Young coconut plant and Edward Stewart. Photograph was taken while Hitchcock was on a collecting trip to British Guiana [Guyana]. SIA2011-0551.
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!
An irrigation plant near Zacatecas, Mexico. Photograph taken by Mary Agnes Chase or A. S. Hitchcock, documenting field work. SIA2012-4605.
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.
Iceland Poppy, East Greenland, 1939. Photograph was taken during Bob Bartlett's expedition to Greenland, 1939. SIA2012-0658.
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.
By Lesley Parilla, Field Book Project
78-10629. Mary Jane Rathbun, carcinologist at the United States National Museum, at left with Katherine J. Bush of Yale University, second from left, Charlotte Bush and Eloise Edwards at the Marine Biological Laboratory and United States Fish Commission Station at Woods Hole, Massachusetts, probably in the 1890s.
In honor of Women’s History Month, we are posting several articles discussing women’s field notes. In this article I wanted to provide an introduction, and share examples of the women we’ve come across while cataloging.
Early in my time at the Smithsonian, I learned that women have long been associated with the sciences at the Smithsonian. Early in the twentieth century, many of these women were not hired as official scientists like their male counterparts. The women often lacked formal education in the field. Their male counterparts who lacked formal training could compensate for this through field work. However, as historian Pamela Henson discusses in two articles, cited below, upper administrators were sometimes reticent to women participating in field work in an official capacity. These administrators cited concerns about the health or safety of female staff during such ventures. If women did achieve a title of scientist, it was usually after years of work within a department.
Women with an interest in science often came to be a part of natural history departments through pursuits that were more socially acceptable like scientific illustration, working with plants (Invading Arcadia, p. 439), or through their personal relationships. Almost all the women I’ve come across either started as illustrators, worked in the field of botany (as will be discussed later this month), or through marital or blood relationships (as wives, sisters, or daughters) with men in scientific fields.
Women carved out opportunities where possible. If they were paid employees of the Smithsonian, they most likely worked within the institution walls. Few managed to be paid staff and do field work. Some of the most prolific female researchers at the Smithsonian spent little if any time in the field, and thus have no field notes in our Registry. Mary Jane Rathbun, (zoology) and Doris Blake (entomology), for example, spent decades at the National Museum of Natural History, with voluminous quantities of material documenting their research, but they worked in the offices, identifying and illustrating specimens. These women would make fascinating women’s history research topics, so we encourage you to check these women out.
Women who collected often did it as opportunity and time presented itself; their specimens cover short periods of time or limited geographic range or both. Some of the women whose notes (prior to 1970) we’ve cataloged include:
Then there is Mary Agnes Chase. Mary Agnes Chase, even among women in science at Smithsonian, is unusual. She is a fascinating figure, well-known at the Institution, having had a long and distinguished career in the Department of Botany well before women in the sciences were common. I wanted to write something about Chase from a new vantage, but am now thinking she can probably speak more eloquently for herself.
Watch for upcoming Field Book Project posts on women in science, including women in botany, and excerpts of Mary Agnes Chase's correspondence while working in the field in Brazil, 1929-1930, and a Flickr set documenting Chases' botanical work. Also look at The Bigger Picture this month as they feature posts discussing the Smithsonian Institution Archives’ “Women in Science” Flickr set.
For more information about Doris Blake and Mary Jane Rathbun mentioned above, see:
Henson, Pamela M.(2003). 'What Holds the Earth Together': Agnes Chase and American Agrostology. Journal of the History of Biology. 36(3), 437-460. http://www.jstor.org/stable/4331826
Henson, Pamela M.(2002). Invading Arcadia: Women Scientists in the Field in Latin America, 1900-1950. The Americas. 58(4), 577-600. http://www.jstor.org/stable/1007799
By Sonoe Nakasone, Field Book Project
|Entry for Ledum palustre in William J. Fisher's botanical field notes from Kodiak, Alaska, 1899. Department of Botany, National Museum of Natural History.|
What would an anthropological view of biodiversity look like? Perhaps one answer is the botanical field notes of William J. Fisher (1830- 1903) from Kodiak, Alaska, 1899.
William Fisher worked as a Tidal Recorder in Alaska, but it seems his real interest was collecting biological specimens and ethnographic artifacts. In 1879, Fisher began collecting specimens for the Smithsonian in his spare time. Although Fisher collected birds, plants, fish, and other natural history specimens, his ethnographic collections eventually dominated his focus.
Fisher’s botanical field notes from 1899 take an ethnobotanical approach, perhaps reflecting his interest in Kodiak culture. Fisher examined the relationship between the Alutiiq (Aleut) and their plants by recording medicinal and food uses for 48 specimens. Additionally, for many of these specimens Fisher includes Russian and Sugpiat/Alutiiq (Aleut) names, distribution information, and a note if the plant is introduced.
The natural remedies and culinary descriptions Fisher recorded sparked many questions: how accurate were Fisher’s notes; how much more knowledge about our environment can we obtain from other cultures? For this post, I attempted to answer only the first of these questions. Conducting light internet research, I compared Fisher’s notes to published sources for some of the known medicinal properties and general or Alutiiq food uses of these plants. This was challenging as most of the phonetically spelled Russian and Sugpiat/Alutiiq names listed in Fisher’s notes yielded no internet search results. Luckily, Fisher included scientific names for two of his specimens: Fritillaria camschatcensis and Ledum palustre Eventually, I also found results on two other specimens using their Russian names “brussnika [sic]” (brusnika) and “kalina”.
Fisher provides medicinal uses for two of the four plants I researched. For one of these specimens, Ledum palustre (wild rosemary), Fisher makes the following note:
“[U]sed […]: 1) as a tea […for] alleviating the hacking cough of consumptives; 2) as a gargle for sore throat; 3) […] as a tea […for] asthmatic complaints. […] The leaves are chewed also and give relief in asthmatic complaints.”
Fisher’s notes align with the medical benefits listed for Ledum palustre on Plants for a Future (PFAF). This entry, however, also notes several serious hazards to Ledum palustre that Fisher does not.
Another medicinal plant from Fisher’s notes is “Kalina” (Viburnum edule; Highbush cranberry):
The entry for “Kalina” in Plant Lore of An Alaskan Island: Foraging in the Kodiak Archepelago [sic] (Kelso, 2011) contains a similar description of the medical benefits of this plant, but offers more details.
Fisher’s notes include information on food, but not medicinal uses for the following two specimens. According to Fisher’s notes, Fritillaria camschatcensis (Kamchatka fritillary), in the Lily family, was used as a preserve:
“[T]he bulbs are boiled, mashed, and after a liberal supply of seal or whale oil has been thoroughly mixed therewith, it is put away for winter’s use.”
Similarly, both the PFAF database entry for Kamchatka fritillary and Kelso's book mention the edible bulbs of the fritillary, descriptions on how to prepare this plant differ greatly from Fisher’s.
Different from the Highbush Cranberry mentioned earlier, Fisher’s notes record another type of cranberry that is used for preserves. These are referred to as “brussnika [sic]” (brusnika) in Russian. Fisher’s notes explain how these cranberries are “[M]ixed with seal or whale oil and salmon spawn for winter’s preserves.” By contrast, the entry for “brusnika” in Kelso's book has no record of seal, whale, or fish parts being used in the making cranberry preserves and also includes medicinal information absent from Fisher’s notes.
From my brief research on the four plants above, I found some overlap between Fisher’s notes and the information found in PFAF and Kelso's book, particularly with the medicinal information Fisher was able to capture. There were, however, many striking differences. These differences highlight the importance of the folk knowledge that can be gleaned from various cultures and communities world-wide.
So, where are you from? Are there plants special to your region? Does your community or region have unique traditions using those plant materials? We invite you to share some of your botanical traditions in the comments. Let us know your story and we may invite you to guest blog.
Crowell, A. L. 1992. Postcontact Koniag Ceremonialism on Kodiak Island and the Alaska Peninsula: Evidence from the Fisher Collection. Arctic Anthropology, vol. 29(1), pp. 18-37.
Kelso, F. (2011). Plant Lore of an Alaskan Island: Foraging in the Kodiak Archepelago. AuthorHouse: Bloomington, Indiana.
By Emily Hunter, Field Book Project
92-1712, F. Raymond Fosberg, (1908-1993), botanist and ecologist, looking at leaves on a tree, was on the staff of the National Museum of Natural History from 1966 to 1993, Smithsonian Archives - History Div
F. Raymond Fosberg was a botanist with a long and remarkable career. He joined the staff of the National Museum of Natural History in 1966, working as Curator of Botany, Senior Botanist, and eventually Emeritus Botanist. Fosberg collected specimens all over the globe, including the Americas, Pacific Islands, Europe, Africa, and Asia. He documented his activities in 129 field books, spanning 62 years, across seven decades (1931-1993).
It’s not just sheer quantity that is so incredible about Fosberg’s field notes. His notes are comprehensively inclusive, descriptive, and meticulously detailed. Rusty Russell, Department of Botany Collections Manager, noted in his blog post that Fosberg encouraged him to record everything he saw. Fosberg himself maintained a zealous yet thoughtful and deliberate record of his activities in the field through his carefully dated and numbered field books. He collected wherever he happened to be, including outside of hotel rooms.
Fosberg always found opportunities for recording in his field books. When I began cataloging them, I often found notes labeled “Germany to Pakistan” or “Washington, D.C. to Miami” and wondered at this very broad style of geographic description. Then I realized that Fosberg was actually writing field notes from the airplane! Indeed, Fosberg recorded even as he traveled from point A to point B, peering from the windows of airplanes, trains, and taxis, and noting everything he saw.
Fosberg was an exceptionally well traveled individual. From the field books, we can see that he collected in 73 countries and 45 U.S. states! Feel free to pause a moment and let that sink in. Amazing, right?!
The map above shows countries visited by Fosberg, and displays the number of field books that include field notes from that country. To interact with the map, hover your mouse over the countries. You will see a small window that displays the country (or dependent state) name and the number of field books held by the Smithsonian (NMNH Department of Botany) that contain field notes from that place.
This map (above) breaks down the field notes of Fosberg by state. As you can see, Fosberg didn’t just collect abroad in exotic environments. He often collected and created field notes very close to home. In fact, 68 field books contain notes from Virginia. Fosberg visited numerous states and countries each year, so nearby locations like Virginia, Maryland, and North Carolina are peppered throughout as he left and returned to his office in Washington, D.C.
Fosberg was active up until his death in 1993. His final field book (March 1992 to May 1993) shows that he traveled to Hawaii, California, Virginia, Maryland, Caroline Islands, and Okinawa, collecting 153 specimens. No decline in the rigor and precision can be observed from these final pages. A final entry is dated 29 May 1993. Fosberg passed away the following September.
By Eleonore Dixon-Roche
Figure 1: Map from December 6th 1920. The journal entry describes the river as “winding as ever” which can be seen in the map. (From Joseph Francis Rock, field notes, 1920-1929. Folder 3: Rock, J.F.: Siam, Burma, Assam, 1920-1921.)
I started working on an assignment for the Field Book Project in September 2011 as an intern cataloguing maps for various departments at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History. I looked at one of Botanist Joseph Rock’s (see also http://goo.gl/ay2O1) extensive journeys throughout Asia that he completed during the early 1900s. For a brief portion of those travels in 1921, Rock created hand-drawn maps with corresponding journal entries in a manuscript covering his travels of 1921-1922. We knew from a general collection description that he traveled through Burma, Thailand, and Siam. His maps also provided enough detail to establish the general direction of travel and discern some distinctive geological landmarks. Pinpointing an exact location and specific route, however, was fraught with issues.
Whilst the map did include place names of where Rock and his native guides passed through, each place name was written phonetically, with multiple spellings for the same location being used throughout his journal. Disambiguating these place names was especially difficult because there was no mention of what country they were in, let alone detailed accounts of the location.
To complicate matters, the majority of these locations were small villages that are not registered in most indexes or Google Earth. In addition, the place name could be several words, and the point at which the series of letters were split into words seemed arbitrary at times. Some place names were rather commonly used throughout the region for different locations and therefore not a good indicator of a unique location. The river seemed to disappear at certain points, and it did not seem likely that natural events would have caused this. Lastly, due to the high density of rapids in certain areas it was rather difficult to pin point exactly which river he went down. As the rapids were mentioned multiple times as a reference to his location this could have been key to narrowing down his route further (Figure 2). As the scale was not perfect, the maps also could not be used for calculating accurate distances or for actual variations in river width.
Deciphering Rock’s route was daunting at first, but there were in fact some great clues and rather simple solutions to many of the challenges. Though the journal and maps did not correlate exactly, I was able to work backwards from the route described in his journal, to find the general direction he had come from. The map shown in Figure 1, for example, has the corresponding journal entry for December 6: "The banks of the river are now flat and fringed by trees and Bamboo; and as is as winding as ever."
I was also able to narrow down countries he was passing through whilst disambiguating and the mention of a river’s name in both Thai and Burmese. Discounting some inaccuracies of scale, I focused on the distinctive forks and bends Rock marked along the river on his maps to plot them in Google Earth (Figurea 3a and 3b).
Figure 3a. Page 5 of Joseph's Rock 1921 hand-drawn map. From Joseph Francis Rock, field notes, 1920-1929. Folder 3: Rock, J.F.: Siam, Burma, Assam, 1920-1921.
|Figure 3b. Bends in Rock’s maps lined up with a contemporary satellite view of a river using Google Earth.
Along with the sporadic descriptions from the journal of the water’s speed, the river’s width, and the occasional island, it was possible to begin confidently marking some points along my virtual route on Google Earth. In the more ambiguous areas, I used what little information the maps conveyed on the mountain ranges to ascertain the general direction he could have traveled using waterways. After working out the general direction in which he was traveling, I looked at the place names on Google Earth and correlated any that sounded similar. This method only worked for a few locations. Next, I made note of every place name that was mentioned in both the journal and the maps. I then sorted through the lists and made note of those that sounded similar. Using various websites listing all Thai cities and villages, I pinned them all on Google Earth. Some were immediately discounted due to their location, but once all the pins were in place, a path became unequivocally clear.
The remaining ambiguous routes were described as narrow rivers with fast moving water, leading to an assumption that they were rapids. This region was full of rapids in areas less than approximately a square mile. For these sections, it was impossible to be accurate beyond a general area.
Even though Rock’s maps presented serious challenges in trying to line up with contemporary maps, it was interesting to observe how the accuracy of the maps increased along his journey. This may be due to the fact that later locations had more distinctive landmarks, which can be seen in pages 8 and 9. It is unlikely that his cartography skills would have improved substantially, however his observation skills may have.
Figure 4: View from Google Earth showing a dam constructed after J.F. Rock's hand-drawn maps were created.
The most intriguing part of this project was where Rock's map was almost logically aligned with the features shown on Google Earth, but one section remained where the river in the satellite images seemed to disappear into a rather large lake that was not marked on Rock's map. The discrepancy took up a significant portion of the route and required closer examination. Upon looking at it, Rusty Russell, the Collections Manager in the Dept of Botany, immediately knew to zoom in as far as possible on the Google Earth map. And lo and behold, there was now a dam, which had drastically altered the landscape and waterways since Rock's travels (Figure 4).
To view the full course of Rock's journey that was plotted in Google Earth, you can Download JosephRockJourney or click on the map below to view in Google Maps. Enjoy!
View JosephRockJourney.kml in a larger map
The following websites were used to help disambiguate place names:
By Rusty Russell, Co-Investigator, Field Book Project
As a twelve-year-old in southern Indiana, I fell in love with plants while riding my bike all over Brown and Monroe Counties, collecting tree leaves for an 8th grade science project. A boy could do that then and not be viewed as odd in the least. The cornfields appeared to extend to the horizon the minute I pedaled past the Bloomington town line, and limestone quarries and family cemeteries were as common as trolley cars in my original hometown of Baltimore. Stopping to carefully collect and press the leaves of trees about which I knew nothing–osage orange, mulberry, buckeye, catalpa and Kentucky coffeetree–my innate curiosity was raised the way exercise increases endorphin levels. There is, unfortunately, no evidence of these precious childhood memories, nothing to show my children and soon-to-be first grandchild.
Prior to my first professional collecting trip in 1976, as a field assistant in Brazil for the world renowned bamboo specialist, Tom Soderstrom, I was advised by F. Raymond Fosberg, another eminent 20th century Smithsonian botanist, to take careful notes and record my observations. He was adamant. I didn’t. Sure, the collections survive in the United States National Herbarium as testament to the ten weeks we spent collecting bamboo in Bahia, an excursion that resulted in many new species and two new genera. And, sure, it wasn’t technically my responsibility to take notes. But not having embraced the opportunity to record the impressions of a 22 year-old neophyte during what was a pivotal moment in my career has become one of my greatest regrets.
Maybe these subconscious shadows inspired the creation of the Field Book Project. But these two stories have been actively haunting me since reading Michael Canfield’s history and “how-to” of scientific note-taking, Field Notes on Science & Nature (Harvard University Press). What Mike and his contributing authors have accomplished is to thoughtfully merge the clinical with the emotional, to value precision and passion side-by-side, and to provide each reader with that sense of awe, curiosity and wonder that I recall from childhood. However, they also make clear that there is a responsibility on the part of the traveler to not only collect, measure, and describe but to interpret, imagine and communicate ideas forward. The importance of this last point is well conveyed by contributing author Kay Behrensmeyer, a Smithsonian paleobiologist, in her chapter entitled Linking Researchers Across Generations. “You may have no idea about the future significance of these experiences when they are happening, and it is far better to assume that they will be of interest to someone in the future ….” Why is it that, while we value the writing of past field workers, we don’t think that our notes and musings will be considered important in the future? If you can get over that, the next time you find yourself caught up in the inspired beauty of a walk through the woods, you’ll pick up a pen (permanent ink, please) or pencil and start writing (on good paper, of course).
However, the manner by which we record information is changing. Piotr Nasrecki, a colleague of Canfield’s at Harvard and the developer of software to aid field work, describes the efficiencies of electronic data capture in the field in his chapter Note-taking for Pencilophobes–I’m certain that last is not a word. Is this development an improvement over hand-written notes? Nasrecki thinks so. Certainly there is improved data consistency and time efficiency to be realized. But contributor Jim Reveal, my botany teacher at the University of Maryland, worries that a computer-based field book “lacks anything personal about the writer (and doesn’t encourage or accommodate other notes …).” But I suspect, as with anything else, a smart field worker will incorporate both options.
Beyond the chapter content that describes experiences in the field, beyond the sometimes tedious explanations of how notes should be taken, beyond the intriguing inclusion of contributors’ actual field book pages (with diagrams, sketches, photos, maps, and personal notes), and beyond attempts to answer such broadly stated questions as “Why Keep a Field Notebook?” (Erick Greene), “What is the value of these journals?” (Roger Kitching), “Why Sketch?” (Jenny Keller), and “What is the Field?” (Michael Canfield), the most compelling pieces to these contributions are reminiscences of childhood. For it is here that, like me, so many careers began in curious wonderment of the natural world.
Two statements jumped out at me as witness to the dedicated efforts in which Field Book Project staff members are engaged–one from a mentor, the other from a hero. Again from Jim Reveal, “… the fate of original field books often is less certain … all naturalists should recognize that such books are vital records capable of providing significant information to future researchers.”. I couldn’t have paid him for a clearer expression of concern for these one-of-a-kind objects. And from the Forward by E.O. Wilson, one of my Dad’s and my personal heroes for all that he has meant to our appreciation of nature, “If there is a heaven, and I am allowed entrance … I will carry with me an inexhaustible supply of notebooks, from which I can send back reports to the more sedentary spirits (mostly molecular and cell biologists).” Ha!
When I read Mike Canfield’s blog contribution on this blog last May, about the gift his great grandfather created for posterity, I finally understood The Field Book Project. As scientists we get all academical–I’m sure that’s not a word either– in mining these objects of history for the data, descriptions, and scholarly content found between their covers. But their legacy is more than that. Field books are personal. They are, regardless of the age of the scribe, simply a reflection of the time spent roaming the world in search of those feelings we first experienced as youngsters. And, in the absence of my notes from Indiana and Brazil, the Field Book Project is my gift to my children, their children, and their children ….
By Lesley Parilla, Field Book Project.
In honor of National Hat Day (January 15)
While cataloging I’ve come across a lot of pictures of collectors in tropical climates wearing the ubiquitous pith helmet. These enjoyable images seemed to deserve some sort of recognition. Besides being utilitarian and utterly fashionable, pith helmets have actually been used to document field work, as described below.
The Field Book Project includes a sizable number of photographs documenting field work. These images include a wide range of content, but one of my favorite themes has been how collectors choose to demonstrate the size of the photographed subjects. One might think that scientists would bring measuring devices with them to put in photographs, but often they use readily available objects placed next to the item photographed to indicate size.
Often scientists utilize colleagues or tools at hand. When William Foshag (Smithsonian Institution Archives Record Unit 7281) was studying the eruption of Paricutín Volcano in the 1940’s, he would place a hammer next to examples of volcanic bombs [fragments of rock sent aloft by an erupting volcano]. Naturalist Edmund Heller (SIA RU 7179), while in Peru in the 1910’s, had a colleague hold a snake specimen to demonstrate its length.
Entomologist Edward Chapin, Curator at the United States National Museum from 1934-1954, used this method of size demonstration several times during field work to the Carribean and South America. He produced some of my favorite examples of this type of photograph, one of which is the pith helmet seen above. Though he worked primarily on insects, his field books include a fair number of images documenting local vegetation.
The photograph above comes from a collection of three note books (SIA Accession 11-085) documenting his work in Cuba and Jamaica in 1937 as well as Colombia in the 1940’s. There are several photographs with object used to demonstrate size in these field books. I've included some of my favorites below, and hope you enjoy them as much as I have.
By Alice Tangerini, Scientific Illustrator, National Museum of Natural History
On December 16, 2004 I received an email from James White, Curator of Art for the Hunt Institute for Botanical Documentation at Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, PA, asking if I had received a query from a consignor selling two drawings by Walpole on EBay. Frederick Andrew Walpole was a staff botanical artist for the US National Herbarium, precedent to our current Department of Botany, National Museum of Natural History. Walpole was employed as an illustrator from 1896-1904, and during that time, he made many drawings on government sponsored field trips with staff botanists, notably Frederick Coville and Joseph Nelson Rose. Many of Walpole’s works reside at the Hunt Institute on an indefinite loan from the Department of Botany and are catalogued there. About 10% of the collection is still here at the Botany Department and is catalogued (with the exception of missing drawings and paintings) using information from Walpole’s field notebooks.
James was scrupulous about the records of artists in the Hunt Institute and followed the activities of sales on EBay searching for art that fell within the collections. James was aware that botanical illustrations were often sold on EBay, and knew from previous instances that some of these could be the missing artworks from the National Herbarium collections. When he saw the Walpole drawings for sale on Ebay he notified me and forwarded this message on December 16, 2004 from the consignor:
“We thought you or someone you know might be interested in this eBay auction of botanical drawings by Frederick A. Walpole. Please note that this auction ends 18 Dec 2004 at 15:08:23 PST.”
I asked my Chairman if there was a precedent for purchasing artworks with federal or trust funds. I also conferred with Smithsonian attorneys and others to determine whether we had a right to reclaim Smithsonian collections that have been lost for a number of years and are just surfacing through public sales. Unfortunately, the drawings were sold before we could determine an appropriate strategy.
Then on January 12, 2005, James emailed me about another auction of Walpole drawings. Dates for the botanical sketches were included in the sales descriptions. They were posted by the same consignor as before. Jim tried to tie information from notes by a botanist who had researched Walpole’s work to the drawings on EBay, but without having a publication it was too difficult. This time, after internal consultations, we concluded that the Smithsonian might not have sufficient proof that the drawings were actually made on government time it would be difficult to prove they were our property. So again on January 14, 2005 Warpoledrawings were sold on EBay.
On February 14, 2005, however, another sale of two Walpole drawings with a tracing was announced by the same consignor (again). Specific details of dates and collection areas where the plants were drawn were included in the items’ descriptions. With this information I was able to go to Walpole’s field notebooks and find the individual entries for each of the drawings, which were made on official field collecting trips for the Smithsonian. They were three illustrations in graphite of two species of Pinus and two species of Abies made in 1898 and 1902. Walpole drew these in the field as studies for drawings to be executed in ink. I photocopied the item entries from Walpole’s field note books and faxed these along with an emailed request to Smithsonian attorneys [General Counsel] asking them to intervene for the Department of Botany and request return of the illustrations. The following request was sent to the consignor:
"The Smithsonian has received an e-mail from you informing us of the sales of two Walpole drawings on E-Bay by your company. According to our records, those drawings appear to be from the national collections and were not deaccessioned, sold, or otherwise transferred from our collections. Can you please provide us with information regarding the circumstances under which you acquired them? Would you be willing to withdraw them from sale while we determine whether these are, in fact, Smithsonian property?"
The consignor asked for faxes of the catalog information for the drawings and when he received the faxed pages of the field notebooks he informed the Smithsonian that he would return the drawings to us as follows:
"We have passed on the information regarding the Walpole drawings to our client. He has asked us to send the drawings back to you. Please let us know the appropriate department and to whose attention they should be sent."
The Walpole drawings of Pinus and Abies were returned and the consignor was thanked for his grateful return of the artwork.
Recovery of these three Walpole drawings would have been difficult or impossible without the information captured in Walpole’s field notes. The documentation provided in these notes not only serves as natural science data, but in this case, served as a means to track the provenance of other materials related to the same collecting event.
Happy Thanksgiving to all from the Field Book Project
SIA2011-0660. Menu cover from William and Lucile Mann’s expedition to South America, 1940.
When I started in this job, I expected to find a lot of details in field books, but I was surprised by one trend in particular. A lot of collectors write about what they eat. Scientists often collect in remote locations, with few comforts. Things taken for granted at home (like dessert) become high points in a day in the field.
Still, for some, it seems a bit of an obsession. Journal entries sometimes start with date, weather, and food consumed. Botanist, Mary Agnes Chase (Smithsonian Institution Archives Record Unit 229) commented in her correspondence that she did not understand the fascination herself until she was in the field climbing Caparaó in Brazil in 1929, which proved to be an exceedingly wet and exhausting trip, made worse by undercooked beans and rice. In the field, collectors have few luxuries; food, whether good or bad, becomes an important moment in the day. Hitchcock, a botanist specializing in grasses, recounted efforts to defend his bacon while collecting in rural Florida.
“The third night I was obliged to sleep on the ground. I had kept my piece of bacon in one of the bags along with my hammock. Now Florida ants are intensely fond of bacon. They stung me viciously when I attempted to swing the hammock and could not be shaken off. So I allowed them to sleep in the hammock while I slept on the ground.”
This attention to food can extend throughout entire collections. Waldo Schmitt (Smithsonian Institution Archives, Record Unit 7231), an Invertebrate Zoologist, would often list each item consumed for each meal. When he was in charge of provisions for expeditions in the Caribbean, his lists of groceries once specified three different kinds of cheese. He was also fond of including cocktail recipes in notes written to his colleagues.
Some entries demonstrate how food allows for connecting with new acquaintances. While in French Polynesia, Waldo Schmitt attended a local dance competition. Subsequently, one group of dancers from Bora Bora came to the expedition vessel to share a meal. Waldo cooked a portion of lobster originally purchased to be specimens.
In the Mann collection (Smithsonian Institution Archives Record Unit 7293), references to food exemplify how collecting events are also chances to strengthen relationships with official partners and professional contacts. Mann’s scrapbooks contain photographs and menus from official dinners around the world.
Sometimes collectors’ field notes document food in local cultures and ways they prepare ingredients or recipes for local dishes. When Hitchcock traveled to collect in China, for example, he photographed inhabitants processing brine to table salt (as seen below).
In another collection, a recipe was found for Monkey a la Mocitana from the Mocitana Indians on the Ribert Bopi in Bolivia.
“Spider Monkeys are preferred. Build a fire under a grid made of green saplings. Place the monkeys whole on top of this. Cook till half burned, half roasted. When the arms stiffen into a protesting attitude, and the long tail is curled like a watch spring, the monkeys should be cleaned and such hairs as have not been burned off, scraped.” (Mann Collection Record Unit 7293)
By Richard L. Moe
Willis Linn Jepson, after whom the Jepson Herbarium at the University of California, Berkeley is named, maintained field books from 1895 to 1940, recording botanical, biographic, geographic, and historical observations in fairly great detail. Jepson used uniform octavo volumes (filling more than 60), mostly of about 200 lined pages. The pages are handwritten in ink in a legible hand.
The labels on the specimens that Jepson prepared were transcribed from the field books. The books, however, have information pertinent to specimens that the labels lack: information about associated species, about elevation, about geology, and so on. We decided to scan Jepson's field books and make them available on the Web as digital images primarily to help our georeferencing efforts. Once you look at the field books, however, it is apparent that they will be equally useful in documenting the biological changes in the California of the last of the 19th Century and the first third of the 20th, and in recording contemporary political geography and social history.
In general, the field books document collecting trips, but Jepson did not have a strict routine for his accounts. Usually the accounts begin with a brief description of the itinerary followed by an itemization of the plants seen and collected. At various places in the accounts, Jepson intersperses botanical, geographical, or weather details, and comments on people met along the way. The books were written in the field, and augmented later (sometimes many years later).
Jepson's collection numbers are mostly chronological and sequential, with one number for each specimen. Check-marks by numbers (added by a curator subsequent to Jepson) indicate that a corresponding specimen can be found in the Jepson Herbarium. Information at the beginning of a run of numbers applies by default to all of the numbers. Because nearly all of the Jepson specimens have been databased (see http://ucjeps.berkeley.edu/consortium/), it is relatively easy to link a database entry to a corresponding field book entry (and vice-versa). This also allows the specimen database to serve as a rough index (binomials and geographic names) to the field books. When, as sometimes happens, there are discrepancies in the database (e.g., incorrect collection numbers, dates, counties, or elevations), the original can be consulted and the database (and sometimes, the labels) corrected.
Jepson began collecting less than 50 years after the Gold Rush and 25 years after Brewer's State Geological Survey. But by Jepson's time California had a well-established network of roads, a stagecoach system and primary and secondary railroad lines. At first Jepson traveled by rail, stage, and boat to reach distant parts of the state. When he reached the limits of "public transportation," he hired pack trains with mules for trails and horse drawn wagons/carts for back roads.
Eventually, Jepson bought automobiles and drove everywhere (sometimes very slowly). Already by 1900 Jepson was remarking on how little of the first-growth forest was left. In subsequent years he commented sadly on the disappearance of towns he had once visited as stage stops, as well as towns that had appeared on plains where he had formerly botanized. He provides brief accounts of the Hetch-Hetchy valley before the O'Shaughnessy Dam was built and of Big Meadows before Lake Almanor filled.
Jepson brought his field books along on his sabbatical trips to Europe and Palestine and on these trips his accounts are much less botanical, but still full of keen observation.
Because the field books are handwritten, the contents cannot be indexed by the Web search engines. We have built some simple tools with which willing users can transcribe pages and the transcription associated with a page and key-words. There are transcription links at the bottom left and right of each field book image page. So far, users have transcribed about 4400 pages (albeit small ones), of Jepson's observations. See http://ucjeps.berkeley.edu/images/fieldbooks/jepson_fieldbooks.html or contact Richard Moe (firstname.lastname@example.org).
|A photograph taken by Jepson of a collection site in the Sierra Nevada.||
Blue rectangles in note on verso refer to specimen
Today, Halloween 2011, we pay tribute to one of natural sciences most enigmatic and haunting figures.
Left: Constantine Samueul Rafineque. Image published before 1923,and in the US public domain.
Right: You may recognize this image from the banner of our blog. This is an image of a fish from Rafinesque's 1818 field notes taken in Kentucky, Washington, D.C., Pennsylvania, and perhaps other eastern states. All images in this article are from the same field book.
Constantine Samuel Rafinesque (1788-1840) was the quintessential Renaissance Man. He instructed himself in the various disciplines of the natural sciences—especially Ichthyology, Botany, and Malacology—as well as cultural Anthropology and Linguistics. Many of his forward thinking ideas branded him an eccentric during his lifetime. One of these ideas, his patented Divitial Invention, allowed divided portions of a bank stock of deposit certificates to circulate as currency. He was also an advocate for the use of fireproof materials to build homes. Rafinesque is even attributed with discovering a botanical cure for tuberculosis, although this cannot be verified as there is now no known documentation on the exact ingredients of his remedy. Medical Flora of the United States (1828), which contained botanical medical cures, was one of Rafinesque’s most successful publications.
Rafinesque offended many of his contemporaries in the American natural science community with his unconventional and forward thinking ideas. Yet, a look at Rafinesque’s collection of notebooks from 1815-1834 reveals meticulous work that should not go unrecognized. Informative and mesmerizing, Rafinesque’s notes transport readers and researchers to the rich 19th Century, east coast landscape in which he collected many zoological and botanical specimen.
Perhaps a reflection of his eccentricity, Rafinesque’s field notes do not seem to lie static on the page, but rather jump up to greet the reader’s curiosity of the natural world. Beautiful sketches of ichthyologic, botanical, and other specimens are found throughout the collection. Spectacular details portray the scales of a fish, folds on the underside of a mushroom, and the ridges on a shell. Thorough descriptions and often measurements are included with each sketch.
Rafinesque spent most of his life traveling, according to his autobiography, “A Life of Travels”, and he greatly enjoyed being outdoors. Fittingly, his collection of field books also incorporates a number of bucolic landscape sketches and hand drawn maps. These additional sketches will hopefully guide researchers through the locations in which he collected and allow them to see through his eyes.
Although some of Rafinesque’s inventive schemes were profitable enough to finance his extensive traveling and field research for some time, he fell badly into debt by the time of his death in 1840. Recognized by some as brilliant, he nevertheless died a largely unappreciated man. In the more than one and a half centuries since his death, however, scholars and researchers have come to recognize Rafinesque’s contributions to science. Today, he is credited for having identified a number of new species. Additionally, he has two genre, Rafinesquia (family Asteraceae) and Rafinesquina (family Rafinesquinidae), named after him. In fact, I was pleased to see one of his namesakes listed as a specimen collected in one of the paleontologist G. Arthur Cooper’s field books. I am also pleased to think that if Rafinesque had lived to see today, he would find many of his “crazy” ideas validated.
Over 150 years after his death, much about Rafinesque’s life and work remains puzzling. For one, there’s his successful hoax (see last week’s article)—but was it really a hoax? It is generally accepted as such but others still subscribe to the validity of his claims. Add to that his many ideas spanning a variety of disciplines, which were so far ahead of his time that it seems as if he possessed a crystal ball. Finally, there is his ghost. Rafinesque died practically penniless and in debt. His landlord planned to sell his corpse to science but, as the story goes, Rafinesque’s friends stole his body from the window of his apartment and gave it a proper burial. Years later, his body was exhumed and transported to Transyvlania Univsersity, where he had been a respected professor for seven years. Today, he is supposedly interred under the steps of Old Morrison, a Transylvania University building that Rafinesque is said to haunt to this day.
1. Flannery, Michael A. The Medicine and Medicinal Plants of C. S. Rafinesque. Economic Botany, Vol. 52, No. 1 (Jan. - Mar., 1998), pp. 27-43.
2. Biography.youdictionary.com. Constantine Samuel Rafinesque Biography. Accessed in 2011 from http://biography.yourdictionary.com/constantine-samuel-rafinesque.
3. Endersby, J. ‘The vagaries of a Rafinesque’: imagining and classifying American nature. Studies of History and Philosophy of Biology and Biomedical Science, Vol. 40, No. 3 (September 2009), pp. 167-178. http://www.jimendersby.com/PDF/Endersby_Vagaries_2009.pdf
4. Taylor, Raymond L. Reviewed work(s): A Life of Travels, by C. S. Rafinesque: Being a Verbatim and Literatim Reprint of the Original and Only Edition by C. S. Rafinesque; Francis W. Pennell. The William and Mary Quarterly, Third Series, Vol. 2, No. 2 (Apr., 1945), pp. 213-221.
5. Waymarking.com. Rafinesque, The Man and The Myth. Accessed in 2011 from http://www.waymarking.com/waymarks/WM21F2_Old_Morrison_Transylvania_University_Lexington_KY.
6.Wikipedia.org. Constantine Samuel Rafinesque. Accessed from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Constantine_Samuel_Rafinesque, October 2011.