, “…while my descriptions often lacked scientific terms, they were descriptive.”
Reading her (probably unpublished) essay, “Collecting Ferns in Panama,” I was taken by Cornman’s humble account of her own budding appreciation for plants. She begins,
“I want to tell you a little of how I became interested in ferns, scientifically, for of course I had always loved ferns just as ferns, but the little brown spots on the under side of the frons, you have probably noticed them, did not appeal to me, they seemed to detract from the beauty of the ferns.”
Approaching the plants at first with an aesthetic eye, Cornman learned through her assistance to Killip that the “little brown dots” were sori, with complex patterns and functions. Thus was the beginning of her fascination with botany.
Velva Elaine Rudd, collected circa 1949-1999
Velva E. Rudd served as a curator in the Department of Botany, U.S. National Herbarium from 1959 to 1973. A legume specialist, she researched and published extensively on various tropical species of Fabaceae. The Mexican legume genus Ruddia is named for her.
Field notes of Velva E. Rudd.
In addition to these, the Smithsonian also has the field notes of:
While I don’t personally know a woman botanist, a few of my closest female friends are scientists. Through listening to their experiences, I have learned that it still requires great fortitude and determination to succeed in a male-dominated discipline. Here’s to women botanists and all women who have fought and continue to fight to do what they love and to contribute to the advancement of knowledge.
This post is part of a series celebrating Women’s History Month. Stay tuned for more, and check out related posts on women in science on The Bigger Picture.
Bassett, P. D. (1925). The Jacksonville Sorosis organized: Founded November 30th, 1868. Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society (1908-1984), 18(1), 209-212.
Bonta, M. M. (1995). American women afield: Writings by pioneering women naturalists. College Station: Texas A&M University.
Gianquitto, T. (2007). “Good observers of nature”: American women and the scientific study of the natural world, 1820-1885. Athens: University of Georgia Press.
Kohlstedt, S. G. (1978). From the Periphery: American Women in Science, 1830-1880. Signs, 4(1), 81-96.