By Lesley Parilla, Field Book Project
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.
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?