Nephtyidae polychaetes. Taken during underwater specimen collecting during Waldo Schmitt's work on the Palmer Peninsula [Antarctica], 1962-1963. SIA2012-0671.
Nephtyidae polychaetes. Taken during underwater specimen collecting during Waldo Schmitt's work on the Palmer Peninsula [Antarctica], 1962-1963. SIA2012-0671.
|Primate, 1960. Smithsonian Institution Archives. Acc. 01-096, Martin H. Moynihan Papers, 1952-1996. Box 1, Folder 29 (Envelope 1). SIA2014-01181.|
Visual documentation—photographs, sketches, illustrations, video—can be a powerful tool for recording observations, with or without text. Each method has inherent benefits and drawbacks. A sketch may not be as “accurate” as a photograph, but a few lines of a sketch may record exactly the detail a collector wishes to remember. A photograph can be a great way to record behaviors that occur quickly, or details for later study. Just take a look at the field notes of Martin H. Moynihan, and see what I mean.
|Martin H. Moynihan's field notes on Alouatta palliata [South Pacific Blackish Howling Monkey] with drawing, August 30, 1961. Smithsonian Institution Archives. Acc. 01-096, Martin H. Moynihan Papers, 1952-1996. Box 2, Folder 3. SIA2014-03780.|
M. Moynihan was the first Director of the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama, and a noted authority on animal behavior. His field notes are packed with images documenting the behaviors and interactions of the wildlife he observed. He chose to study a startlingly wide array of fauna: primates, birds, and squid. For each, he utilized drawing and photography, depending in the needs and challenges of the work.
Images in this Flickr set were selected to demonstrate how the method chosen affects the information imparted in his notes. Moynihan’s spare and elegant manner of drawing is particularly adept at proving how drawings can clarify or highlight a particular trait.
Curious to learn more? Check out Moynihan’s transcribed notes on Smithsonian Transcription Center.
Stereoscopic image of Dancers at Paulis-Mangbetu, taken while Waldo Schmitt was collecting for the Smithsonian during the Smithsonian-Bredin Belgian Congo Expedition, 1955. SIA2012-0403.
William Healey Dall wearing his Expedition Uniform, July 9, 1865. Smithsonian Institution Archives. SA-1156.
By Lesley Parilla, Field Book Project
If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you’ve probably noticed one of the ongoing themes is how unique the content of an individual field book can be. Field books within a discipline tend to include similar information, but just when we think we’ve figured out what to expect, without fail, we find content that doesn’t fit the pattern.
This was definitely the case with the diaries of William Healey Dall from the Western Telegraph Expedition. These volumes are some of my favorite early field books that we’ve cataloged. This is for two reasons. First, Dall recorded an amazing range of content in these little books. Details included natural history observations, descriptions of local inhabitants, and interactions with the expedition participants (including several who seemed to continually try his patience during their wintering over in Alaska). These are listed alongside sketches of implements, structures, and terrain. Secondly, he was only just out of his teens when he joined the expedition. A year later (when he was not yet 22 years old) Robert Kennicott, the leader of the expedition unexpectedly passed away and Dall was chosen to lead in his place.
William H. Dall, c. 1910. Smithsonian Institution Archives. SIA2009-4237.
As you might suspect, with such a beginning, Dall went on to do impressive work. He continued to study the Arctic, first with the United States Coast Survey, later joining the U.S. Geological Survey as a Paleontologist. He published more than five hundred scientific papers and became a recognized authority on the Alaskan Arctic environment. He was even Honorary Curator of the Museum's Division of Mollusks from 1880 until his death.
But back to the field books…
His early field books include a wonderful mix of natural history and anthropological documentation. But these include something else as well—poetry.
There are at least two poems written by Dall. To my great regret I did not write these down when I originally found them, so it was not until our conservators were working on the journals that I was able to obtain a copy of each.
I was thrilled to finally have a chance to study their content—which managed to inspire more questions and led me to learn more about this fascinating character from the history of the Smithsonian. The poem below what first caught my attention.
Swiftly down the rolling river
Glides our rude canoe.
Lea and lake and mountain sever
Me, my sister, far from you.
Many a forest lies between us
Deep and trackless wild.
Many a day, since one has seems
Clasped in fond embrace, dear child.
Here the sky is dark and cloudy
Rough the rivers tide.
Sharp the wind which whistles loudly
Down the mountain side.
Gentle be the breezes blowing,
By your summer home.
Bright you tender flowers growing
Where songbirds come.
(?) and paddle, sled and snowshoe,
Have my playmates been.
Mouse and rabbit, fish and venison
Has my slender larder been.
Acid berries from the marshes
Greatest luxuries were.
Gathered where the reindeer passes
And close lurks the grizzly bear.
Soon from scenes of desolation
Homeward I may turn
Then with hope and expectation
Of our meeting I shall turn.
We have come across poems before, written by other authors and then copied in to the field books by scientists; I had wanted to verify that these were original compositions, when something caught my eye. The poem above appears to be written to his sister. I found this surprising, so after a little digging through family archive papers at Massachusetts Historical Society and University of Michigan, I was able to determine that he had a sister named Sarah Dall Munro.
I imagined being a young person in the Arctic for the first time, writing poetry to a loved one, but I couldn’t imagine choosing a sibling, so I looked further into his family background.
Dall came from a very interesting family, though his parents’ relationship was fractious at best. According to the finding aid for the Massachusetts Historical Society collection, Dall’s father, due to a turbulent marriage and limited success as a minister, become a Unitarian Missionary and moved to India in 1855-1886. He left his family behind in Boston, and returned only five times to see them in subsequent years.
His mother was a unique individual and strong personality. A woman of strong political and religious views, she became a women's rights activist, an abolitionist, and a prolific writer. After her husband’s departure for India, she supported her family through writing, teaching, and lectures. Her difficult financial position during these years was sometimes eased with support from her father, but even this came at a price. According to an article in the Massachusetts Historical Review, his financial assistance was frequently tied to conditions that would call for her to cease her abolitionist activities. One can only imagine the close relationship between siblings given the strain of homelife.
Dall is just one of the remarkable figures whose field work we’ve have the privilege and catalog, enabling researchers to more easily search its contents. William Healey Dall developed an interest in the natural sciences in his teens, learning through men like physician and naturalist Augustus A. Gould and Harvard zoologist Louis Agassiz who became mentors. Dall never attended college instead learning on his own and developing his skills in the field, to eventually become an authority in paleontology and malacology. We encourage you to take a look at the remarkable material to be found in these resources.
To learn more about the contents of his field books and about his life:
Dall’s artwork at Smithsonian Institution: http://siarchives.si.edu/blog/william-h-dall-he-had-malacology-down-art
Dall’s field books at Smithsonian Institution: http://collections.si.edu/search/direct/L3NlYXJjaC9yZXN1bHRzLmh0bT9xPSZmcT1kYXRhX3NvdXJjZToiRmllbGQgQm9vayBSZWdpc3RyeSImZnE9bmFtZToiRGFsbCwgV2lsbGlhbSBIZWFsZXksIDE4NDUtMTkyNyI=
Some of Dall’s publications, available through Biodiversity Heritage Library: http://www.biodiversitylibrary.org/creator/3399#/titles
Biography of Dall’s mother: Helen R. Deese. (2001)."My Life... Reads to Me like a Romance": The Journals of Caroline Healey Dall.”Massachusetts Historical Review. Vol. 3, pp. 116-137. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/25081163
By Lesley Parilla, Field Book Project
Page from Albatross Logbook, “From 7th June 1895 to 13th August 1895, dr 3601-3604, hyd 3581-3608.” Smithsonian Institution Archives. SIA RU 007184, Box 4, Folder 19.
If you’ve taken a look at the Field Book Project records on Smithsonian Collection Search Center, you’ve probably noticed that there is a lot of information associated with each record. Creator, collection, and field book records describe the specifics of the “who, what, where, how, and why” of collecting. These details are all important access points to assist researchers in finding the information that is pertinent to their studies. It’s probably self-evident why we catalog the dates, geography, and collector names—but how about the names of ships on which they collected? Intrigued?
There are two common benefits to recording the ship name as an access point. There are cases in which the collector name listed for a specimen is the ship’s name, not an individual. This can be seen in the specimen records for collecting done aboard vessels like the Albatross, built by the US Bureau of Fisheries, that was used for collecting from 1888-1921. If a researcher is looking for information about weather and environmental conditions when that specimen was collected, they would need to locate the ship’s logbooks.
In other cases, specimen information is recorded in the field books of individuals onboard. By knowing the name of the ship on which an individual collector worked, a researcher can then compare environmental information against details in the individual’s field books and relevant logbooks to gain more complete picture of the specimen and its habitat. These logbooks can include incredibly detailed information such as: recording of daily or hourly meteorological information, sea conditions, latitude and longitude, routes, specimen collecting data, and daily activities.
We’re not the only one listing names of ships as access points. Researchers can find information by searching for the ship name at the National Archives and Records Administration (e.g. Albatross) and the US Naval History and Heritage Command (vessel history), and the National Museum of Natural History’s Invertebrate Zoology department maintains oceanographic datasets organized by vessel.
Example of Specimen whose collector information lists ship name, not collector name. USNM 119791, Anchovia magdalenae, collected aboard the Albatross, and part of the collection of Division of Fishes, National Museum of Natural History.
Additionally, ship names also connect expedition related materials. Some expeditions are actually named after the vessels on which they sailed—a few from the Field Book Project field books include: Grampus-Bache Expedition, Tanager Expedition (1923), Albatross Philippine Expedition (1907-1910), USCGC Eastwind Expedition, Tomas Barrera Cuban Expedition (1914), and Pele Expedition (1967).
Curious to read more?
Louis Hutchins (1916-1957) was a marine biologist whose primary interests were the study of marine bryozoan and marine fouling. Over his career, he worked at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (1943 – 1947) and later as Director of the Bermuda Biological Station for Research (1949 - 1952). In October 1957, Hutchins passed away at the age of 41, drowning while on a field trip to Plummers Island in the Potomac River. Louis Hutchins was also part of the scientific staff of the United States Navy Buoy Fouling Survey, 1943-1947. This survey documented marine fouling fauna across the most of the coasts of the United States, and its work is documented in Smithsonian Institution Archive SIA RU007248. The quote below is from the end of a letter Louis Hutchins wrote to “Boo” found in box 1 folder 33, summarizing what he will write in his next message.
[Newfoundland, July 1948]…There is a lot to tell you sometime, but I am not up to writing it today. About what a swell guy Adrian is, and Harold Backus, and all the ship’s company for that matter. About the Navy people here, and all they have done to make us welcome and help, and how we have almost lived on whiskey as the only way to keep warm in this place that God forgot. (It is phenomenally cheap here, by the way, about $1.75 a bottle for top-notch stuff.) About how I nearly became chief scientist for the next leg of the trip, and how I have served as a sort of anomalous acting chief scientist for the last week. About the assorted screw-balls who make up the scientific party, and about the swell food and life on the Atlantis and about a million other assorted things such as the ludicrous true stories about the mate, Mr. Karlson. But all this will keep. On the theory we shall sail tonight I want to go up to the club and have a hot bath, and get this in the mail together with a letter to Columbus…
To learn more about this and other materials, visit Smithsonian’s Collection Search Center.
Invertebrates at 85 feet, Turtle Rock, Antarctica. Taken during underwater specimen collecting during Waldo Schmitt's work on the Palmer Peninsula, 1962-1963. SIA2012-0667.
By Greg PalumboSince joining the Field Book Project team to assist in the cataloging efforts, I have been primarily tasked with helping further develop the 100+ expedition records in the registry. I found myself researching and writing about expeditions taking place across the entire globe, and spanning two centuries. I began noticing that some of the Smithsonian’s most influential members were out in the field at the same time, but having vastly different experiences.
In 1940, two such expeditions set out to conduct work of a scientific nature. While taking place at the same time, and done in the name of science, these two expeditions were worlds apart. In fact, they were separated by over 7,500 miles!
|Distance between Kodiak, Alaska and Montserrado, Liberia. See the full-size map here: http://distancecalculator.globefeed.com/World_Distance_Result.asp?fromplace=Kodiak%20(Alaska,Kodiak%20Island%20Borough,US)&toplace=Monrovia%20(Montserrado,Liberia)&fromlat=57.79&tolat=6.3105556&fromlng=-152.4072222&tolng=-10.8047222|
The Smithsonian-Firestone Expedition to Liberia and the Alaska King Crab Expedition highlight two of the Smithsonian’s most noteworthy figures, Dr. Waldo L. Schmitt and William Mann. Each took the lead on their respective expedition, and their stories provide great insight into the range and reach of field work being done by members of the Institution.
|Canoe Bay, Alaska, Crab cages, September 22, 1940 during Alaskan King Crab Expedition. Smithsonian Institution Archives. RU 0007231. Box 123. SIA2013-00635.|
Dr. Schmitt, Curator of the Division of Marine Invertebrates at the U.S. National Museum, was in the frigid waters of Alaska, where the average temperature is around 30° F during February and -- according to Schmitt --“warm when it reached 38°.” He was taking part in the Alaskan King Crab Expedition to study crab and the fishing industry in the vicinity of Aleutian Islands. The goal was to identify crab concentrations in the region, and fishing methods needed to create a self-sustaining U.S. King Crab industry.
Meanwhile, William Mann, Superintendent and Director of the National Zoological Park, was in the West African nation of Liberia. Mann was invited to the region and sought to collect live animals to add to the National Zoo’s collection. Pigmy hippos, several species of small antelopes, monkeys, rare birds, and reptiles were obtained by the expedition. Unlike Alaska, the average temperature most of the year is around 75° F in the capital city, Monrovia, and daily temps can reach well into the 90’s.
While Schmitt wandered his way around the Aleutian Islands in less than ideal conditions, the Mann’s set out on a personal safari through Western Africa. They stayed in resort like conditions at the private plantation of the Firestone Company in Harbel, and were treated like royals during their stay in Liberia.
|William and Lucile Mann cross River during Firestone Expedition to Liberia, 1940 with assistance. Smithsonian Institution Archives RU 0007293. Box 19. Folder 18. SIA2013-06637.||William Mann and Ralph Norris with pygmy hippo during Firestone Expedition to Liberia, 1940. Smithsonian Institution Archives RU 0007293. Box 19. Folder 18. SIA2013-06638.|
Lucile Mann, who accompanied her husband on many of his collecting trips, wrote a very detailed account about their journey to Africa. Mrs. Mann’s journal from the expedition reads like a travel guide through Liberia, and aboard a ‘cruise’ ship that brought them from New York to the west coast of Africa: a day by day account of meals, living quarters, the local population’s activities, and the animals which she and her husband collected for the National Zoo. At one point saying, “This has been a day of parties.” The Manns were treated to “elaborate” meals and carried around the Liberian interior riding in hammocks instead of walking. Their trip received considerable press coverage and played out more like a social event rather than a scientific expedition.
|Canoe Bay, Alaska, Catch of the Day, September 26, 1940 during Alaskan King Crab Expedition. Smithsonian Institution Archives. RU 0007231. Box 123. SIA2013-00636.|
On the opposite side of the globe, Waldo Schmitt was partaking in a not so similar type of outing. Calling parts of his Alaskan King Crab Expedition a “nightmare”, his diary from the trip presents an image of continuous rain and dreary days. He described conditions aboard his ship saying, “This was about the dirtiest, tracked-up, filthy vessel I ever set foot upon.” Far from the luxury afforded to the Mann’s, Schmitt’s expedition seemed the antithesis. On October 1st he wrote, “We had run dreadfully short of water Monday… There was scarcely enough yesterday for a bath out of a bucket – that’s how we wash, real old-fashioned sailor style, and washing clothes was out of the question.”
These two particular expeditions provide a fascinating glimpse of the field work being done by members of the Smithsonian Institution. While different in many ways, they both represent the unique experiences and groundbreaking scientific inquiries that have produced lasting documentation in the form of field books. While researching these two trips I couldn’t help but think about the incredible enthusiasm that both Waldo Schmitt and the Manns had for scientific discovery. These expeditions were neither their first nor last time out in the field, and even though they had very dissimilar journeys, I’m confident that they were ultimately delighted with the experience.
By Carolyn Sheffield, Project Manager
Book Project is pleased to announce that page scans for over 200 of the
cataloged Smithsonian field books are now available online through the
Smithsonian’s Collection Search Center: http://collections.si.edu/search/results.htm?tag.cstype=all&q=unit_code%3AFBR&fq=online_media_type:%22Electronic+resource%22. Additionally, over 300 new
records have been added since the field book records were launched in
Although the project started out as a cataloging initiative in 2010, we recognized early on the need for not just remote access to the catalog records but also to the rich and varied content found in field books. Starting with a grant from the Smithsonian Women’s Committee, and continuing with the ongoing efforts of the Smithsonian Institution Archives’ Digital Services, we are thrilled to begin seeing this goal realized.
Cover of the Albatross logbook, Hawaiian exploration #1, Mch 14-31, 1902, dr 3791 - dr 3819, hy 4035 - hy 4052. SIA RU 7184.
Page from the Albatross logbook, Hawaiian exploration #1, Mch 14-31, 1902, dr 3791 - dr 3819, hy 4035 - hy 4052. SIA RU 7184.
The page scans that are now online provide great representation of the variety of topics and formats that field books can take. For starters, there are numerous ship logs from the Albatross documenting voyages in the 19th and 20th centuries. Built in 1882, the Albatross was one of the first large vessels designed specifically for marine research. The Albatross logbooks contain a wealth of information, not just about species, but about weather and other environmental conditions at the time. As demonstrated by projects like OldWeather, ship log data can be extremely useful for understanding historic climate patterns and helping scientists model projections. If you dig old ships and marine biodiversity, check out our earlier post on the Albatross collection: http://nmnh.typepad.com/fieldbooks/2012/10/new-uses-for-old-books.html.
Some of the other field books now online provide a look into terrestrial research. From herpetologist James A. Peters, you can get a sense of what it was like to conduct field work in Mexico in 1949 and read detailed descriptions of some of the specimens he saw. Peters' Field Notes: Mexico, 1949 also includes a bit of an unexpected treat--a sketch of a horse and buggy can be found inserted between his pages of notes.
Sketch of a horse and cart, insert in James A. Peters' Field Notes: Mexico, 1949. SIA RU 7175.
Page from James A. Peters' Field Notes: Mexico, 1949. SIA RU 7175.
Harrison G. Dyar’s field books, or “blue books”, are some of my personal favorites and several of these are also now available. These include detailed notes on his daily observations and frequently include sketches. Dyar was a renowned entomologist whose personal life is perhaps as well remembered as his professional life. He served as honorary curator of Lepidoptera at the Smithsonian and as a mosquito specialist for the USDA. He is perhaps best known for his peculiar habit of digging elaborate tunnels under his two homes in Washington D.C.
Page from Harrison G. Dyar's Bluebook 532-574. SIA Acc. 12-447.
To view all of these and more, visit http://collections.si.edu/search/results.htm?tag.cstype=all&q=unit_code%3AFBR&fq=online_media_type:%22Electronic+resource%22. To repeat our search strategy, you can also start from http://collections.si.edu, type unit_code:FBR in the search box and then use the Online Media facet to limit your search to records with electronic resources. Enjoy!
By Lesley Parilla, Field Book Project
I often wonder if the field book creators ever thought someone else would see their notes. Early in the project I got my answer while cataloging Waldo Schmitt’s collection (SIA RU007231). My favorite invertebrate zoologist often included anecdotes in his field notes, seemingly to entertain the reader. In his journal from the Smithsonian-Bredin Expedition to Society Islands, 1957, Waldo Schmitt wrote an apology of sorts to his readership. (If you wondering about the words that are not transcribed, please read our blog on penmanship. You’ll be really impressed how much I could decipher.)
Who ever read these mixed up notes must realize that I scarcely had time to write any, and some done at 2 a.m. only time and place to write. [?]’s bunk space in bow of ship. Jack Randall sleeps in dining alcove bunk so no table available. Captain in pilot house with [?] in “floor” (deck) and Chuck and Tom in state room. No place to write, less to spread papers out.
Waldo Schmitt, 1933, Hancock Pacific-Galapagos Expedition. RU007231. SIA2011-0773.
Many specimen collectors are not as avid about entertaining their possible audience as Waldo was, but I have come across other examples. One of my favorites is the inexplicable 2 volume set of field books by Harry Ladd (SIA RU007396) from his trip to Fiji in 1934. Harry Ladd studied paleontology and geology during much of the twentieth century. His 1934 notes are written as a series of letters (yes, epistolary) to someone only referred to as “Ed.” If anyone knows who Ed is, I’d love to know.
Recently I found my first example of an audience response. I cataloged the field notes of Helmut Buechner, an ecologist who kept extensive observation notes on vegetation and wildlife (SIA RU007279). For the late 1950’s to early 1960’s he recorded field notes via dictabelt. Smithsonian Institution Archives (SIA) houses these recordings. They were transcribed by Buechner’s staff during his lifetime. Due to condition and technological obsolescence, I cataloged the original recordings through the transcriptions.
This has introduced an interesting aspect to the notes beyond the knowledge that Buechner knew someone other than him would hear them. His observations are extensive, frequently describing wildlife behavior occurring every few minutes. I wondered how the transcriber dealt with the length of entries, some of which included tables. It seems that Buechner was thinking about his transcriber too, as seen below.
Mary, this is the end of the dictation for the 26th of June . I hope you haven’t minded taking down dictation from Tony Harthoorn. It is best to do it this way as I was doing a lot of the shooting, particularly here during the last recording on the big male. I notice that Tony has been using some big words and I can just see you scrambling for the medical dictionary and the Webster’s Unabridged.
Transcription also offered the unusual opportunity for the transcriber to leave notes for Buechner. This is where I found my first audience response.
[October 16, 1962] I heard Mrs. B. say “I think I will try to get down no.” Tell her it was good to hear her voice—sounded quite natural. I have wondered how an active little 7-yr. old could stay still so long. What does Hannele do to occupy her time?
Field books come in a myriad of formats and content, and their creators used them in just as many ways, sometimes for their own memory, but sometimes as a record to be shared. The examples above serve as a reminder that the field notes can be as diverse as their creators. We encourage you to take a look through and see what you find.
By Lesley Parilla, Field Book Project
Portion of the fish collected through rotenone sampling off the coast of Matiti Island, Tikahau, 1957. SIA RU007231, Box 134, Folder "SI-Bredin Society Island Expedition, 1957". SIA2012-0652a.
As a cataloger with a liberal arts background working on a natural sciences project, I have learned a sizeable amount on the job. Some of this knowledge has been about the basics of scientific specialties but, more often than not, my new knowledge has been about the practical side of collecting.
While working on a collection of Invertebrate Zoology, I came across a practical solution to a question I had not thought to ask – how would one collect a representative moment of biodiversity of a location? How does one document the fauna of a location as a snap-shot? Thinking over the methods of collecting and observations I have cataloged, I began to see the extent of the challenge.
For birds, I have seen materials for bird counts, bird-banding, and individual collecting. For marine biology, I have seen materials relating to dredging and fishing. These methods really seem best suited to documenting a type of wildlife found at a location. To use these methods to record a wide range of wildlife in an area would be time and labor intensive.
One method that provides an answer to this challenge is “rotenone sampling.” The account I read in the field notes described it as a relatively new method for collecting a “snapshot” of the fauna of a coral reef. Having never heard of this method, I did some research, and found more than I ever expected.
Rotenone is derived from the roots of tropical plants in the genus Derris, Lonchocarpus or Tephrosia in South America and Pacific Islands. It was initially recognized being used by native populations of the Pacific Islands and South America for fishing purposes. Rotenone works by blocking the cellular uptake of oxygen, and is an example of the use of plant poisons as a way of collecting specimens that are representative of a specific location. This method became more common after 1930. Rotenone is now an established method of location sampling and fish population management.
Over the last half century rotenone has become a collecting tool for field biologists as well as a method of fish management for a variety of organizations including state fish and wildlife departments and federal agencies. As one might imagine, this method of population management and sampling is closely regulated, and has inspired lively debate over the years. Yet over the last half century, state and federal agencies including the EPA have monitored it, and US Fish and Wildlife have discussed its proper utilization, proving it to be a useful tool for environmental study and management.
By Lesley Parilla, Field Book Project
|Dr. David Pawson in submersible in Curacao, August 2012. Image courtesy of David Pawson.|
As part of the Beyond the Field Book Project section of our blog, we continue our series of interviews to learn more about who uses field books and for what kinds of research. I had the opportunity to interview David Pawson, PhD, with the Department of Invertebrate Zoology. He is a marine biologist, primarily studying sea urchins, sea cucumbers, brittle stars, and sea lilies. Dr. Pawson came to the Smithsonian in 1964. Over the course of his career, he has completed field work in a great variety of marine habitats, which has included more than 100 dives in research submarines, down to depths of more than two miles. Dr. Pawson was kind enough to share with us about his methods of field note documentation and how he has used field books in his research.
What types of information do you find important to record in field notes?
My “field notes” consist of several things—notebook entries describing what is seen during dives, still color images, cassette tape recordings, and videotapes. The cameras record most of the “vital” information; color, size, number of animals seen, and the commentary accompanying video recordings can provide information on behavior and other aspects.
What role do field notes play in the research process?
An absolutely vital role—we couldn’t function without them, of course. And, of course, the “notes” are usually accompanied by specimens we have collected, so we have the best of all worlds—well-documented animals!
Do you ever consult field notes done for another expedition, for example an historic expedition? If so, how do you use the information in those notes for your research?
Again, more recent expeditions, where “field notes” in the form of still and video images were made, can provide an endless amount of information. In the late 1960s and 1970s, at the Lamont Geological Observatory in New York, I studied more than 1 million seafloor photographs that had been taken at great depths in many parts of the world’s oceans. These provided a wealth of extremely valuable information on the animals we study. Older expeditions, where field notes are available, can provide much information of value to accompany the specimens collected. My wife and I have a particular interest in expeditions made by the US Fish Commission Steamer Albatross from 1883 to 1921, and we have consulted field notebooks compiled by various scientists who sailed on this ship—Paul Bartsch, Waldo Schmitt, Austin Clark, and others from the Smithsonian—and other notebooks held in various archives (Harvard University, Scripps Institution of Oceanography). These notebooks provide a lot of information, not only about life aboard a research steamship 100 years ago, but also on the animals caught, the sampling equipment used, and on the laboratory work that was performed. We are writing two books on the work of the Albatross.
If historic field books were available online, how would you want to be able to search them?
It would be most desirable if a keyword search could be made of these field books.
Is there anything else you would like to add…?
Just this: Any field notes are of great actual or potential value to science, not only because of their historic interest, but also because they can provide great scientific information! A friend of mine is studying Monterey Bay in California—learning as much as he can about the marine life in the Bay 50 to 100 years ago. He is trying to document changes that have occurred, and seeking the reasons for changes. Even casual field notes, taken decades ago, are proving to be sources of a great amount of valuable information.
Thank you, Dr. Pawson, for sharing with us about your work process and the use and value of field notes relating to your research. You can learn more about invertebrate zoology field notes on our blog.
By Lesley Parilla, Field Book Project
|Portion of A. C. Risser’s field journal (page 89) discussing ingredients for bait. Note in margin defines “ghee.” Housed in Division of Mammals, National Museum of Natural History. Image number risser_a_c_196504-196508-89b.|
Last Thanksgiving, I discussed the range of food references we have found in collectors’ field notes. I think food makes a great topic given the traditions of the holiday. This year a new aspect of food presented itself as a topic: bait.
The field notes we catalog frequently include details about collecting methods. If the collector is using traps, they might record the types, quantity, and location of traps in a given collecting area. Sometimes collectors even include hand drawn maps of trap placement or detailed sketches about their construction. Collectors also sometimes discuss the type of bait they use.
My curiosity with this topic was born the day I read the following entry by Caleb Kennerly in Puget Sound with the Northwest Boundary Survey, 1857-1861:
13. Starfish and mouse. Steilacoom, WJ. July 4. The former taken with hook in ten fathoms of water, and it had swallowed the small piece of fresh mutton with which the hook was baited.
I have no idea how he came to use mutton as bait, but I made sure to keep my eye out for more information about bait in field books. I found a few references here and there; the information was often sparse, and what little I did find left me intrigued and confused. A few collectors made notes. Alexander Wetmore listed a recipe for bee bait in his field book for August 1902 - April 1903 when he lived in North Freedom, Wisconsin. Frederick True and Daniel Prentiss, Jr., wrote that they used bait composed of anise, oatmeal, and bacon during summer of 1897 in Hancock County, Maine. So now I had references to using mutton and anise, two ingredients I’ve never associated with bait.
I didn’t find any consistent listings or descriptions of bait until I began cataloging in the Division of Mammals. I found a lot of information in field books on bait choices, especially for two projects during the 1960’s: Smithsonian Venezuela Project (SVP) and Smithsonian African Mammal Project (AMP). After working on these two collections I came up with two theories to explain the mutton and anise.
My first theory is that collectors often use whatever is readily available. I found several references in AMP field books to purchasing bait ingredients at local markets. This might explain Kennerly’s use of mutton to catch a starfish. The second theory developed because, unlike the entries in nineteenth century field books, entries from the 1960’s I have read tend be more expansive about what bait ingredients are used and why.
Choices usually seem to involve some sort of grain, fruit, and/or protein. During AMP, collectors of mammals used combinations like: sundried fish; rice-oatmeal mixture, flavored with sardine sauce; banana; or rice and banana mixture. Frederick True and Daniel Prentiss, Jr., were using the same kind of combination; however their listing of anise probably related to anise oil. A SVP participant listed using fresh ripe banana on some old peanut butter, oats, and anise oil as bait.
Now that I’ve laid the background, below are some bait recipes I’ve found. A lot of these remind me of breakfast. As of yet I have not found one involving desserts, but I’m holding out hope.
Whatever food graces your table this year, all of us at the Field Book Project wish you a Happy Thanksgiving!
By Lesley Parilla, Field Book Project
This colony of Rosacea may look like a single jellyfish, but it is actually a large group of smaller siphonophores clustered and living together. CREDIT: L. Madin, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (www.cmarz.org). This images was included in National Museum of Natural History's Ocean Portal image gallery.
For Halloween, I thought about a couple directions for this article. I recently found out about the ghost crab. Loving the fact that this creature's common name includes “ghost," I searched the Encyclopedia of Life and found Yeti Crabs, Witch’s Hair, as well as a whole host of “ghost” animals. Then I remembered two of my favorite quotes I found last year and realized I found the perfect topic for the holiday.
The quotes come from the notes of Lieutenant H.R. Stevens who participated in the United States North Pacific Exploring Expedition, 1853-1856. We have several expeditions that were aboard US Navy vessels during the nineteenth century. When cataloging these materials, we don’t generally find documentation of the officers playing an active role in the collecting and describing, but it seems Stevens took to this type of work.
The expedition surveyed parts of the Bering Straits, the North Pacific Ocean and the China Seas along routes used by American trading vessels between the United States and China. Several naturalists came along to collect for the United States North Pacific Exploring Expedition. Military officers like Lieutenant Stevens helped collect marine specimens during the voyage. In his notes, Stevens wrote the following descriptions:
[August 11, 1853] Caught in hauling in the long line. A substance 5 ¾ inches long, 1 ½ inches broad…The whole outside covered with crystalline points from which appeared to be omitted, the brilliant phosphorescent light that it showed.
[August 28th, 1853] Caught in net. A great many globular substances. Somewhat resembling spawn. These on being put into a glass jar and stirred up at night showed like sparks of fire.
My assumption is that he was observing one of my favorite occurrences in nature, bioluminescence. This is the ability of an organism to create and emit light. If you haven’t seen it before, it is a fascinating adaptation to observe, and can be quite inspiring. In fact artist Shih Chieh Huang created an installation at the National Museum of Natural History inspired by bioluminescence.
I find Stevens’ choice of wording fascinating as he tried to describe the appearance with words like “phosphorescent light” and “sparks of fire.” Trying to put myself in his place, I can’t think there were many things one would see in the 1850’s that would be comparable to bioluminescence. His wording is surprising. If you take a look at the gallery of images compiled by NMNH, you’ll see some examples of what might have inspired Steven’s words.
So as you go out and enjoy the fantastical things people create for Halloween, keep in mind these snapshots from a nearly 3-year long voyage and just how unexpected the real world can be.
By Sonoe Nakasone, Field Book Project
|U.S.S. Albatross logbook June 26, 1909, 4am. Smithsonian Institution Archives, RU7184, box 1, folder 24. No neg number.
This summer was filled with milestones, not only for our Project, but for others as well. The exciting news in July that Old Weather, a crowd-sourcing transcription project we admire, completed transcriptions for thousands of ships logs made me reflect on our own logbook collections, particularly the Albatross logbooks, which I am currently cataloging. The Albatross logbooks are part of the United States Bureau of Fisheries Records, circa 1877-1948 (Smithsonian Institution Archives RU7184). Although often seemingly sparse with information, these items contain valuable records of marine collecting, weather conditions, and history.
The Smithsonian obtained the Albatross (and other famous research vessel) logbooks through its close relationship with the United States Commission of Fish and Fisheries (later the Bureau of Fisheries, and still later, the Fish and Wildlife Service) established in 1871 by Congress. Congress appointed then Assistant Secretary of the Smithsonian, Spencer Fullerton Baird, as the new agency’s Commissioner. The Smithsonian became the depository for specimens collected by the commission, and with the specimens came the logbooks. The Albatross, built in 1882 as a United States Bureau of Fisheries vessel, became the first large ship specifically designed for marine research. During a nearly 40 year career, the ship carried out numerous expeditions, most notably in the Arctic, Galapagos Islands, Philippines, Hawaiian Islands, and the West and Pacific Northwest of North America, greatly increasing the natural history collections at the Smithsonian.
|R/V Fish Hawk excerpt, 1880. Smithsonian Institution Archives, RU7184, box 9, folder 3. No neg number.
One obvious use for the Albatross logbooks is the marine specimen information recorded within. Although not all Albatross logbooks contain notes about what was collected, a large number of them do. Quick notes about the quantities and types of specimens collected, including fish and a variety of marine invertebrates, were often recorded. Over extended periods of time, such information has the potential to help researchers notice patterns, compare marine populations of the past to present populations, and perhaps predict future trends. Such a use for information within logbooks is suggested by Poul Holm in his article “Where are the big fish?”, which discusses the declining populations of big fish evidenced by hundreds of years of fisherman’s logs and archival records.
| R/V Fish Hawk logbook excerpt, August 7, 1880. Smithsonian Institution Archives, RU7184, box 9, folder 3. No neg number.
There is untold potential for researchers to use the information within the Albatross and other ships’ logbooks to discover patterns and linkages within marine ecosystems and also to fill in gaps of our historical knowledge. When looking at the various uses for the important specimen, weather, and historical information within these logbooks, I look forward to being able to emulate the success of projects like Old Weather in order to unlock more of these data in logbooks and other field books.
Logbooks can also be useful records of historical events, which I learned early on when cataloging the Allan Bé Papers. These daily notes contain incredible historic value because they document the precise activities of organizations (i.e. institutions and research vessels) and people (i.e. expedition staff). In this way, logbooks can potentially reconstruct the biography of a research vessel or the people who traveled and collected aboard it. Old Weather noted this potential for regaining historical context, too, in "An Historical Perspective."
By Lesley Parilla, Field Book Project
Expedition vessel as seen from shore of Tahiti in Papeete, during Smithsonian-Bredin Society Expedition, 1957. Smithsonian Institution Archives. RU007231, Box 134, Folder "SI-Bredin Society Island Expedition, 1957". SIA2012-0653.
I’ve recently been on a mission to blog about modes of transportation. I love this seemingly random theme because once I delved into it, I began to see the ways transportation methods could affect collecting efforts.
This time, I investigate collecting by boat. A fair portion of disciplines require collecting via boat, and collectors with the Smithsonian have been collecting at sea since the United States Exploring Expedition (1838 – 1842). So how does traveling by water affect specimen collecting? There are three important aspects that immediately become apparent in field notes – space, speed, and access.
No. 40. Crew member preparing plant specimens for Smithsonian on deck of the Effie M. Morrissey, off the east coast of Greenland, 1939. Smithsonian Institution Archives, RU007231, Box 74, Folder 15. SIA2012-0660.
On the water, space is at a premium. Ships take advantage of every crevice. Often spaces serve multiple purposes. Depending on the time of day, a seating area may become a sleeping berth, dining area, or a specimen preparation zone. Many of the vessels referenced in the field books were constructed as commercial or recreational vessels, not for scientific work. Many collectors in the early twentieth century and prior struggled with vessel designs that did not suit their needs for work space or storage of specimens (live and prepared) and supplies. Waldo Schmitt, Curator of Invertebrate Zoology at the National Museum of Natural History (and frequent blog topic) exemplified this challenge in a note he left for readers of his field book for work in the Society Islands  on the sailing vessel Mureva:
Whoever reads these mixed up notes must realize that I scarcely had time to write any, and some done at 2 a.m. only time and place to write. [?]’s bunk space in bow of ship. Jack Randall sleeps in dining alcove bunk so no table available. Captain in pilot house with [?] on “floor” (deck) and Chuck and Tom in state room. No place to write, less to spread papers out.
Making due was necessary until organizations like the US Bureau of Fisheries started constructing vessels specifically for scientific work, the first of which was the Albatross. Vessels like the Albatross could store supplies and personnel efficiently and had dedicated lab space. The Albatross proved so well suited to scientific collecting that it was used for decades and was referenced in scientific literature. It even has its own Library of Congress Subject Heading.
The Albatross. Photo source: Tanner, Z. L. 1897. Bulletin of the U.S. Fish Commission, v. 16, plate I.
Interior Science Room (C) of the U.S. Bureau of Fisheries Steamer Albatross, c. 1900. Smithsonian Institution Archives, RU007620, Box 6, Folder 3. SIA2009-3216.
Traveling by boat may be the best travel option for some collectors, but every vessel must contend with winds and prevailing currents. In one of the more humorous accounts, Waldo Schmitt wrote about the lack of forward progress through the West Indies in 1937:
Last evening it was getting windier and windier and with tide, current, wind and waves against us, the Captain was for taking in the sails and proceeding under power alone, saying we could make better headway. Hunt likes to sail and wants to. There was some talk back and forth, and I put in my oar. “If you save time here, you’ll have more later.” Hunt then said to the Captain, “if you furl the sails and got with the engine, we’ll have to call this cruise ‘Gone without the Wind’”. It would be a good title for a book on our experiences […].
The Esperanza. Captained by Lee H. Parish and used by Watson M. Perrygo on the Parish-Smithsonian Expedition to Haiti in 1930. Watson M. Perrygo Oral History Interviews. Smithsonian Institution Archives, Record Unit 9516, Box 1. 84-8054.
If the boat must stop and find an anchorage to gain access to a collecting site, the boat will be limited by water depth and underwater terrain. When finding a place to anchor a ship, you must be cognizant of the water depth (too shallow and the vessel can run aground at low tide), how well sheltered the area is from winds and currents, and challenges of undersea terrain like reefs or rocky bottom that will not allow the anchor to attain a good hold. Watson Perrygo mentioned some of these challenges during the Parish-Smithsonian Expedition to Haiti, 1930.
[February 16 ] […] Anchored in a small cove surrounded by reefs. Had been in bed a short time when the storm hit us with a terrific force. Our anchor started to drag so the engine was started to get enough slack in the anchor chain to take up the anchor. We then went out about fifty (50) yards and dropped the anchor.
[February 17] About three (3) pm we pulled up the anchor and started on. The heavy sea soon made us wish we had stayed anchored behind the reefs at Gun Cay.
Space, speed, and access are just a few of the factors that have affected collectors going out to sea. Unfortunately, we don’t have time to address the more pleasant aspects of collecting at sea like the sunsets on the water, cocktails, and the fresh seafood. Each type of travel brings its own unique benefits and challenges; just wait until next time when we take a look at trains.
By Cherie P. Edmonds, Digitization Intern, Smithsonian Institution Archives
Nowadays it is common practice to use photographs to record and track specimens, but before photography became a tool of scientific documentation, field researchers had to develop and use their artistic abilities. As an intern with the Smithsonian Institution Archives Digital Services Division working on the Field Book Project, I have seen the use of artistic illustrations to document specimens in the papers of Fielding Bradford Meek, the resident collaborator in paleontology at the Smithsonian in the mid-1800s. Meek’s correspondences with Timothy Abbot Conrad are the perfect example of how scientists used drawings and sketches to classify and record what they found.
|RU7230_B03_F45_004 Timothy Abbot Conrad. Paleontologist. 1904.|
T. A. Conrad (1803-1877) was a conchologist and paleontologist at the Smithsonian. He took interest in the natural sciences from an early age, like his father, Solomon White Conrad, a mineralogist and botanist. The younger Conrad followed in his father’s footsteps and became a leader in the field of natural sciences. He was a member of the Academy of Natural Sciences, the American Philosophical Society, and several other societies world-wide.
Throughout his career, Conrad collected and researched shells and discovered several fresh water species. His correspondence with Meek, mostly relating to their collaborative efforts to identify and classify shells, spans nearly two decades (circa 1857-1875) and sometimes includes multiple letters on the same day.
RU7062_B01_F14_485 and 506 Shells Conrad asked Meek to help identify. March 2, year unknown. January 1, year unknown.
In his letters, Conrad mainly drew in black pen or pencil and shaded the sketches to illustrate depth and texture. He accompanied the sketches with detailed descriptions of the shells and where they came from. The drawings and information Conrad provided generally enabled Meek to identify various genera of shells; however, they still had their fair share of debates over whether certain genera were correct.
Conrad was well known for the large number of publications he produced and for his artistic abilities, which he used to illustrate his publications. In Conrad’s biography, Dr. Charles C. Abbott wrote, “His skill in drawing was remarkable and early developed. He not only made his own illustrations, but did considerable for others, as the shells, seaweed, and other small objects on some of Audubon’s plates of birds.”
|RU7062_B01_F14_432 “I have seen the muscular impression of this species (No 8) though not in this specimen. It is like the others.” – T.A. Conrad, Date Unknown.|
In his first publication, American Marine Conchology, or Descriptions and Colored Figures of the Shells of the Atlantic Coast (1831), Conrad wrote in the preface, “it is designed to supply a deficiency which has long been felt by the cultivators of American natural history.” He included in this volume seventeen plates, which he drew, and his sister colored. His second publication illustrated “new” fresh-water shells of the United States; although later, others laid claim to some of Conrad’s species. This slight hiccup, however, did not deter Conrad. In the Journal of the Philadelphia Academy of Natural Sciences, he published anywhere from one to a dozen articles in each of the first thirty-six volumes. The first four volumes contain eleven of his contributions, “all of which are profusely illustrated” according to Dr. Charles C. Abbott.
Surely Conrad’s artistic contributions to his fields helped in changing the way scientists record information. Conrad’s letters to Meek show how early scientists began documenting specimens they found and collected, and his publications included beautifully detailed illustrations of the shells he classified. Those incredible drawings make one really appreciate the amazing multi-disciplined and multi-talented scientists who developed the fields of study we explore and reference today.
Smithsonian Institution Archives, Record Unit 7062, Meek, F. B. (Fielding Bradford), 1817-1876, Fielding B. Meek Papers, 1843-1877 and undated, Box 1, Folder 14
Smithsonian Institution Archives Record Unit 7230, United States National Museum, Dept. of Geology Biographical File, 1862-1972 and undated, Box 3, Folder 45
|Cover of J. B. Henderson's book discussing the Tomas Barrera Cuban Expedition, 1914. The book is available through Biodiversity Heritage Library and Interet Archive.|
I am always happy when I can find a published text about an expedition I am cataloging. These often help clarify spellings and handwriting legibility issues with locations or types of specimens collected. One might wonder why we catalog the field books if there are published texts. The published texts may tell the stories of expeditions and travels, but archives hold the unedited, “behind the scenes” accounts. This usually means a plethora of details that are summarized or glossed over in the published version. Sometimes this includes discussions of relationships between the expedition participants.
A while back I cataloged the Henderson Family Papers, 1868-1923, (RU 7075) which includes a journal from the Tomas Barrera Cuban Expedition (1914). The expedition was relatively short in duration and focused on collecting birds and marine life including mollusks. The journal was written by J.B. Henderson, Jr., who was an assistant on the voyage. His account vividly describes interactions and disagreements between expedition participants. Field books sometimes touch on personal exchanges, observations of contemporary events; Henderson’s were particularly candid. In the first few pages of the log book he wrote:
“The ferocious conversations of all, especially of the “fish expert” [Manuel Lesmes], is amusing if one is feeling well, but if not, it is irritating. The most violent conversations and heated arguments are started at once by a reference to sharks or to amphibians or snakes which awaken memories of terrible tragedies in the mind of the fish man. He is an ignorant ass whose knowledge of natural history is based upon the teachings of the newspapers and whose arguments are founded wholly upon the hearsay of the superstitious.”
Henderson published an account the voyage, The cruise of the Tomas Barrera; the narrative of a scientific expedition to western Cuba and the Colorados reefs, with observations on the geology, fauna, and flora of the region (1916). The text provided an interesting juxtaposition of his personal thoughts and public account. His comments are not much different in tone.
“The subject of sharks was one that always could be relied upon to precipitate a discussion on board that assumed as it progressed all the outward signs of an anarchistic rally. Men of the Latin race enter upon arguments with an earnestness and amount of feeling that perplexes the Anglo-Saxon. Is it not likely, he asks aside, that these men will do each other violence?
Our fish expert (Lesmes) cherished gruesome memories of sharks and he was positive that they are always very dangerous. His eyes gleam with apparent rage; with quick threatening gesture he suddenly approaches his disputant and hurls at him an argument like canister hot from the cannon's mouth. The other staggers, but recovering from the charge and reinforced by others who rush into the wordy affray, he delivers back an argumentative broadside and the battle is on. We of the north glance at each other apprehensively. Something really should be done to quell this riot before our fine crew is destroyed or we ourselves, as innocent bystanders, shall be injured. Then the cook announces that coffee is ready and the dove of peace flutters in and the shark swims out.” (p. 48)
Throughout each account of the expedition, there is a humorous if frustrated tone. Expeditions, especially at sea, can be intense experiences depending on the combination of personalities. This expedition appears to have been just that, though with some humorous moments.
For those of you looking for some new reading material, Henderson’s published account has been digitized and is available through the Internet Archive.
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 Sonoe Nakasone, Field Book Project
As a librarian, I have a certain appreciation for indices. It might surprise (or appall) non-librarian folk out there, but creating indices can actually be a full-time job. They’re called indexers—those who painstakingly review a document to extract key terms that may be used by readers when searching for topics. I think indexers must be crazy
, yet indices make our lives much easier. Before the internet became the “just Google it” phenomenon it is today, indices were a researcher’s best friend.
There are many types of indices so to be clear, I’m referring to indices in print, specifically ones appended to a document and used as a guide to search for topics within that document. These are typically found in materials intended for publication. I mean, who in their right mind would review messy notes to create an index—OH, oh right...that’s what this article is about….
The first time I saw an index in field notes I was impressed, but it seemed excessive. When I considered the difficulty in skimming (often messy) hand written notes that may or may not clearly label locations or subjects, however, I wondered why more collectors didn’t index their field notes. Eventually I discovered that it wasn’t rare for collectors to provide some kind of guide to their field notes, although the large majority of field notes I’ve seen do not include indices. Field notes that did contain indices made it easier to decipher sometimes unintelligible cursive writing and provided a hint into the information the collector considered most important for navigating his/her field notes.
As you’ll see in the following example of three collector’s field notes from the Smithsonian Institution Archives (SIA), each index has a character and utility of its own.
The index in this field book—created by Arthur Wilson Stelfox (SIA RU 7379) while collecting mollusks in Ireland, Scotland, and England—is organized alphabetically by location name. Such an index is particularly useful here because Stelfox created these notes over multiple years and collecting trips. Locations, therefore, do not always follow one route, but instead skip around. Notes on mollusks collected in one particular location maybe located on several pages throughout the book.
Edward Alphonso Goldman’s notebook (from SIA RU 7364) is a journal containing narrative descriptions on collections and observations of mammals, birds, and plants found throughout his trip. Often, Goldman’s notes indicate which animals or plants are common in the locations he visits. Using this index, the reader could get snapshot of the flora and fauna of any of the listed location
Indices in Richard Blackwelder’s journals (SIA Acc. 96-099) are perhaps the most impressive I’ve seen and are the inspiration for this article. Blackwelder’s notes describe every aspect of his collecting trip. It is fitting, then, that he provides both a general index and index of insects. The General Index records place names, names of people, and subjects not related to insects (e.g. birds).
The main purpose of Blackwelder’s field trips, however, was to collect insects. A specialized index for insects is therefore also included. Insects are listed by class, family, or genus. This provides researchers the option of looking for insects (or other things) collected in one particular location or going directly to references for a specific specimen.
If there is any point to this article other than showing off some beautiful and practical indices, it might be that more collectors should index their field notes. It is undoubtedly a time consuming process to index handwritten notes, but the benefits when it comes time to use those notes are enormous.
By Lesley Parilla, Field Book Project
The collections we catalog are often the result a lifetime of research and collecting. These scientists go out routinely to collect, and usually take part in one or two expeditions over a career. When I first looked at the finding aid for SIA RU 7231 collection of Waldo LaSalle Schmitt (1887-1977), I was surprised to find more than 15 different expeditions listed. Some of these cover multiple years. I knew there would be plenty of material to include. Several questions came to mind. How did he manage to take part in all of them? Was he invited? Did he organize them? Did he ever spend time at home? Delving into the life of Waldo was going to be interesting.
Waldo Schmitt's Expeditions
Waldo has proven to be a fascinating figure. As you might imagine by my reference to him by his first name, his personality shines through his papers and records and inspires a certain level of affection.
He was a Zoologist whose specialty was decapod crustaceans (the order that includes crabs, lobsters, and shrimp), and held several positions at National Museum of Natural History (NMNH) eventually becoming Curator of Zoology. Waldo conducted a tremendous amount of work in the Caribbean and Galapagos Islands, but additionally collected in places as far flung as Democratic Republic of Congo and Antarctica. He had the enviable position of taking part in multiple expeditions across the globe, and was invited or suggested (as he was for Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Presidential Cruise of 1938) for other expeditions because of his reputation.
It seems clear from his materials that Waldo had a personality made for expedition work. He was personable, had a colorful way with words, and was always ready with a story. Waldo often put particular care into accounts about places he visited, locals met, and interactions with expedition participants. His diaries were being read by colleagues back at the Smithsonian, along with progress reports, and he seemed to make a point to make the accounts good reading. These field books make places and events easy to visualize.
I have found answers for some of my initial questions while cataloging the collection. Waldo formed strong relationships with several individuals who funded multiple expeditions. In other cases, I have found correspondence from colleagues inviting his participation, or, in the case of the Presidential Cruise, a letter from a supervisor suggesting him. I have found only a few expeditions that he seems to have run. Materials in the Smithsonian-Bredin Belgian Congo Expedition, 1955, indicate he preferred to be a participant and focus on collecting. As far as a balance with home-life, most of the expeditions covered portions of the year. During these times, letters to and from his wife impart a strong sense familiarity and affection. I have also found notes sent to him by his children while he was out collecting. But perhaps the title of his biography by Entomologist Richard E. Blackwelder states it best: The Zest for Life, or, Waldo Had a Pretty Good Run: the Life of Waldo LaSalle Schmitt.
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 Lesley Parilla, Field Book Project
The fourth of the Field Book Project’s quarterly Flickr sets is now available here on Flickr’s The Commons. This set of images comes from the collection of Invertebrate Zoologist Waldo Schmitt. They were chosen primarily to show the geographical and chronological breadth of field work it represents. These images depict collecting for the Invertebrate Zoology department of the National Museum Natural History from 1939-1963, and relate to staff, specimens collected, and habitats in French Polynesia, Antarctica, Alaska, and Greenland.
Most of these images are from Waldo Schmitt’s time in the Society Islands of French Polynesia, the coast of Alaska studying Alaska King Crab, and the Palmer Peninsula of Antarctica. Additionally, they depict a variety of activities beyond the specimen collecting. The portrait of the Smithsonian-Bredin Expedition crew and the snapshot of dancers on the ship eating lobster (some of which were originally purchased to be specimens), for example, relate to stories in Schmitt’s diaries and illustrate the lighter moments in the field.
Many of these images show the results and different methods of specimen collecting. Dredging, scuba diving, gill netting, and even rotenone sampling were all used. The image above shows collecting with commercial methods while investigating the Alaska King Crab industry in Alaska. The flickr set also has images of scuba divers in Antarctic waters, and collecting to show diversity of marine life in the reefs of the Society Islands.
Because Waldo Schmitt was the Curator of the Invertebrate Zoology department, his collection doesn’t just represent his own field work but also that of others who collected for the department under his direction. For this reason, Schmitt’s collection contains images from Robert Bartlett’s expeditions to Greenland in the 1930’s, some of which are included in the Flickr set. Photographs show how his crew collected and prepared invertebrate and botanical specimens, as well as visually documented habitats, as seen below with the crewman filming passing ice bergs.
We hope flickr users will learn about the diversity of Schmitt’s collection through these images.
By Lesley Parilla
SIA2008-3196. Alexander Wetmore Standing Next to Jeep at Rio Las Tablas, Panama, 1948. After a number of visits, correspondence in the collection indicates that Wetmore was using the same Jeep during successive visits. Eventually they painted SM-INS in the front bumper marking it for Smithsonian Institution use (see SIA2008-3201).
While working on natural history and institution archive collections here at the Smithsonian, I have come across a lot of projects involving the collaboration between the Smithsonian and other federal agencies. Some of these relationships are short term, lasting months or years. Others extend for decades like that of United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and National Museum of Natural History (NMNH). In the case of federal agencies working with NMNH, the agencies are often involved in natural resource management. The Bureau of Fisheries (later merged to create the United States Fish and Wildlife Service) contributed material in several collections at Smithsonian Institution Archives. One relationship that surprised me was the recurring collaborations between the Department of Defense (DOD) and the Smithsonian Institution.
The structure of the work with DOD varies, and is usually based on a shared topic or geographic focus. The Department of Entomology has had an ongoing relationship with the US Army, Walter Reed Biosystematics Unit (WRBU) since 1961. WRBU coordinates with NMNH’s
Department of Entomology, to manage and develop the NMNH Mosquito collection, which has become the largest of its kind at 1.5 million specimens (http://wrbu.si.edu/WhatWeDo.html).
Usually what I find relates to specimen collecting trips in the form of expeditions or surveys. These seem to come about for two reasons—the Smithsonian Institution is, in many cases, the repository for national collections, cultural and biological. The US Military has a myriad of bases, outposts, and equipment around the world. When the US Government decides it is in the national interest to collect, circumstances have brought these two together. This has produced a string of expeditions, surveys, and informal relationships over the last two centuries. Below is an overview of just a few we’ve cataloged thus far.
It is exciting to find, as I catalog, that what initially appeared to be isolated projects between agencies really demonstrates an understanding of the benefits of working together. Additionally, information on specimens and when they were collected is often in unexpected places. Information from the vessel Tanager may be located at a DOD archive, National Archives, the Smithsonian, or the Bishop Museum. The Field Book Project works to make those connections easier to find.
by Lesley Parilla
Collecting in 3-D Smithsonian Institution Archives, 87-2132 (OPPS Neg. No.), The Underwood Travel System, Catalog No. 28 [p. 4 illustration: Man holding stereoscope, pointing to Egypt on a large globe: line drawing, ca. 1907.]
Over the course of cataloging the Waldo Schmitt collection [SIA RU007231], I have been amazed by the array of material formats. Waldo was a prodigious documenter of his work using movies, diaries, notebooks, photographs, and slides. The color slides even reach back to his earlier field work. From what I can gather, Waldo appreciated using innovative methods of recording. For instance, in the 1960’s Waldo worked with a marine photographer Harry Pederson using new methods of photography to document behaviors of marine life of the Bahamas. Knowing this, I was still amazed to come across an unfamiliar format from the Smithsonian-Bredin Expedition to the Belgian Congo, 1955—stereographic slides.
Stereographic slides create 3-dimensional images, by projecting two images taken at slightly differently angles. This is achieved by a camera that is capable of taking two pictures simultaneously. The Schmitt collection has several boxes of these, documenting locations and events during the 1955 expedition across Africa. My only experience with this format was with commercially available slides showing tourist sites like the Grand Canyon and Yellowstone National Park.
Having never seen stereographic images outside the souvenir realm, I did some research, and was surprised to find that these images are not uncommon in archival collections. Additionally, I learned that stereographic photography still occurs. There are clubs across the country; some still using traditional film cameras, though digital is becoming more common. There are online instructions for turning these images in to 3-dimensional digital anaglyphs. When I went to Smithsonian’s online catalog SIRIS, I found several stereographic images were digitized. Unfortunately, they require a special viewer to see in their 3-dimensional glory. As 3-D has proven increasingly applicable and popular, I thought I would try combining the images shown above into anaglyphs, so that readers could see a new side to Africa in the 1950’s. If you have 3-D glasses lying around, now is the time to pull them out.
Viewer simulation of stereographic image #SIA2012-0403
Viewer simulation of stereographic image #SIA2012-0405
By Lesley Parilla, Field Book Project
Franklin D. Roosevelt aboard the USS Houston, during the Presidential Cruise, 1938
Field notes come in interesting forms – one of the more curious collecting documentation I have found comes from Expeditions with US Navy participation. Naval vessels have daily bulletins or “plans of the day” issued. They include a wide variety of information: uniform of the day, ship-wide schedules, and information about VIP’s or important events. When at sea, they additionally include information about life beyond the ship – current events, sports scores, stock reports. One can imagine that before the internet, this might be the only information sailors received about home beyond letters from family and friends. These bulletins also provided levity for the crew, including stories or jokes. The materials I cataloged from the Tanager Expedition (1923) discussed in the blog “The Dangers of Bunny Rabbits” includes this type of document.
The most recent expedition to include these was the Presidential Cruise of 1938 aboard USS Houston. This highly unusual “expedition” was a fishing cruise taken by Franklin D. Roosevelt to the waters off the coast of Central and South America. Roosevelt extended an invitation to the Smithsonian to send scientific staff along with the cruise to collect a variety of specimens, and ended up including fish, crustaceans, sponges, and botanical specimens. Several new species were discovered, including a new type of palm tree from the island pictured below, the palm tree (Siriella roosevelti) named for the President. Some of the specimen cards can be found on SIRIS for several departments of National Museum of Natural History.
This cruise is a fascinating mixture of social and scientific efforts. Schmitt saved the ship bulletins as well as the attending press releases given out during the voyage. One can determine not just what time of day and where the president and guests were fishing, but also current political events, and naval social traditions practiced by the crew and guests. While on the cruise, they honored a longtime tradition of the Shellback ceremony, commemorating the crossing of the Equator. This ceremony still goes on in various forms, and provides humor and comradery in ship life that is often highly regimented and routine.
Department of the Navy -- Naval History and Heritage Command. (2004). “Casualties: U.S. Navy And Coast Guard Vessels, Sunk Or Damaged Beyond Repair During World War Iist, 7 December 1941-1 October 1945” Accessed on Http://Www.History.Navy.Mil/Faqs/Faq82-1.Htm
By Sonoe Nakasone, Field Book Project
Data sheet with circular time-depth recorder.
What would it be like to sail around the world? To spend endless days unable to see anything ahead but more ocean before the horizon? While cataloging the field notes of Allan Bé, a marine biologist, these questions often arose. Because his collection consisted mostly of data sheets and very few narrative notes, however, I used available information to fill gaps in both the catalog record and my imagination.
Allan Bé spent much of his career at the Lamont-Dougherty Earth Observatory and was a pioneer in the study of environmental factors affecting foraminifera plankton. Bé’s collection (Smithsonian Institution Archives Acc. 09-008) contains mostly data sheets created by Bé or his colleagues and completed for each haul of plankton samples during their cruises.
Each sheet records several types of information including “surface temperature”, “water salinity”, “weather”, “depth”, and much more. This rich data not only helps biologists to understand the environment in which the plankton live, but also can inform research into historic weather patterns.
Each data sheet also contains coordinates, lacking in most other field books I encounter. This posed a cataloging challenge as did the marine environment in which Bé collected. For example, 30° n 60° w drops you somewhere in the Atlantic Ocean—but where exactly? Saying “Atlantic Ocean” is like saying “North America”. It helps, but it’s too broad to be of great use. One obvious solution was to specify North or South for the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.
One exciting aspect of this collection was seeing the exotic waters Bé or his colleagues sailed through, especially near South East Asia. I was careful with coordinates in this region because just 5° could be the difference between the Banda Sea and the Arafura Sea. More enjoyable was when photographs of tropical beaches popped up during searches in Google Maps. Try it yourself. Search 0° n 129° e in Google Maps.
I would shiver when their research took them to the colder waters of the Southern Ocean near Argentina and Antarctica. In one field book, the extreme cold of this region is playfully reflected in a drawing on a plotting chart of the area near the Falklands. The chart depicts their vessel, the Eltanin, mounting a large iceberg and a sea god blowing wind with a frosty breath.
It’s difficult to see at first and relate in a bibliographic record how rich and full of life these log books are. Looking closely at the data, however, an entire world of scientific research adventures on the high seas was exposed. By cataloging these items and highlighting aspects of seemingly plain data, users will have greater access to and better understanding of these materials.