Young coconut plant and Edward Stewart. Photograph was taken while Hitchcock was on a collecting trip to British Guiana [Guyana]. SIA2011-0551.
Young coconut plant and Edward Stewart. Photograph was taken while Hitchcock was on a collecting trip to British Guiana [Guyana]. SIA2011-0551.
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!
Someone (probably Charles Lewis Gazin) unearthing specimens, during 1959 Expedition to Wyoming and Utah. SIA2012-3411.
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?
Magnified butterfly wing. Part of materials documenting Robert E. Silberglied's work with butterflies, circa 1970s. SIA2012-7946.
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.
In honor of the season, we'd like to share links to some of the great online activities and games for kids we've found from natural history institutions around the world.
From all of us at the Field Book Project, we wish you a wonderful holiday season with family and friends!
|Frank Harbert and Fred Zwickel at Mill Creek Watershed, March 1949. Smithsonian Institution Archives. RU 007279, Box 29, Folder 1, envelope 2. SIA2014-00006.|
The Field Book Project is excited to announce its latest Flickr set, images from the work of Helmut Buechner. Buechner came to the Smithsonian in 1969 as the first Director of the Office of Ecology. He later served as Senior Ecologist for the Office of Environmental Sciences at the National Zoological Park.
|[View of automobile by campsite] during deer season at Hardy Ridge [Washington], October 1949. Smithsonian Institution Archives. RU 007279, Box 29, Folder 1. SIA2014-00008.|
Over the course of his career, he worked and traveled in western United States and Africa. The images selected document his field work from in the Pacific Northwest and Wyoming from 1949 to 1954, while he was an professor at Washington State College (now University), and demonstrate some of the types of observations he used in his work.
|Herd seen in vicinity of Jackson Hole, Wyoming, 1954. Smithsonian Institution Archives. RU 007279, Box 29, Folder 5, envelope 20. SIA2014-00013.|
This is the first 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.
Over the summer the Field Book Project and Biodiversity Heritage Library examined some of the fascinating stories and natural history documentation that resulted from major expeditions. In the past, expeditions were the best way to expediently collect in many regions of the world. Expeditions still occur today, but they were far more common before the advent of major changes in transportation. Expeditions tend to generate great stories; the mix of personalities, challenges, and exotic locations seem to make it inevitable. For much of the nineteenth century, expeditions were often organized as needed; they could be heavily influenced by the temperaments of the people leading them. Strong personalities among the leaders sometimes led to serious conflicts (curious to learn more? Check out the US Geological Survey’s (USGS) biography on John Wesley Powell, the Survey’s second director, and its discussion of the Powell, Hayden, King, and Wheeler Surveys). These conflicts and the US government’s growing need for more consistent information about its natural resources eventually led to fundamental changes in the way collecting was completed. Eventually the US federal government established organizations like the US Bureau of Fisheries, US Geological Survey, US Biological Survey whose primary purpose was to routinely collect, document, and eventually oversee some of the nation’s natural resources.
These organizations and their first collectors often involve great stories, but also provide wonderful examples of the types of field work documented. Additionally, their efforts were for the United States’s benefit, and the resulting reports and publications are now available through resources like the Biodiversity Heritage Library. This new blog series is a chance to highlight the different types of collectors that formed these organizations.
United States Biological Survey (USBS)
The first story will highlight the beginnings of the US Biological Survey (USBS), originally formed by C. Hart Merriam under the US Department of Agriculture (USDA). The story forms around two individuals of note—C. Hart Merriam (first chief of USBS) and Vernon Bailey (USBS’s first major specimen collector and naturalist). These individuals each had unique ways of coming to their field of study, method of work, and differing output, but each was an important contributor to their discipline. Their catalog records and publications are also available through FBP and BHL (see content links below).
US Biological Survey staff, including Vernon O. Bailey and C. Hart Merriam, 1919.
C. Hart Merriam was a biologist, whose work at the end of the 19th century was instrumental in the emerging field of ecology. His field work and affiliation with the USDA led to his "life zones" concept. In 1885 he was chosen to head the Section of Economic Ornithology in the USDA. His vision for the section eventually shifted its focus from only birds to include mammals. By 1896 it became the USBS, later merging with other federal entities to form the US Fish and Wildlife Service.
In 1883, C. Hart Merriam began corresponding with a young man in Minnesota with an interest in collecting, named Vernon Bailey. This relationship developed over the decades, and proved an important influence on the shaping and growth of the USBS. Merriam had a strong educational background in science and was well established in the USDA. But for the USBS to develop, he needed people in the field. Bailey did not have a formal education in the sciences, but showed a natural aptitude for collecting that Merriam mentored through their correspondence. In 1885, Bailey began sending collections to Merriam, and in 1887, Merriam hired Bailey as the first field agent for Division of Economic Ornithology and Mammalogy (what would become USBS). Bailey went on to collect for over 50 years, and became the first and only chief field naturalist of the USBS in 1890, a position he held until his death in 1933.
Florence Merriam Bailey, taken shortly after her wedding, March 1900. Smithsonian Institution Archives. SIA 007267, Box 2, Folder 14.
Their relationship proved important on a personal level as well. During one of Bailey’s visits to Washington, DC, he stayed at Merriam’s home. This provided a chance to meet Merriam’s sister, Florence Merriam Bailey, who was a distinguished naturalist in her own right. Vernon and Florence would marry in 1899. Throughout their marriage they completed field work together and co-wrote natural sciences publications.
Perhaps the best way to see how these individuals’ styles of work and interests differed, is to examine their field books and publications.
Field Books from the Field Book Project:
Publications at Biodiversity Heritage Library:
We invite you to check out our next post, and find out more the background of these fascinating individuals, organizations, and how you can learn more about their research online.
By Andrea Hall, Fall Intern, Field Book Project
There are items in the Field Book Project requiring conservation treatment so involved, that they span the terms of more than one intern. The book, “Original Labels, #1 - #15499” that Summer Conservation Intern, Tessa Gadomski wrote about in August was one of these items. The book includes over 120 pages of bird specimen labels adhered in multiple ways, each page needing different levels of treatment. It was an exciting project. As the Fall Conservation Intern on the Field Book Project, I was able to hit the ground running, using the treatment proposal that Tessa had prepared and the work she had already completed this summer. Each page was cleaned with soft sponges; the many pins and paperclips were removed and noted. Broken hinges were repaired or replaced, and any stuck labels were lifted gently.
The pins and paperclips proved a particularly interesting facet. 131 straight pins and paperclips were found throughout the book, all used to keep labels together. Straight pins aren’t actually an unusual method of keeping paper items together. Jane Austen used them to construct and edit manuscripts and modern editors are still comparing notes on the intended sequence of Walt Whitman poems based on the placement of pinholes (Whitman even used pins to bind a book!) George Washington had a massive and a bit mysterious stash of pins, too. The pins from “Original Labels, #1 - #15499” came in all shapes and sizes, some long and thin, others short and rusty. The paperclips had a lot of variety, too. I continued to save the pins and paperclips, as Tessa had done, so that the fascinating record of attachment could be saved.
|Image 1: Pins and Paperclips from “Original Labels, #1-#15499” from SIA Accession 12-485. Credit: Andrea Hall|
Don’t worry, I didn’t leave the previously pinned labels hanging! Any labels which had been attached with a pin or a paperclip were placed in specially made sleeves of polypropylene and Hollytex.
|Image 2: “Original Labels, #1-#15499” from SIA Accession 12-485. Credit: Andrea Hall|
|Image 3: “Original Labels, #1-#15499” from SIA Accession 12-485. Credit: Andrea Hall|
It was really great to get a chance to go more in depth with this treatment. This is just one (or really 131) of the many interesting things I’ve found in field books this fall. I’m looking forward to the next discovery!
We'd like to thank Andrea for all her great work this fall, and wish her the best of luck with her future endeavors.
We’re happy to announce our latest record update to Smithsonian Collection Search Center. So what’s new this time? We’ve continued to update and expand the biographical histories of specimen collectors and added new field book records.
There are now more ways to view our digital content.
An increasing number of field books are available online in two digitized forms.
You might notice that with this update, there are now 2 types of online media available. Each of our most recent updates has included downloadable PDF versions of digitized field books. These are listed as electronic resources and now include 427 PDFs.
There are now 109 images listed under online media that offer the user the ability to look at an increasing number of the field books through Collection Search Center’s gallery viewer. The gallery viewer enables a user to see the digitized field book 10 pages at a time without downloading the item. This means that a researcher can view a portion of the field book more quickly, and without having to download it in its entirety, as is necessary with the PDF version. The gallery viewer also allows the user to zoom in closer on the individual pages while still retaining clarity and detail in the image, something that can occasionally be lost in the compressed PDF. This is especially true with smaller field books.
Screenshot of digitized field book in Smithsonian Collection Search Center, viewed with gallery viewer.
An increasing number of the field books are now available in both forms online. If the field book is available through the gallery viewer, you can see it by clicking the thumbnail image seen in the collapsed record. If you wish to download an available PDF version, expand the record and click on a digitized copy under additional online media.
Additional online media provides the link to the downloadable PDF for field books available in both online forms.
By Kira Cherrix, Digital Imaging Specialist, Smithsonian Institution Archives
SIA 007123 Box 1, Folder 2
It is fairly common for field books to contain excerpts of newspaper articles relating to a collector’s field of interest, and those of Benjamin Walsh were no exception. One newspaper clipping in particular that I found in Walsh’s field book stood out to me, though. This snippet from a larger article states "The latest improvement in stock is a new breed of cats in Vermont, which have tails only an inch long. The advantages claimed for such tails are that they cannot get under a rocking-chair or be stepped upon, and that the door can be closed quicker when they go out." As far as I can tell, no part of Walsh’s research involved cats so the inclusion of this article is rather interesting to me.
|Newsclipping found in field book of Benjamin Walsh. Smithsonian Institution Archives, SIA RU 007123, Box 1 Folder 2. SIA2013-05307.|
On Friday, November 15th 2013, thousands of teachers visited the National Museum of Natural History for Smithsonian Teachers’ Night. This annual event provides teachers the opportunity to meet Smithsonian staff and learn about educational resources at the Institution. The Field Book Project was on hand to let teachers know about the great lesson plans and primary sources that we have available for them on our website. Check us out here in case you could not make it out!
This year's Field Book Project Class Activity
Vernon Orlando Bailey (1864-1942) was a naturalist who collected for the Division of Economic Ornithology and Mammalogy of the United States Department of Agriculture (in 1896 the name was changed to the Bureau of Biological Survey) under Clinton Hart Merriam. He joined the Bureau in 1887, and eventually became chief field naturalist in 1890, remaining with the Biological Survey until his retirement in 1933. Bailey's chief biological interest was the study of the life history and distribution of mammals. During his career with the Biological Survey, he made field investigations throughout the United States, Canada, and Mexico, including intensive biologicalsurveys of Texas, New Mexico, North Dakota, and Oregon.
|Thanksgiving entry from “Bailey, V. O., California, North Dakota, September 1907 - December 1907.” SIA Acc. 12-443. Image courtesy of National Museum of Natural History, Division of Mammals.|
Nov. 28 Started from [?] at 7:30 a.m. and got back to Wallowa at 5 p.m., a little after dark. Had a small dry biscuit with a piece of bacon in it for Thanksgiving dinner, but made up for this in a roast good supper at Mr. O’Briens. This is the last of a hard 3 days horseback trip. The weather has been clear and pleasant tho (sic) cold.
The Field Book Project has been pleased to be one of the first contributors of materials to Smithsonian’s Transcription Center that went live earlier this year. Recently Smithsonian Transcription Center set up a challenge for its volunteers to complete transcription of a field book on Honeycreepers recorded by M. Moynihan as part of the Contribute and Connect initiative. Volunteers quickly met the challenge, and as a result had the chance to talk with Field Book Project staff member Lesley Parilla about the background of the Project as well as learn about some of the unique aspects and unexpected finds she’s run across during her three years with the Project.
The webcast was hosted by one of the Smithsonian’s Presidential Innovation Fellows, Jason Shen. The event provided a chance to share details about some of the Project’s wide variety of materials, including surprising finds from collectors like Edmund Heller who was part of the Smithsonian African Expedition with Theodore Roosevelt. Viewers also saw examples of some of the visual field documentation recorded by collectors like William Mann, while procuring live animals for the National Zoological Park during the 1930’s and 40’s. William and Lucile Mann kept detailed scrapbooks and photograph albums that include images of the animals, sites, local inhabitants, as well as ephemera like menus, passenger lists from ships, and other materials that provide a unique glimpse into travel of the era.
We encourage you to check out the webcast at http://youtu.be/rM_r9A-K4Ns.
By Lesley Parilla, Field Book Project
Anyone who has driven a stretch of the interstate has probably seen road kill. I have very distinct memories of it as a child. Often road kill would be an unlucky skunk whose scent would linger in the air for miles. So imagine my surprise when I came across references to specimens that were road kill when I was cataloging in National Museum of Natural History, Division of Mammals. I would find the term “dead on road” written in the remarks section of specimen catalogs. I have since learned that this is a common term used by natural history museums when documenting this method of collecting.
Road kill can be an important source of information for several reasons. It can be useful to scientists who are seeking to understand locations and movement of wildlife in their habitats. It also helps scientists determine how wildlife is affected by the ever increasing number of highways across the US.
Road kill may seem sad and simply be something to be cleaned off the pavement, but it can also provide important information that can inform how we are impacting our local environments and associated wildlife. And road kill data that is recorded in field notes by scientists and volunteers are vital to informing these studies.
A quick followup…
Since originally researching this topic, I’ve come across a number of blog posts that discuss an inevitable but fascinating development brought about by road kill research—animal crossings. Curious to learn more about work conducted in this area? Check out the links below:
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?
Pangolin. Photograph documents Lucile and William Mann's participation in the National Geographic Society-Smithsonian Institution Expedition to the Dutch East Indies, 1937. RU 007293, William M. Mann and Lucile Quarry Mann Papers, circa 1885-1981, Box 23, Folder 1. SIA2012-3237.
By Leah Aronowsky, Graduate Student, Harvard History of Science Program
Last month I told you about the fish illustrations of the US Exploring Expedition (1838-42) and their multiple roles as field notes, ethnographic accounts of the expedition, and artifacts of draftsman Joseph Drayton’s artistic process. There is an addendum to the story of these illustrations that I’d like to share with you today. While working with these illustrations, I noticed that each drawing, regardless of which artist had produced it, had been assigned a taxonomic name and figure number, as if in preparation for inclusion in a publication. I initially assumed that these figure number assignments had been made by Louis Agassiz, the Harvard ichthyologist who had been commissioned in the 1850s by Assistant Secretary of the Smithsonian Spencer Baird to write the official ichthyology report of the Exploring Expedition. When I consulted his manuscript (SIA RU007186), however, I found that the names and figure numbers on the illustrations did not correspond to those of the report.
Image of a page from Agassiz’s manuscript. Smithsonian Institution Archives. RU 007186, Box 3, Folder 3.
Who made these mystery taxonomic assignments, and why?
After some sleuthing, I believe I’ve found the answer. In the course of my research I learned that, in the 1920s, Assistant Curator of Fishes at the US National Museum, Barton Bean, asked ichthyologist Henry Weed Fowler to examine and identify the fish collected during the US Exploring Expedition. Barton was evidently frustrated that the contents of the Exploring Expedition fish collection had never been made public, and hoped that Fowler’s report would remedy this. Fowler accepted the job and conducted his taxonomic work from his office at the Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia, where he worked as a Curator of Fishes. Using the manuscript report Fowler submitted to the Smithsonian (RU 7180), I compared the taxonomic names and figure numbers written on the illustrations with those listed in Fowler’s manuscript and found that, in each case, the two aligned!
Joseph Drayton’s illustration of a milkfish, labeled “Fig. 10, Chanos chanos (Forsskål). Smithsonian Institution Archives. RU 007186, Box 7, SIA RU007186.
The matching description of Chanos chanos in Fowler’s manuscript. Smithsonian Institution Archives. RU 007180, Box 1, Folder 3.
Evidently, Fowler intended to include the original illustrations in his final report. Unfortunately, for reasons unknown, Fowler’s manuscript was also never published (although the American Philosophical Society published an abridged version of his report in 1940.) 1 Nevertheless, this manuscript is notable for those interested in field books, as it demonstrates the crucial role the illustrations-as-field-notes played for Fowler as he sought to identify each specimen. As Fowler noted, many of the preserved specimens that were collected during the expedition had deteriorated over time, with “broken bodies, abraded or worn fins, [and] fallen scales.” 2 Additionally, over the years, some of the labels accompanying the specimens had become lost or mixed up. Fowler thus relied heavily on the illustrations to reorganize and identify the fishes of the collection.
Indeed, in his manuscript, Fowler seamlessly juxtaposed descriptions of the preserved Exploring Expedition specimens with data gleaned from the illustrations to identify the fishes. Drayton’s color illustrations and detailed descriptions of color and texture gradations became especially relevant to Fowler’s work, and allowed him to describe a species even if the physical specimen had been lost.
|An excerpt of a description of the Muraena australis, or short-finned eel. Notice the detailed description of the fish Fowler was able to provide using only the illustrations. Smithsonian Institution Archives. RU 007180, Box 1 Folder 3.|
An 1858 illustration by J.H. Richard upon which Fowler based his description. Smithsonian Institution Archives. RU 007186, Box 6, Folder 11.
Fowler’s entry for the Oncorhynchus tshawytscha, or Chinook Salmon, which he was able to describe using only Drayton’s illustrations. Smithsonian Institution Archives. RU 007180, Box 1 Folder 3.
Fowler’s manuscript demonstrates the invaluable role that detailed field notes can play for researchers—even decades after an expedition has ended!
1 Fowler, Henry, "The Fishes obtained by the Wilkes Expedition, 1838-1842." Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society 82 (1940): 733-800
2 Fowler, Henry, The Fishes Obtained by the United States Exploring Expedition, 1838-1842 Under the Command of Captain Charles Wilkes (unpublished), RU 7180, Box 1, Folder 1, Smithsonian Institution Archives.
By Lesley Parilla, Field Book Project
|View from LORAN tower throug the antenna center structure on Sand-Johnston Island, 1964. Smithsonian Institution Archives. RU00245, Box 225, Folder 11. SIA2013-08812.|
If you have ever wondered just how much a land mass can change, take a look at the island chains in the Pacific. These were often formed by repeated submarine volcanic eruptions that created islands as large of the Big Island of Hawaii or ones so small they are only a few acres in size and barely above sea-level. One of these smaller islands has repeatedly appeared in the field books cataloged by the Field Book Project. At only 22 acres in size, Sand Island is probably not a location known by many people. But it is a regular destination for pelagic birds, and thus has attracted years worth of ornithological field work. It later became part of the Johnston Atoll National Wildlife Refuge and since 2009 has been part of the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument run by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
This little island has had a pretty eventful history over the last century. Until the mid-twentieth century it had never been consistently occupied by people. However, the location proved useful to the US Navy and US Coast Guard for several decades. During this time there were as many of 300 personnel on Sand island, and its size was increased from 10 to 22 acres.
|Compiled image of aerial photographs taken of Sand-Johnston Island, 1964. Smithsonian Institution Archives. RU000245, Box 225, Folder 11. SIA2013-08809.|
Many small islands have been documented in field notes cataloged by the Field Book Project, specifically in the collection RU000245 Pacific Ocean Biological Survey Program, but this island’s documentation proved additionally interesting because of the presence of a LORAN station established in 1959 by the US Coast Guard.
|LORAN tower station on Sand-Johnston Island, 1963.Smithsonian Institution Archives. RU000245, Box 225, Folder 3. SIA2013-08808.|
LORAN is an abbreviation for Long Range Navigation. LORAN and later LORAN-C was a ground-based navigation system operated by the U.S. Coast Guard for the use of maritime and aviation traffic. Modern GPS navigation systems rendered the LORAN system obsolete and, in 2009, the structure on Sand Island was dismantled.
RU000245 has several years of field books and field photography of Sand Island documenting the pelagic birds that come annually to breed. What is so striking is that some of the visual documentation was taken from atop the LORAN tower.
Until you see pictures of the area, it may be a challenge to imagine just how small and flat the island is. The pictures in RU000245 impart of sense of proportion and distance but also an interesting sense of perspective. Vantage point can play an important part in field work imagery. We have seen numerous examples in the field photography of how distance and detail affects the information imparted.
These photographs not only provide information about the landscape but also a personal sense of the photographer’s efforts to acquire the images. Observing the photographer’s shoes in the shot brings a sense of perspective to the imagery that reminds me of the effort and time expended to make field photography possible--the miles sailed, planes flown, or in this case, the rungs climbed.
Interested in learning more? Check out some of these links from Time and Navigation Exhibit at National Air and Space Museum.
The Field Book Project has launched a new Flickr set, inspired by field photographs of Sand and Johnson Island, cataloged from Record Unit 000245, Pacific Ocean Biological Survey Program (POBSP), 1961-1973.
Many of the images document the LORAN (LOng RAnge Navigation) tower station that was at Johnston Atoll; several are taken from various vantage points. These images demonstrate some of the heights scientific collectors are willing to go for their field work.
|Compiled image of aerial photographs taken of Sand-Johnston island, 1964. Smithsonian Institution Archives. RU 000245, Box 225, Folder 11. SIA2013-08809.|
By Lesley Parilla, Field Book Project
This summer we decided to start highlighting some of the unexpected content we find in the field books, during cataloging, conservation, and digitization (If you missed our first entry, check out our conservation staffs’ finds from August).
The images below were found among photographs documenting field work completed on Kure Atoll for the Pacific Ocean Biological Survey Program (POBSP), SIA RU 000245. This vast collection documents more than a decade of research focusing on pelagic birds. However, among the many photographs, letters, and journals, is a handful of images in an envelope marked “Seals, Kure Atoll, 1964” that show mother and pup Hawaiian Monk Seals.
Seals #286 and #287, Kure Atoll, March 12, 1964. Smithsonian Institution Archives. RU 000245, Box 223, Folder 3. SIA2013-07697.
Seal pup #318, 1 day old and mother #241 on Kure Atoll, April 22, 1964. Smithsonian Institution Archives. RU 000245, Box 223, Folder 3. SIA2013-07699.
|Seal pup on morning of birth held by unidentified individual, Kure Atoll, 1964. Smithsonian Institution Archives. RU 000245, Box 223, Folder 3. SIA2013-07696.|
Curious to learn more?
A Fairy tern egg found on McKean Island, April 17, 1966. This photograph was taken by researcher Philip C. Shelton during his work with the Pacific Ocean Biological Survey Program. SIA2011-1363.
By John R. Nance, Paleontology Collections Manager, Calvert Marine Museum
Ever since I was a young child I have been fascinated by fossils. Whenever I visited my grandfather in Calvert County we’d go to the beach along the famous Calvert Cliffs where I would pick up shells, bones, and the most prized find, shark teeth. Most anyone who collects fossils will tell you they’ve been “bitten by the bug” to collect. The adventure of walking a beach at the break of dawn before any other footprints have left their mark in the sand and finding something that hasn’t seen the light of day for 15 million years is like no other. Fossil collecting is very much like a treasure hunt and you never know what may be found. Many collectors will also tell you about “the dream” we all have. For some it is finding a huge stash of giant white shark (Carcharocles megalodon) teeth. For others it is finding the skull of a prehistoric beast sticking out of the cliff. For me it was always about what collecting was like 50, 100, 200, 2000 years ago. That is what led me on the journey to write a book chronicling the history of collecting fossils along Calvert Cliffs over the past two centuries.
|Chesapeake Beach cliffs in 2008 with author for scale at bottom right. Photo Credit Stephen Godfrey|
In an effort to tell a complete and compelling story I began to research some of my idols, Frederick William True and A. Remington Kellogg, who had an extensive history with the Smithsonian and Calvert Cliffs. Many of the specimens they collected, prepared, and published about are housed at the Smithsonian museums but I wanted to get beyond the specimen; I wanted to know what it was like to walk in their shoes so many years ago. The records of the paleontology specimens have detailed information about the species, location, collection date, and collector(s). But the records don’t indicate what the collecting was like on that date, what the weather was like, or where they stayed. I wanted to know the personal side of collecting.
I contacted Leslie Overstreet, Curator of Natural History Collections at Joseph F. Cullman 3rd Library of Natural History, National Museum of Natural History, with a question about what content they had on Calvert Cliffs. She gave a lot of information and a number of contacts including Lesley Parilla who is working on the Field Book Project at the Smithsonian. As luck would have it, the Smithsonian maintains collections of the field notebooks kept by staff and researchers.
On a day in late August I had the chance to delve into the field books of True and Kellogg. I began to page through the books looking for the interesting stories kept within. On the first page of True’s 1906 field book dated March 28, “Weather dull, but cleared at noon…Left a large number of vertebrae and some fragments of jaws etc., along the cliffs, as could not carry so many.” It is so exciting to think about walking the beach and finding so much stuff that they couldn’t carry it all. True would make day trips down to Calvert Cliffs leaving Washington, DC, on the Chesapeake Beach Railway and arriving in Chesapeake Beach. At the time this was a bustling resort town. According to the field book entry seen below, it would cost him only $1.55 for the day. $1.00 for the train ticket, 35 cents for lunch, and 20 cents for car fare.
First page from W. F. True’s “Log Book of Collecting Trips for Fossil Cetaceans” 1906-1908. National Museum Natural History, Department of Paleobiology.
Members of Smithsonian Institution collecting fossils at Calvert Cliffs, summer of 1908. Courtesy of the Calvert Marine Museum.
On August 9, 1933 Remington Kellogg, Raymond M. Gilmore, and Lewis Gazin went to Calvert Cliffs near the area of Governors Run to collect a Cetothere skull, a type of primitive baleen whale related to modern day Pygmy Right Whales. Kellogg noted “rostrum damaged on both sides by other persons before we arrived.” Curious amateurs and beach goers likely poked around at this large, strange bone sticking out of the cliff much as they do today. The skull was “428 yards south of old pier at end of Governors Run Road and was about 4 ½ feet above the beach.” They completed the removal on Thursday August 10. On August 15 the skull and another dolphin skull were shipped back to Washington by truck as the guys continued collecting specimens. Kellogg was a prolific collector when it came to getting cetacean fossils from the cliffs. He and others would go down to Calvert Cliffs for weeks at a time to collect.
It is very exciting to think about these men walking along Calvert Cliffs, about the many that came before and after, and what the future holds for collecting in this area. Above are just a couple of accounts gathered from two field books out of the thousands in the Smithsonian collections. There are hundreds of untold stories just waiting to be revealed. The field books offer an indispensable wealth of details about the everyday happenings of collecting at Calvert Cliffs for the past 150 years.
The Field Book Project is thrilled to have an intern from the field of conservation working with us this fall: Andrea Hall. Throughout the next several months, Andrea will be conserving a variety of field books, including bound journals, photographs, scrapbooks, diaries and letters, with particular emphasis on field books in the Department of Birds and Mammals. To learn more about this talented individual, please see her bio below. Be sure to check back later this fall as we highlight some of her conservation projects.
|Andrea Hall, 2013. Credit: Kirsten Tyree.|
Originally from Northern Virginia, Andrea Hall attended Bowling Green State University in Ohio where she received a B.S. in Biology and had the opportunity to study art conservation abroad at Studio Art Centers International in Florence, Italy. Andrea’s previous conservation experience includes working in the paper conservation lab at Bowling Green State University Library, repairing and preserving botanical specimens in the Botany Department of the Smithsonian’s Natural History Museum, and treating wet tissue specimens at Cultural Preservation and Restoration, Inc. in Gaithersburg, MD. Most recently, Andrea completed an internship in the Preservation Department of the University of Virginia Libraries, where she conserved materials from their rare books collection. The Smithsonian Field Book Project will allow Andrea to continue to gain additional practical experience prior to applying to a formal Master’s program in Art Conservation.
The Field Book Project is pleased to announce our latest update to the catalog records and digitized field books available on the Smithsonian Collections Search Center. This update includes new field book records, expanded abstracts for existing authority files, as well as 130 recently digitized field books, bringing the total to nearly 400 items!
Some of these include:
There are now nearly 8,800 records documenting field books from seven departments of the National Museum of Natural History and Smithsonian Institution Archives. To expedite researcher’s use of these records, we’ve also created a list of search tips for navigating Smithsonian Collections Search Center.
So come take a look at the new content, and check out our new FAQ page. Do you have a field book record research question not answered by the FAQ’s? Let us know in the comments!
By Leah Aronowsky, Graduate Student, Harvard History of Science Program
This past summer, I had the opportunity to work with the fish illustrations of the US Exploring Expedition of 1838-42 (SIA RU007186) as part of my internship with the National Museum of Natural History. As Lesley Parilla explained in an earlier Field Book Project blog post, some of the illustrations in this collection were produced after the voyage, either by artist John Richard, who worked closely with renowned fish expert Louis Agassiz to produce illustrations that would bolster the text of Agassiz’s official report on the fishes, or by W.H. Dougal, a D.C.-based engraver who printed several engraving proofs that would also appear in the final report.1
In this post, I want to focus on the illustrations produced during the voyage, as it is this group that can most accurately be called field notes. These illustrations were produced by one of the US Exploring Expedition’s two official artists: Joseph Drayton or Alfred T. Agate. Though neither artist was officially assigned to work on any one natural history subject during the expedition, this collection of illustrations makes clear that it was Drayton who had a keen interest in ichthyology, as the vast majority of the drawings bear his signature. Agate, having been trained in botanic illustration by preeminent botanist Asa Gray, took responsibility for most of these illustrations. Drayton’s illustrations are incredibly detailed, and include myriad notes about each specimen that offer details such as the texture of the scales, size of the fins, and variations in color.
Moreover, these illustrations offer insights into the strategic artistic choices Drayton made during the expedition. For example, in the illustration below of a fish from the Columbia River, Drayton noted that the red streak, which he chose to accentuate in his illustration, appeared “bright only after death,” and was only “visible slightly” during life. Drayton also noted that the “dark streaks” across the animal’s body were not “bright or bluer during life.”
A close-up of Drayton’s notes about color: “The red streak appears bright only after death – it is visible slightly while living – the dark streaks are not bright or bluer during life.”
On another illustration of a fish captured in Willamette Falls, Oregon, Drayton noted that “the colors above are not quite as brilliant as [they were] when in the water alive.”
Willamette Falls, Oregon, June 1841. Smithsonian Institution Archives. RU007186, Box 5 Folder 30.
|A close-up of Drayton’s discussion of the fish’s appearance in life versus death: “The colors above are not quite as brilliant as it was when in the water alive.”|
Notes such as these demonstrate how Drayton was thinking both as an artist and as a scientist during the voyage. Drayton had to keep in mind the needs of scientists who would be using his illustrations in the future. Decisions such as whether to portray a specimen as it appeared living or dead were thus crucial in order for Drayton to produce the most ‘accurate’ illustration of a fish specimen.
Drayton’s illustrations also function as ethnographic accounts of the day-to-day activities of the expedition. For example, alongside an illustration of a fish from Hilo Bay, Hawaii, Drayton included a diagram of the local method of fishing that led to the specimen’s capture. The diagram demonstrates how locals used several canoes and nets ranging from 50 to 120 feet in length to make their catches.
|Drayton’s illustration of a fish locally known as Omaka, captured in Hilo Bay, Hawaii, Jan 20, 1841. Smithsonian Institution Archives. RU007186, Box 5, Folder 12.|
A closer look at the diagram of the fish net.
Drayton often included notes about the style of capture such as these with his illustration, and from these notes I learned that the crew often relied on local capture methods to obtain specimens during the voyage, in addition to using hooks or seines. Thus, In addition to offering valuable data on the fish specimens, these illustrations are a testament to the range of techniques explorers used to collect fish and the valuable role which locals played in the collecting process.
1 Ultimately, Agassiz’s fish report was never published. The Smithsonian Institution Archives, however, includes a copy of the report in manuscript form.