Photograph documents observations of pronghorn in Texas by Helmut Buechner in 1947. SIA2014-00017.
The Field Book Project is pleased to announce that nine of the Smithsonian field books that we’ve cataloged and imaged are now available through the Biodiversity Heritage Library (BHL) portal!
With over 43 million pages of the published biodiversity literature, BHL has greatly improved the efficiency of access to the published literature--much of which was previously available online in limited physical copies in but a few select libraries in the developed world. As unique primary source documents, field books present similar challenges and we are very pleased to provide another layer of access to these important materials.
Scientists' field notes are, in many ways, the precursors to the published literature. Journals (the unpublished kind), diaries, collecting lists, photo albums, and other primary source documentation of collecting events can enhance not only the scientific understanding of what has already been published but can also provide insights into the historical, sometimes even personal, context behind the research.
The Field Book Project has cataloged over 7,000 Smithsonian field books and imaged over 400 of those which are available through the Smithsonian Collection Search Center along with additional contextual information in the form of collection records and authority files. The nine field books chosen as the first testbed set for ingest into BHL include item records and page scans for seven diaries created by David Crockett Graham and two photo albums from the Harriman Alaska Expedition (1899) from the collections of the Smithsonian Institution Archives. Each item not only tells its own fascinating story of exploration but also provides information and insights that complement materials already in BHL.
In addition to making these available alongside the related literature in BHL, we are especially pleased to see these notes joining the 62 other field notes that are already in BHL thanks to the Connecting Content project. The original vision for the Field Book Project was to create one online location for field books, regardless of physical location. Now you can view the Smithsonian field notes alongside those from the California Academy of Science, Missouri Botanical Garden, New York Botanical Garden, Harvard Botany Libraries and Museum of Comparative Zoology. And with the crowdsourcing transcription efforts underway both at the Smithsonian Transcription Center and kicking off with BHL's Purposeful Gaming project earlier this month, we're looking forward to seeing more great things come out of the continued partnership!
David Crockett Graham (1884-1961) was an American missionary and collector working in China over the period of 1911-1948. In the U.S., Graham had studied theology, anthropology, and ethonology. As part of the Proceedings of the United States National Museum (v.80, 1932), BHL has made available an article authored, detailing the architectural structures, carvings and artifacts he observed in the artificial caves in Szechuan Province. But his work was not limited to cultural and anthropological inquiry. Graham also spent summers collecting biological specimens for the U.S. National Museum (now the National Museum of Natural History), receiving the honorary title of Collaborator in Biology in 1932. His diaries from those summers provide a fascinating perspective onto his experiences while collecting, from the logistical aspects of organizing a collecting team and their supplies to the impact of heavy rains and extreme heat on their travels. His natural curiosity is evident as he pesters a stinky beetle (June 6, 1928) and marvels at how, after discovering a large number of moths in a nearby bush, they do not come to his lantern at night (June 14, 1928).
Entry from June 6, 1928 of David Crockett Graham's Diary no. III., May 27, 1928 - October 12, 1928. Smithsonian Institution Archives. SIA RU007148, David Crockett Graham Papers, 1923-1936. Box 1 Folder 5. SIA2012-2415.
The Harriman Alaska Expedition (1899) is the fascinating--and true--story of a railroad tycoon's family vacation and scientific expedition rolled into one. After his physician recommended a vacation to combat exhaustion, Edward Henry Harriman, President of the Union Pacific Railroad, began planning a big game hunt for his family. Exhausted as he may have been, though, he remained ambitious even in rest. By the time they set sail for Alaska on May 31, 1899, the family vacation transformed into a full-scale exploring expedition. The list of participants reads like a roll call of renowned scientists, naturalists, and artists of the time, many of whom whose names are still well-known today: Clinton Hart Merriam, Frederick Vernon Coville, Thomas Kearney, William Healey Dall, Robert Ridgway, and over a hundred others.
Fairweather Range --Seen across Glacier Bay from Sunday Island Souvenir of the Harriman Alaska Expedition, May-August, 1899, volume 1, New York to Cook Inlet. Smithsonian Institution Archives. SIA RU007243, Harriman Alaska Expedition collection, 1899-1900. Box 1. SIA2012-3666.
Not surprisingly, the expedition resulted in several publications, including the Harriman Alaska Series a multi-volume report on Alaska's geography and biodiversity, including insects, crustaceans, and invertebrates. The two photo albums were assembled as souvenirs for expedition participants and include hundreds of photographs, the bulk of which show Alaskan landscapes and glaciers as they appeared in 1899. While some photographs from the expedition were also included in the reports and other publications, as a whole, these albums help to fill in our contextual understanding of the place and time in which Alaska's biodiversity was being recorded by the Harriman Expedition. They also offer a glimpse into the human experience of the expedition, from a family outing on Lowe Inlet to a fire drill aboard the George W. Elder.
Fire Drill. Souvenir of the Harriman Alaska Expedition, May-August, 1899, volume 1, New York to Cook Inlet. Smithsonian Institution Archives. SIA RU007243, Harriman Alaska Expedition collection, 1899-1900. Box 1. SIA2012-3666.
We hope you enjoy taking a look through the first of the Smithsonian field notes to be added to BHL. Let us know what you discover by leaving us a comment!
Lesser frigate-bird colony, Phoenix Island, 1965. This photograph was taken by researcher Robert R. Fleet during his work with the Pacific Ocean Biological Survey Program. SIA2011-1362.
by Lesley Parilla, Field Book Project
There are many skills needed in the natural sciences. Successful and thoughtful study of natural history relies on a host of individuals whose skills and personalities vary dramatically depending on their role. There must be someone to excel at collecting specimens (and dealing with all the challenges that come with that), study the specimens, taxonomy, collection management, and explanation of resulting scientific findings. Modern natural history also requires the ability to communicate its value to a wide variety of audiences. Needless to say these skills rarely exist in one person.
At the Field Book Project, we are most familiar with those who excelled at collecting specimens and observing natural phenomena. The person who is blessed with the ability to understand the natural world is not always one who is blessed with the ability or desire to explain it to others. This may explain why I have been so struck by a number of collectors’ whose words seem to break through the decades and impart a strong sense of personality, opinion, and often humor.
Some of these names are still well-known in scientific circles; others are only documented in archives and personal memory. However through the written word, one can still feel the force of their temperament, interests, and wit.
Slowly but surely more of their field books are becoming digitized; and to my great delight, these characteristics are helping their field book documentation become more accessible. Their ability to eloquently and clearly describe their field work is inspiring volunteers in Smithsonian’s Transcription Center to connect with the creators and their scientific work.
The individuals listed above are just a few of the creators whose words have stuck with me. Take a look through the field books on Transcription Center; new materials are continually added. You might be surprised by who and what you find.
Nephtyidae polychaetes. Taken during underwater specimen collecting during Waldo Schmitt's work on the Palmer Peninsula [Antarctica], 1962-1963. SIA2012-0671.
But sometimes it’s not saying what you expect…
We’ve come across a wide variety of images while cataloging field books. Some clearly document specimens, observations of habitat, candid interactions of colleagues, and others we have yet to determine the reason.
Some of my favorites are the images that seem clearly taken for one purpose until one reads the collector’s caption. We have several of these. Often these images look like pictures that could be found in any family album. Some include children or show general landscapes. They may appear quite pedestrian, until one reads the caption, and realizes the “why.” Below are a few examples. The first could pass as a picture of the family farm, the next possibly an image of long lost relatives, but each is providing important information to the scientists who included the photos in their field documentation.
Curious to see more? Check out Field Book Project Flickr sets on Smithsonian’s Flickrstream.
|Fertility erosion on ridge tops, 15 miles southwest of Pullman, Washington, March 1953. Smithsonian Institution Archives. RU 7279, Box 29, Folder 1, Envelope 16. SIA2014-00010.|
|Near view of native vegetation on sand-steppe near Heidesheim, Germany, 1914. Smithsonian Institution Archives. RU 007082, Box 5, Folder 1. SIA2012-3229.|
|Mary Agnes Chase's Field Work in Brazil, Image No. 1935. Cutting Stenotaphrum at Dr. Rolf's, Vicosa. Smithsonian Institution Archives. RU 000229, Box 20, Folder 1. SIA2012-3351a.|
|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.
William W. Welsh worked as a Scientific Assistant for the Bureau of Fisheries, Bureau of Biological Survey. The Field Book Project has cataloged the works of a number of specimen collectors like Welsh, individuals whose collecting is well documented but for whom we have few personal details. Though he was an active collector, as his field notes document, he has only one publication to his name. Fishes of the Gulf of Maine was published in Welsh’s name posthumously by his colleague Henry Bigelow.
The report was far advanced when interrupted by his untimely death, and so much of the materials had been collected that, at the request of the Bureau of Fisheries, I have undertaken to carry it to publication along the lines originally laid down, though I am unable to give it the value it would have possessed had Mr. Welsh been able to finish it.
William Welsh may not have a detailed biography available, but a tantalizing peak at his personality comes through with a short quote found in his field book from December 20, 1913.
New 4 ft ring
And bend and rig S.F. Trawl
Mend beam trawl
AND shake hands with Taft?!!!
The Field Book Project has cataloged more than 7,000 field books, and along the way we’ve found a lot of field books that have needed conservation treatment, ranging from simple rehousing to full disbinding. This work is completed by the amazing conservation staff at Smithsonian Institution Archives. Kirsten Tyree, one of SIA’s conservation professionals, has worked with the Project during the last two years and is moving on to new adventures.
We at the Field Book Project would like to wish her all the best in her future personal and professional endeavors!
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.
By Lesley Parilla, Field Book Project
More field books continue to be made available on Smithsonian’s Transcription Center. The Field Book Project has been working to provide additional background for some of these field book creators. Along the way we keep finding intriguing details about Smithsonian collectors.
I was recently looking for additional biographical information on nineteenth century entomologist Benjamin Dann Walsh, when I found the following quote in an article in the Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society from 1929:
Mr. [E. H.] Guyer says: “his daily activities in collecting insects and butterflies, of which he made a vast and famous collection, made him known to all the then inhabitants of the city. Every boy, as I then was, delighted in assisting him. In such pursuit he was run over by a locomotive on our levee” November 12, 1869 – “and died November 18, 1869 age sixty-one (61) years.”
If you have read Benjamin Dann Walsh’s biographical descriptions, they detail a short but impressive list of accomplishments. He was the first state entomologist of Illinois and founded the American Entomologist with Charles Valentine Riley. His biographical description in the Field Book Registry is what initially excited my interest: he prepared for the Church, but instead became a writer, lumber dealer, farmer, and entomologist. What I eventually found was a fascinating life: a man who changed countries, embraced new scientific theories, and in the end chose not a comfortable lifestyle but instead a fulfilling one.
It seems Walsh was a man of strong principles and opinions. He attended Trinity College, Cambridge University, earning a B.A. and M.A., subsequently becoming a Fellow for 12 years. He had intended on entering the Church, but began to feel strongly against University and Church policies, that he addressed in an 1837 treatise against University practices. At the age of 30, he and his wife Rebecca Finn immigrated to the United States, initially settling in Cambridge, Illinois, where he took up farming. Farming proved an inopportune career choice, and Walsh sold his farm and moved to Rock Island in 1851 where he established a lumber business that prospered and enabled him to build several rental properties. He had an interest in local politics, becoming a city alderman, investigating corruption, which resulted in threats to his life. A quote from Mrs. Edna Armstrong Tucker in the Transactions of the Illinois State Historical Society in 1920 stated:
Having cause to suspect that the council was mulcting the city, he ran for alderman for the express purpose of getting at the facts and publishing them. After exposing the fraud, he resigned satisfied with having performed a duty and proven that he knew dangerous human bugs and knew where to stick the pin.
Walsh retired from the lumber business 1858 and began to pursue study of entomology. He became an early proponent of the theory of evolution, and began corresponding with Darwin.
It seems he lived life pursuing his interest and beliefs instead of pursuing one of ease. In a letter he wrote to the entomologist Philip Uhler, he stated:
Times are too hard for me to pay a cabinet-maker, so I handle the plane and the saw myself. [Thomas] Say lived on a dime a day, for the sake of devoting his time to Entomology. I am not quite so badly off as that, but I am forced to do one of two things—either go into business again or dress meanly, and I prefer the latter alternative.
Sheppard, Carol A. (2004). “Benjamin Dann Walsh.” Annual Review of Entomology. 2004 (49) 1–25. doi: 10.1146/annurev.ento.49.061802.123145
Pammel, L. H. (1929). “Benjamin Dann Walsh.” Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society (1908-1984). 21 (4) 556-568. Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/40187588
View from LORAN tower on Sand-Johnston Island, including antenna supports, 1964. Photograph was taken as part of field documentation for the Pacific Ocean Biological Survey Program. SIA2013-08810.
(In honor of National Volunteer Appreciation Month)
The Field Book Project catalogs a wide range of field book formats. In fact, you can find more than 30 different types of field book contents in the Field Book Registry catalog. Maps are one of my favorite types. Over the years we’ve talked a lot about the photographs, drawings, and text we’ve found in collections, but the maps seemed to be mentioned less often. So it seemed appropriate to pull together some examples of the variety we’ve cataloged. There are more than 500 field book catalog records that include maps available to search on Smithsonian Collection Search Center. Below is just a small cross-section of those.
|Insect distribution maps in Robert E. Silberglied's field notes. Smithsonian Institution Archives. RU 007316, Box 13, Folder 27. SIA2012-9757.||Map drawn by Rafinesque during his travels from Philadelphia to Kentucky, 1818. Smithsonian Institution Archives, RU 007250, Box 1, Folder 3. SIA2012-6086.|
|Hand-drawn map in Richard Blackwelder's field book. Smithsonian Institution Archives. Acc. 96-099, Box 1, Folder 9. SIA2012-1257.||Killip's Adirondack Travelog, page 73. Smithsonian Institution Archives RU 007375, Box 2, Folder 10. SIA2012-8818.|
Hand drawn (or printed and hand colored) map of the glacial formations for Southern Christiana [Oslo], Norway. The colored regions indicate geological characteristics and also include location names. Map is written in Norwegian and dated 1859, composed by Norwegian Geologist Theodor Kjerulf. Smithsonian Institution Archives. SIA RU007092, Box 1 Folder 2. Photograph taken by Lesley Parilla.
They vary from rough sketches in journals to commercially printed editions that are hand colored and annotated. They can be visually arresting as well as impart important information recorded by collectors. Unfortunately due to the range of sizes and physical condition, many of the maps present serious conservation and digitization challenges. Below is an example of the type of work conservators face in order to treat the maps. We don’t often get the chance to share them online. Many of the maps cataloged as part of field book collections must be seen in person.
Flattening map folds using localized humidification, completed by SIA Preservation staff. Credit: Janelle Baktin-Hall.
Maps present another challenge. Just as field books are sometimes separated from the specimens they describe, maps are sometimes separated from the field notes they document. This may occur because they represent a storage challenge for a department, or they are no longer seen as relevant to current research. As we’ve cataloged in the departments and divisions of NMNH, we’ve continually run into a volunteer run project from the Botany Department that is taking on this challenge. With it being National Volunteer Appreciation Month, we thought it a great chance to highlight their work. Now that many of the NMNH field books are cataloged, we have been able to reconnect to some of the maps that Jim Harle and his fellow volunteers have located during their efforts. We encourage you to search for some of the following names on their website at:
Family in front of their home at Urbina, Peru. The walls are of split bamboo boards. This material is much used for houses in the lowlands. On the uplands the material is mostly adobe but this house belongs to the railroad and the bamboo was brought from Guayaquil. Photograph taken by A. S. Hitchcock. SIA2011-0569.
By Lesley Parilla, Field Book Project
|Bartschella schumannii Britton & Rose. Collected by J. N. Nelson in Northwest Mexico, on March 23, 1911. USNM 638432. Courtesy of Botany Department, National Museum of Natural History.|
Recently, the Field Book Project made available some of botanist Joseph Nelson Rose’s field books for volunteers to transcribe on Smithsonian’s Transcription Center. To highlight this new content, the Field Book Project would like to provide readers with a little more background about the scientist and the man.
Over the last three years we have frequently written blog posts highlighting personal interests and interesting facets of the collectors’ lives. J. N. Rose was a botanist with the USDA and Smithsonian Institution. He traveled extensively through the American tropics, co-wrote important botanical texts, and collected extensively for the National Herbarium. When I prepared to write this piece, I anticipated the writing would be a fairly easy task.
Though he had a full and active career, I found little that described the scientist himself. What I did find, described a man that seemed to be well regarded and hardworking; he did not readily seek attention for himself. A good amount of his botanical work was even completed in collaboration with others. He co-wrote with at least 12 other botanists. The few articles I found that offered any personal description of Rose made me wish more information was available.
William Trelease wrote in a 1928 issue of Science about his colleagues’ response to the death of Rose. He wrote that the staff of the US National Museum was called by the Secretary of the Institution, Charles Greeley Abbot, to gather in order to show their appreciation.
To those of us who listened, as speakers rose here and there in the room, the kindly personality of a friend and a talented devotion of an able man in earnest work unfolded. To those of us that spoke, the sadness of the occasion was blended with the consolation born of the knowledge that a well-rounded-out life had come to ripe fruition.
The article continues to elaborate about the diligent and conscientious lifelong work of Rose, but gives few details about the personal life of a man and scientist who was obviously appreciated and admired by his colleagues.
This appearance of privacy continues in a piece written about Rose and his work with Nelson Lord Britton. Richard S. Cowan and Frans A. Stafleu, in a 1981 issue of Brittonia, mention that going through available archival and published materials provided little personal information about the man except for his devotion to his botanical work. What is available speaks to his evident “spirit of cooperation, his invariable tolerance and remarkably even temperament.”
His spirit of cooperation and belief in the importance of scientific discovery seems a perfect complement to the work of the transcription center volunteers. Transcribing makes these materials and their contents accessible and useable in a host of new ways. We encourage you to take a look through his and the other field books now available online from Smithsonian.
By Meghan Ferriter, Ph.D., Project Coordinator, Smithsonian Transcription Center
While it’s true that we think of the Transcription Center as a site of discovery, we don’t always anticipate which specific connections will be uncovered in the process of transcription.
Recently, I had the opportunity to learn about the delight of discovery directly from one of our volunteers. Siobhan Leachman and I talked via e-mail about her experiences transcribing from New Zealand – and what she had learned about Field Book Project researchers and expeditions. I asked Siobhan to share more about how she got hooked on transcribing, after she noted that she was a bit tentative at first.
SL: The project that really got me addicted was Vernon Bailey's field notes. I started on that not long after it was uploaded. The main reason I enjoyed that project so much was Vernon’s spare but descriptive writing style. He was writing about wolves, which to me are a lot more interesting than insects or plants, and was also describing the conditions he had to put up with on his trip as well as the people he came in contact with. It made his journal come alive. I worked solidly on his journal over one weekend and transcribed most of it in the space of three days with the help of some other enthusiastic volunteers. I was completely hooked and kept working on it as I wanted to know what happened next. For me it was like reading a movie script, I had images of “Dances with Wolves” going through my head, and there was always something interesting happening just on the next page.
|Page 3 of Vernon Bailey's field book, "Journal kept by Bailey on field trip to Wyoming and New Mexico, March 15-June 1906 ." Smithsonian Institution Archives. RU007267, Box 2, Folder 4.|
Siobhan previously shared that, after working on Vernon’s field notes, she was most interested in Florence Bailey, Vernon’s wife. Fortunately, Florence was also a researcher and ornithologist – if you’re a regular Field Book Project blog reader, you may recall a post written by Lesley Parilla about the couple and their long research careers. Before Florence’s field notes were available in the Transcription Center, however, Siobhan had the chance to work on Frederick Coville’s field notes. Very quickly, connections between the projects were becoming clear:
SL: Once I started doing more transcribing more names started to become familiar. Vernon Bailey mentioned C. Hart Merriam, who I’ve since learned is Florence Bailey’s brother. Florence of course being Vernon’s wife. Then there are Coville’s field notes, that also mention a person called Bailey, who I’m assuming will either be Florence or more likely Vernon. After a while I realised that these groups of people working in the same area, at the same time, and are of course colleagues. They mention each other in their diaries and journals. It makes it a more interesting experience for me if I know the background of the people I’m working on.
We also have Leonhard Stejneger’s field notes from an expedition with C. Hart Merriam in the Transcription Center! Right alongside our volunteers, we are learning about the social histories and political relationships outlined in the transcriptions. As the Field Book Project digitizes field notes for easier access to this wealth of scientific activity, it also gives us insight into daily lives in different regions of the world. Siobhan emphasized that the details drew deeper connections into these projects.
SL: I’ve enjoyed [Vernon Bailey and Florence Bailey] field journals. They are such descriptive writers who go to the trouble of describing their surroundings and in particular other people. Florence describes tuberculosis patients as well as their family members on a train. She eaves drops constantly on conversations and is very good at giving you a real image of what it was like. You could almost be sitting next to her on the train. …[Also in her] description of San Francisco in 1907. I found it fascinating that she didn’t mention the word earthquake at all, but went into great detail about the devastation of the fires on the city.
|Page 29 of Florence Merriam Bailey's field book, "Journal, California, 1907." Smithsonian Institution Archives. RU007417, Box 1.|
We love the idea of taking a train ride with some of the Field Book Project scientists – a viewpoint you’ll get if you help review Florence’s notes in the Transcription Center. You might take on Siobhan’s thoughtful advice on transcribing from the “volunpeer” perspective.
SL: My advice for any new volunteer transcriber is find a project you love. If you are anything like me, you’ll feel like you are making wonderful new friends, even though the people whose work you are transcribing have died long before you were born. I would have loved to have invited Vernon and Florence to dinner. And I know they would have loved New Zealand. Particularly Florence as we’ve got so many native birds she’d never have seen. She would have been fascinated.
Indeed, the Baileys would surely be fascinated by New Zealand natural life. Many thanks to Siobhan for sharing her story. We are grateful to our dedicated volunteers and always welcome new members to our community. Have you transcribed in the Transcription Center? What have you discovered? Get in touch with us via e-mail or on Twitter and share your story.
Doe with fawns about 1 hour old at Up & Down Ranch, 10 miles northwest of Ft. Davis, Texas, May 28, 1947. Photograph documents observations of pronghorn in Texas by Helmut Buechner in 1947. SIA2014-00023.
|Cypress Swamp in South Carolina, 1898. Photograph is from personal papers of Florence Merriam Bailey, documenting travel in the vicinity of Summerville, South Carolina. Smithsonian Institution Archives. Record Unit 007417, Box 2, Folder "Photograph of F.M.B., undated". SIA2014-01855.|
At the Field Book Project, we've come across married couples that worked together in the field, but few quite like Vernon Orlando Bailey (1864-1942) and Florence Merriam Bailey (1863-1948). Not only did both enjoy long, fruitful careers in their respective fields, but they also have their own field documentation. Vernon Bailey worked as a Field Biologist for the US Biological Survey, and wrote and collected extensively for the organization. Florence Bailey was known for her study and writing in the field of ornithology.
The Smithsonian Transcription Center recently added field books from both of these individuals to those awaiting volunteer input. In order to highlight this couple's unique contributions, the Field Book Project has launched a new Flickr set of images from their personal papers.
|Kangaroo rat specimen, Continental, Arizona, 1921. Photograph taken by Sterling Bunnell for Vernon Orlando Bailey. Bailey worked as a field naturalist for the United States Department of Agriculture Bureau of Biological Survey. Bailey was particularly interested in rodents, especially Dipodomys, or kangaroo rat. Smithsonian Institution Archives. Record Unit 007267, Box 5 Folder 12. SIA2011-1399.|
Both Florence and Vernon advocated for the wildlife they studied. Much of Florence Merriam Bailey’s field work and writing focused on the protection of birds, and she was a strong proponent for the use of binoculars instead of shotguns to observe them. Vernon Bailey had a long-held concern for humane animal population control. He went so far as to design and manufacture more humane traps and educate the public on their use. Images include field photographs Vernon Bailey used in relation to his work for more humane trapping techniques. Images from the Florence Bailey field book document her field work and travels.
By Kira Cherrix, Digital Imaging Specialist, Smithsonian Institution Archives
|Rafinesque's notes during his trip from Philadelphia to Kentucky in 1818 shows the Black Dotted Perch and the Ohio Red-Eye, as described by John James Audubon. Smithsonian Institution Archives, Record Unit 007250, Box 1, Folder 3. SIA2012-6097.|
Constantine Rafinesque was born in a suburb of Constantinople in 1783. From an early age, he showed great interest in the fields of botany and ichthyology. He first visited America from 1802 to 1805, and then returned to make the United States his permanent residence in 1815. Rafinesque was considered by many of his colleagues to be quite eccentric and his peculiar personality often got on their nerves. In 1818, Constantine Rafinesque stayed at the home of John James Audubon for three weeks. He was determined to find new species of flora and fauna, and was overjoyed every time he came across one of Audubon’s drawings of a specimen he had never seen before.
|The fish depicted on the right-hand page is the White-Eyes Barbot, as described to Rafinesque by Audubon. Smithsonian Institution Archives, Record Unit 007250, Box 1, Folder 3. SIA2012-6096.|
At one point, Audubon decided to play a trick on Rafinesque. Audubon began to add drawings of imaginary fish to his stacks of other drawings. When Rafinesque would come across these drawings, he would copy the drawings down in his notebook and ask Audubon for additional descriptive information about the fish. The most famous of these “fake fish” was called the Devil-Jack Diamond fish. In his book, Icthyologia Ohiensis, he describes the fish as being four to ten feet long with bulletproof scales. Rafinesque claimed to have seen one at a distance, but noted that they sometimes lie motionless on the surface and appear to look like logs.
By the time Rafinesque left, Audubon had convinced him of the existence of ten different imaginary fish. When Rafinesque published his findings, he gave Audubon credit for all of the fake species, often stating “I have not seen this species, but Mr. Audubon has communicated me a drawing of it.” At one point in his book, Rafinesque seems to doubt the accuracy of Audubon’s drawing stating “This genus rests altogether upon the authority of Mr. Audubon, who has presented me a drawing of the only species belonging to it. It appears very distinct if his drawing be correct; but it requires to be examined again. Is it only a Sturgeon incorrectly drawn?”
|These two pages depict four fish as described to Rafinesque by Audubon. Starting from the top left, the first are the Flatnose Doublefin, the Bigmouth Sturgeon, the Devil-Jack Diamond fish, and the Buffalo Carp Sucker. Smithsonian Institution Archives, Record Unit 007250, Box 1, Folder 3. SIA2012-6089.|
Ultimately, this practical joke backfired on Audubon. He was still an up-and-coming ornithologist at the time, so when he went to publish his book years after Rafinesque’s book had come out, his critics claimed that he might be making up several of the birds contain within it. They believed that if he could provide such detailed descriptions of fake fish, then what was to stop him from creating imaginary birds? It is said that Audubon later admitted to a friend that his practical joke had cost him a great deal.
Audubon’s Fake Species
Erwin Hinckley Barbour, J. L. Wortman, and James William Gidley on paleontological expeditions in various locations throughout the United States for the Division of Vertebrate Mammals, 1900-1935. From lantern slides found in the Division of Vertebrate Paleontology Records. SIA2011-1417.
By Kira Cherrix, Digital Imaging Specialist, Smithsonian Institution Archives
Vernon Orlando Bailey hated being away from home and that is likely why I found a photograph of his wife, Florence Augusta Merriam Bailey, tucked into the back of one of his field books. The black-and-white photograph is dated March 1900, and was taken just a few months after their wedding. This is an interesting find because it is located in Bailey’s field notes from his trip to Oregon and northern California in Autumn of 1909, nearly ten years after the photograph was originally taken.
|Photograph of Florence Merriam Bailey found in field book of Vernon Bailey. Smithsonian Institution Archives, SIA 007267, Box 2, Folder 14. SIA2013-05307.|
Spring is finally here! It’s been a long winter for much of the United States, so we at the Field Book Project wanted to celebrate Spring's arrival. What better way is there than with images from our collections?
The Flickr set includes photographs taken by Helmut Karl Buechner during field work he completed in Texas, May 1947. These images document his observations of Pronghorn shortly have their birth.
Doe with fawns about 1 hour old at Up & Down Ranch, 10 miles northwest of Ft. Davis, Texas, May 28, 1947. (8). Smithsonian Institution Archives. RU 7279, Box 30, Folder 10 (envelope 4). SIA2014-00023.
Need more of a cute fix? Then we encourage you to check out a few of our other favorite field book photographs, highlighting wildlife on the younger side…
Tiger cub being fed by Lucile Mann, during the National Geographic Society-Smithsonian Institution Expedition to the Dutch East Indies, 1937. Smithsonian Institution Archives. RU 007293, Box 23, Folder 1. SIA2012-3234.
Wedgetail Shearwater #47, 7 days old, Kure Atoll (undated). Smithsonian Institution Archives. RU 000245, Box 222, Folder 15, Envelope 1. SIA2013-07695.
Seals #286 and #287, Kure Atoll, March 12, 1964. Smithsonian Institution Archives. RU 000245, Box 223, Folder 3. SIA2013-07697.
Baby penguin. Taken during Waldo Schmitt's collecting during the Palmer Peninsula Survey 1962-1963. Smithsonian Institution Archives. RU007231, Box 140, Folder. SIA2012-0662.
Young coconut plant and Edward Stewart. Photograph was taken while Hitchcock was on a collecting trip to British Guiana [Guyana]. SIA2011-0551.
Photograph of birds on antenna supports for LORAN tower on Sand-Johnston Island, 1963, and was part of field documentation for the Pacific Ocean Biological Survey Program, on Sand-Johnston Island. SIA2013-08806.
Have you seen what Smithsonian staff and volunteers have made possible lately?
Last year, Smithsonian Institution launched the Beta version of its Transcription Center. Since its inception, Smithsonian departments have been adding projects for volunteers to transcribe. Several of those projects are materials cataloged by the Field Book Project. The number of projects has grown significantly in recent months, and includes the winner of our handwriting contest, Martin H. Moynihan!
We’re excited to report that, once a project is 100% complete, you’ll be able to download it as a PDF from the project page. One of my favorite parts of cataloging is the range of information I’ve been able to read in these primary resources. Now volunteers can do the same, a task made easier by their collaboration in transcribing and reviewing.
If you haven’t visited the Transcription Center, we encourage you to take a look. Try transcribing something or read a completed project to learn more about science in that field. Your transcription efforts not only make the materials easier to read, but also make them more accessible to future researchers.
Lastly…to the volunteers who’ve already been working on these materials, thanks for all your hard work!
Helicopter fire on McMurdo Base, Antarctica, prior to arrival of emergency response team.Taken during Waldo Schmitt's collecting during the Palmer Peninsula Survey 1962-1963. SIA2012-0665.
Fregata minor [Great Frigatebird] 18 days old, on Christmas Island [Kiritimati], Kiribati, 1967. The chick was photographed to document its development, as part of field work completed during the Pacific Ocean Biological Survey Program. SIA2013-07653.
By Kira Cherrix, Digital Imaging Specialist, Smithsonian Institution Archives
I have seen many field books that contain hand drawn maps of important areas, but none of them have been as detailed as the ones found in Richard Blackwelder’s field book from his trip to the West Indies in March to July of 1936. Blackwelder’s maps usually include rivers, valleys, and towns as well as routes he took while visiting each location. He also includes the specimen numbers for the items collected in the sites he visited. This particular page has a drawing of Dominica with a scale of 1 inch = 4.5 miles.
|Hand-drawn map in Richard Blackwelder's field book. Smithsonian Institution Archive. Acc. 96-099, Box 1, Folder 9. SIA2012-1257.|
Sandstone at butte fault line, Chuar Valley [Grand Canyon]. Sketch documents field work of Charles D. Walcott in the Chuar Valley of the Grand Canyon [Arizona] c. 1883. Drawing is likely sketched by B. L. Young. RU 007004, Charles D. Walcott Collection, 1851-1940 and undated; Box 32, Folder 8. SIA2012-9661.
William F. Foshag (1894-1956) was a curator in the joined the US National Museum's Division of Mineralogy and Petrology. Foshag's research was primarily devoted to the study of the geology and mineralogy of Mexico. Between 1926 and 1941, Foshag made several collecting trips to Mexico under the auspices of the Smithsonian's Roebling Fund. While serving as a representative of the United States Geological Survey in its cooperative work with the Mexican government, during this time, Foshag was able to study the eruption of the Paricutin Volcano in 1943. He made subsequent visits to Paricutin in 1944 and 1945 to observe the volcano.
|Taken by William F. Foshag while researching the development of a volcanic cone called Parícutin. The volcano emerged in Dionisio Pulido's, a Tarascan Indian, corn field in Parícutin, Mexico, located 200 miles west of Mexico City, March 23, 1943. Smthsonian Institution Archives. RU 007281, Box 7, Folder Photographs of Parícutin #F2-#F14, 1943 Photographs of Parícutin #F2-#F14, 1943. SIA2009-0856.|
About 15 minutes after our arrival, a spot, about one meter across became more incandescent, changing from the glowing red of the lava cracks to a brilliant orange yellow, and began to work like leavening bread, and then to slowly flow. Slowly the moving area spread, and within five minutes the entire cliff, for the width of five meters had melted into a flow of brilliant orange.
--William Foshag while traversing the sides of Paricutin Volcano in Mexico in 1943.
This is the third of a joint blog series by the Field Book Project (FBP) and the Biodiversity Heritage Library (BHL), showcasing examples of digital connections between collectors, field book catalog records, and the resulting publications of collecting events.
In 1878 the US Congress was investigating rivalries between four surveys (Powell, Hayden, King, and Wheeler Surveys) that had been sent west to study the nation’s resources and search for a potential route for a railroad to the west coast. The investigation made it clear to Congress that the current system was not working. So Congress turned to the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) for guidance. NAS approached to experts across the country for input, including survey leaders Powell and King. Their subsequent recommendations, sent to Congress, provided the main structure for the legislation that created the United States Geology Survey (USGS).
|William H. Dall, c. 1910. Smithsonian Institution Archives. RU 000095, Box 6, Folder 42. SIA2009-4237.|
In 1879, the USGS was established with the mission to provide: “reliable scientific information to describe and understand the Earth; minimize loss of life and property from natural disasters; manage water, biological, energy, and mineral resources; and enhance and protect our quality of life." The USGS had a mission, but now that they needed the people with the vision to make it happen. Clarence was named director, but left in 1881. Powell became the second director (1881-1894) and was an important force shaping the new agency. The USGS began sending staff into the field shortly after its creation. Staff surveyed and collected in national parks as well as local neighborhoods. Their field books show a dizzying variety of collecting. The agency’s earliest field staff included individuals who would make important contributions to the fields of geology and paleontology. People like Charles Walcott, known for his discovery of the Burgess Shale, worked for the USGS 1879 – 1907 (eventually becoming its director in 1894), and conducted field work in the Grand Canyon among many other locations in the country. William Healey Dall worked for USGS 1884-1925, conducting and spent significant time in Alaska for the Agency as well as the US Coast and Geodetic Survey; the work helped establish him as a well-respected expert in the geology of the state.
|Charles Walcott's field notes from October 15 - November 3, 1879, Page 19. Smithsonian Institution Archives. RU 007004, Charles D. Walcott Collection, 1851-1940 and undated; Box 32, Folder 1. SIA2012-9643.|
Other staff may not be so well known, like Lester Ward, but their field books document important routine field work with a specificity of detail that is fascinating. Specimen location information and interviews with individuals who found them sometimes list neighborhoods or street intersections. We encourage you to take a look at and compare the before and after, the field work and the conclusions drawn from them.
In November of 2011, the USGS Library joined the BHL consortium. Describing themselves as "one of the world’s largest libraries dedicated to the earth and natural sciences," they have contributed over 15,000 pages of digital content to the BHL collection.
Unidentified child with tiger cub. Photograph documents Lucile and William Mann's participation in the National Geographic Society-Smithsonian Institution Expedition to the Dutch East Indies, 1937. SIA2012-3236.
Red-tailed Tropicbird chick on Kure Atoll (c. 1960's) was photographed as part of field work completed during the Pacific Ocean Biological Survey Program. SIA2013-07694.
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 Kira Cherrix, Digital Imaging Specialist, Smithsonian Institution Archives
This field book from Leonhard Stejneger documents his trips to Puerto Rico and the West Indies in 1900 was unusual to begin with because the inside back cover contained a pocket, which I had not seen on other field books that had been digitized. Inside the pocket, I found calling cards for various colleagues and a few miscellaneous notes, which were all to be expected. What I did not expect to find, however, was a tiny American flag patch. The patch is only about 1.75 inches wide, and is definitely one of the most unique objects I have found in a field book.
|American flag patch found in Leonhard Stejneger's field book. Smithsonian Institution Archives. RU007074, Box 25, Folder 7. SIA2012-0844.|
By Lesley Parilla, Field Book Project
Field book content is diverse and fascinating, especially when comparing books from across natural history disciplines. Differences between fields and recording methods can make cataloging and comparing their information a challenge. One of our favorite projects (VertNet) did a wonderful job of pointing out the challenges when aggregating just the data from specimens, let alone the more free-form information found in field notes. VertNet is an umbrella project that coordinates four distributed database networks (MaNIS, HerpNET, ORNIS and FishNet). When aggregating the 2.7 million specimen records from the 20 participating institutions, they found, “189 distinct values in the sex field that mean ‘male’”!
We talk a lot about what you can find in a field book, but why just take our word for it? Many natural history institutions around the country provide guidance and instruction for field book recording to help standardize the information that comes in with their specimens. Below are just a few of ones we have found online. The information and range of detail can be surprising.
Also check out the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, who has a great set of examples of birding field notes from staff members: http://www.allaboutbirds.org/page.aspx?pid=1852#fitz
Do you know of any other online guidance for field book content? Let us know in the comment section below!
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.
This is the second of a joint blog series by the Field Book Project (FBP) and the Biodiversity Heritage Library (BHL), showcasing examples of digital connections between collectors, field book catalog records, and the resulting publications of collecting events.
The first post in this series about organizations discussed the nascence of the US Biological Survey. It seems appropriate to follow with the story of the US Bureau of Fisheries. “Why?” you might ask. Simple! These two organizations later merged and formed the US Fish and Wildlife Service! The Bureau was primarily shaped while it was still known as the US Commission of Fisheries. It would become the Bureau in 1903. To understand its development, one must look at the years prior to 1903.
Portrait of Spencer Fullerton Baird, by Bell, William, January 10, 1867, Smithsonian Archives. SIA2004-60740.
In the 1870’s the US saw a noticeable decline in the Southern New England fisheries. The US knew little about the fishing grounds off its own coasts. Spencer F. Baird, a respected naturalist and a Smithsonian secretary, had a background in ichthyology and was approached by Congress about these issues. He recognized an important opportunity to promote the scientific study of the US’s marine natural resources in an effort to help the US economically. In 1871, he convinced Congress to establish the Commission on Fish and Fisheries. He served as the first commissioner.
In the Commission’s early years, completing field work was a challenge, since it had no vessels and little funding of its own. Staffing and research (collecting and surveying) was completed in conjunction with the Smithsonian. This is one of the reasons Smithsonian Institution Archives has so many of the organization’s early records. The Commission often had to utilize ships supplied by the Revenue Service and US Navy. It was not until the 1880’s that they were able to procure their own research vessels.
When the Commission finally obtained the funds to acquire their own, they didn’t just go with any ship. They hired builders to design and construct some of the first ships dedicated solely for marine research. Each of these vessels enabled the Bureau to substantially increase their efficiency and research output. Additionally these vessels were used in the field for decades and were pivotal in assuring the quality and quantity of research data the Commission/Bureau could provide. Unlike research completed aboard another agency’s vessel, these were designed for research, and research staff didn’t have to worry about competing missions while at sea. Even the ship’s logbooks demonstrate this vividly. When scientists were aboard another agency’s vessels, their specimen collecting data was usually recorded in a journal separate from the logbook. US Fisheries vessels’ purpose was to enable the research, so the collected information was part of the ship’s logbook contents.
These ships were important tools for the numerous collectors the Commission sent into the field. Unlike Vernon Bailey who both collected and published widely over the years, several of the Commission’s collectors like William W. Welsh, focused on the field work and left the publishing to others. Ship’s logbooks, in their brevity often left little room for recording who did the research/work. Luckily, Commission and Bureau field documentation also included personal field books which document another important part of the Commission’s field work--interviewing local inhabitants for their knowledge of local fishing conditions and good fishing grounds. The field books (such as SIA RU007187) include surprisingly detailed interviews with locals about their lives, work, and personal knowledge of the habitat. Frequently the Commission’s publications are the synopsis of field work. These publications are often most easily located through the name of the vessel on which the staff worked, like the Fish Hawk (1880), Albatross (1883), and Grampus (1885).
|R/V Fish Hawk logbook excerpt, August 7, 1880. Smithsonian Institution Archives, RU7184, box 9, folder 3.|
We encourage you to take a look at the logbooks from these ships, now available in digital format through the Smithsonian, and compare to their resulting publications available through BHL. Learn more about the interviews completed by Commission staff that augmented knowledge gained by collecting.
Field book (logbooks) through FBP:
Publications available through BHL:
Fiat with collecting net in place, Jamaica, 1937. Photograph taken by Edward A. Chapin while collecting at Hope Gardens during entomological fieldwork in Jamaica, 1937. SIA2012-9625.
Indigenous children in Ammassalik [Tasiilaq], Greenland, 1936. Taken during Greenland Expedition, 1936, under direction of Bob Bartlett, collecting materials for the Smithsonian. SIA2012-0661.
By Lesley Parilla, Field Book Project
Blackfoot Albatross chick in "sweater", Kure Atoll (undated). Smithsonian Institution Archives. RU 000245, Box 222, Folder 9, Envelope 1. SIA2013-07687.
Smithsonian Institution Archives. RU 000245, Box 222, Folder 9, Folder 1. SIA2013-07688.
Field photography can sometimes be the most interesting and intriguing of the field notes we catalog. A photograph can be surprisingly useful: images of terrain give a viewer a snapshot in time of an environment’s composition, level of development, and types of vegetation once common. Photographs of specimens can be important for knowing original appearance since organisms sometimes change in appearance after death.
As informative as these photographs are, they can be also the source of delightful surprises. They may record details that one simply wouldn’t expect to find in field photography. We discovered our own ornithological mystery recently in Record Unit 000245 Pacific Ocean Biological Survey Program.
As I was cataloging one collection of photographs, I came across a photograph with an entertaining caption, “Albatross chick in a sweater.” One of the joys of this project has been discovering the lighter side of field work documented in field books. Scientific field work is a serious business to be sure, involving long hours, difficult locations, and limited time. However it can be a source of humor, comradery, and unexpected inspiration (and unexpected photographs). I began to check with colleagues for input on the photograph. We were able to develop a decent conjecture as to the composition of the sweater. As to why the bird is in a sweater, we are still working on that.
In our search to discover why, we’ve found some interesting facts regarding birds in sweaters. In 2011 there was a call out to knitters to provide penguins in New Zealand with sweaters after an oil spill to prevent them from ingesting oil on their feathers during preening. In 2010, there was a call put out across England for sweaters to keep balding hens warm.
These are the earliest references to bird clothing we have found. So why were POBSP participants addressing the clothing needs of their feathered friends so much earlier? It’s still a mystery yet to be solved. If you have ideas or input as to the reason for this photograph, we’d love to hear from you in the comments section below.
Curious to learn more about the field book collection?
Edgar A. Mearns, c. 1900. Smithsonian Institution Archives, RU000095, Box 17, Folder 1. NHB-21452.
Edgar Alexander Mearns (1856-1916) was an army surgeon and field naturalist. He developed an early interest in natural history, studying the flora and fauna around his home in Highland Falls, New York. Mearns' primary biological interests were ornithology and mammalogy. During his tours in the US Army he managed to collect extensively across the United States, United States-Mexican border as member of the United States-Mexican International Boundary Survey (serving as medical officer), and the Philippines. The National Museum of Natural History houses thousands of his specimens, 30,000 just from his collecting during 1892 to 1894. Though not initially a professional collector, he was well respected in the field natural history, and was even invited by Theodore Roosevelt to accompany the Smithsonian-Roosevelt African Expedition as naturalist. From 1909 to 1910, Mearns explored parts of British East Africa from Mount Kenia to the White Nile. Mearns' last expedition was in 1911, when he served as a naturalist with the Childs Frick Expedition to Africa.
During his years of collecting, he shared his interest with his son Louis. The quote below is from one of his field book “E. A. Mearns field book, 1902” from collection SIA Acc. 11-097, and shows that this shared enjoyment of natural history was not just limited to his son.
Spermophilus mexicanus parvidens – A pair of these ground squirrels was given me by a Seminole woman at Ft. Clark, Texas. They were caught by pouring water down their holes, and taken as they emerged therefore to escape drowning. I let them go in our back yard at Ft. Clark beside a pile of old lumber in which they sought shelter. Later they dug a burrow beneath this heap of rubbish having an exit outside the bound fence which enclosed the yard. These squirrels and a rabbit which likewise resided in the same pile of rubbish in the corner of our yard were the theme of numerous comments by my wife and children in my absence during the Spanish War. Under date of November 10, 1898, my wife wrote: “the squirrel has a big hold in the yard, and he is carrying down excelsior for his winter nest. I like to see them around.” Lepus bachmam(?) – Louis di Z. Mearns [Edgar Mearns’s son] wrote June 22, 1898: “our rabbit has a hold in the front yard under a tree, and I saw it twice today.”
To learn more about this and other materials, visit Smithsonian’s Collection Search Center.