By Lesley Parilla, Field Book Project
Many of our blog posts touch on the variety of field book formats. One can see this just by looking at our ongoing Flickr sets compiled from the blog. And yet I think many people still think of field books as journals, specimen lists, and species accounts. Each of these are indeed very important types of field books, but they are by no means the only ones. Other formats also include important biodiversity documentation and sometimes demonstrate surprising content. Below are just a few examples of the amazing variety of documentation that we call field books.
Collection RU007293: During 1937 – 1940, Lucile Mann kept meticulous scrapbooks from collecting trips for the National Zoological Park. Expeditions went to South America, Dutch East Indies, and Liberia. These scrapbooks contain news clippings documenting the well-publicized collecting trips, photographs of colleagues, live animals collected for the zoo, menus and passengers lists from vessels. Check out our blog post from 2011.
Collection RU007006: Alexander Wetmore was an ornithologist who spent nearly a lifetime in the field-- beginning at age 8. He created photo albums documenting nearly the entire expanse of time. Images are numbered and labeled. They include a wide range of subject matter: accommodations, candid images of colleagues, environment and specimens collected, and local inhabitants including members of local tribes.
Collection Acc. 11-085: Edward A. Chapin was an entomologist who collected in South America 1937-1947. His collection of three journals documents his observations and collecting in the region. I have a real soft spot for these three journals, because these were the first to be digitized as a proof of concept for our project. The orchid in our logo also comes from a botanical specimen Edward A. Chapin adhered in one of the volumes. He typed the entries and formatted around images relating to botanical and entomological collecting.
Collection RU007148: David Crockett Graham wrote 16 diaries documenting collecting in China, 1924-1935. These give an astounding range of observations and information related to collecting for mammalogy, ornithology, entomology and herpetology. To learn more, check out former intern Catharine Cox’s blog post.
Collection RU007231: Waldo Schmitt was an invertebrate zoologist who was a proponent of photographic documentation. His collection includes 28 sets of slides from his collecting in the Pacific Islands, Africa, Antarctica, Alaska, South America, 1938 – 1963. These striking images were the source of one of our first Flickr sets.
Collection Acc. 12-448 and 12-229: C. O. Handley was a curator in the Division of Mammals at NMNH and a long time collector. Specimen lists are usually very consistent in structure, and the information may seem to duplicate what can be found in a specimen database. But several lists have proven that collectors, including Handley, record amazingly specific information in these lists, information that rarely makes into a database or even onto a specimen label. Information of this sort is usually found in the remarks section of specimen lists. Check out our blog post on this topic from 2012.
Collection RU007279: Helmut Buechner's was an ecologist who kept extensive observation field notes during his career. SIA’s collection includes 24 dictabelt recordings. These can be challenging, given that the technology is now obsolete, and the recordings are fragile. Luckily he had transcriptions typed. We used these to catalog the recordings. Many of these recordings document observations of Kob in Uganda and Kenya. Observations are sometimes given every few minutes about the movement, behavior, and interactions of animals in their habitat.
Collection RU007306: the video footage consists of a documentary film created from motion picture footage shot by Perrygo during the Wetmore-Perrygo Expedition to Panama from 1950-1953. Wetmore and Perrygo traveled to Panama to collect ornithological specimens as part of Wetmore's research for his book entitled Birds of Panama.
Collection Acc. 13-025: This collection was recently accessioned. Each folder includes 24 maps that document trees per 1 hectare of Barro Colorado Island (home of Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute). They were created during 1980-1983. Maps depict trees as well as fallen logs, outcrops of rock, water features, and lianas. One has only to look at these maps to be amazed at the patience and detail they document.
Collection RU007184: 211 logbooks cover voyages of the US Bureau of Fisheries vessel Albatross, 1885-1920, and include important environmental details. Information like this is being used in transcription project like Old Weather. To learn more, read our blog post from 2012.
Collection RU000229: Mary Agnes Chase was an agrostologist for the USDA. She made several collecting trips to South America during the 1920’s. Her correspondence, often to colleague A. S. Hitchcock, include fascinating details about her field work in the mountains of Brazil, interactions, observations, and challenges. Read more about her on our blog post from 2012.
Collection RU007186: 24 folders of hand drawn illustrations document marine life collected during the US Exploring Expedition. 1838-1842. These were drawn by Joseph Drayton and demonstrate some of the unexpected value of visual representations to natural sciences. Check out our blog post from 2011.
Not quite definable
Butterflies collected in the Shire Valley, East Africa: We cataloged a select number of field books from the Russell E. Train Africana collection housed at the Joseph F. Cullman 3rd Library in the National Museum of Natural History.
One of these was a handmade book containing butterfly specimens, created by Sir John Kirk. The images are assembled--the wings are from collected butterflies, but parts of the anatomy have been painted in. The effect is striking. Each specimen includes varying levels of identification and location information. To learn more, check out our blog post from 2012.
It may be instinctive to picture a handwritten journal with sketches when someone says “field book.” We have definitely cataloged ones that meet the classic definition, but these different types of field books provide important information about specimen collecting. We hope they encourage you to take a closer look at the diversity of materials cataloged by the Field Book Project.