Fossils Uncovered, Freeze Out, 1900-1935. Smithsonian Institution Archives. RU 00424, box 7, folder 18. SIA2011-1429.
Fossils Uncovered, Freeze Out, 1900-1935. Smithsonian Institution Archives. RU 00424, box 7, folder 18. SIA2011-1429.
By Lesley Parilla, Field Book Project Cataloger
|A. Remington Kellogg on a Field Trip in Arizona. Smithsonian Institution Archives, Record Unit 9516, Box 1, Watson M. Perrygo Oral History Interviews. 84-8990.|
When I began my work in the Department of Paleobiology, my department contact was kind enough to show me some of the specimens relating to the first field book collection I would catalog. I was to begin with the field books of A. Remington Kellogg (1892-1969) [link], an intriguing figure, who has a substantial history with the Smithsonian Institution. He eventually became the Director of the U.S. National Museum and Assistant Secretary of the Smithsonian from 1958 to 1962.
The specimens in question need little introduction and are eye-catching to say the least—they were 100,000 year old dung specimens from ground sloths. They are the result of Kellogg’s field work at Rampart Cave in Arizona during 1942, towards the end of his career in the field. I cataloged his work chronologically, so the related field book was the last one I described. This meant, to my delight, I had some time to do a little digging into the story behind this unique specimen.
Scat can be a wonderful source of information on wildlife and its environment. I was excited to learn more about the related field work and, as I looked into the history of what was recorded in Kellogg’s documentation, the story turned out to be more nuanced than I expected.
When Kellogg went to Rampart Cave to study sloth fossils and skeletal remains of other wildlife in the area, he was accompanied by Watson M. Perrygo [link]. Perrygo was a taxidermist with the Museum but also collected extensively in the field with Smithsonian staff.
I learned quickly that Kellogg had a terse style of recording and usually included only information that strictly related to his work. Therefore, the field book content offers little information about personal difficulties or challenges he might have faced at the time. Perrygo, on the other hand, generously gave his time for an oral history interview on Rampart Cave with Pan Henson, Smithsonian’s Senior Historian. And it was through a conversation with Pam Henson that I learned that both Kellogg and Perrygo suffered from a serious respiratory infection during their work in Rampart Cave.
In the interview, Watson Perrygo explained that staff working at the site experienced breathing problems from the onset of field work. They began to use respirators, but their equipment did little to help the situation. In spite of these challenges Perrygo stated:
“What we did was just a drop in the bucket. We took several squares, five foot square samples. But it should be eventually finished, that might take. Someday some young, upcoming scientist, full of ambition, what have you, will go there, and then I hope he'll find some marvelous stuff, and he probably will. But when you go in the cave, you think any minute you’re going to meet a sloth coming around the corner. You really would—just the rocks, the parts where they rubbed on, and the manure allover just like it was just a couple days old lying all over the place. It's fantastic; I mean, you just think any minute they're going to walk right in—just meet one face to face.”
Though Kellogg did not record information about his personal health, the travel details that he recorded in detail make it clear that work at the site was a anything but easy. And at last, towards the end of the field book, Kellogg included a telling figure: he estimated that 2,650 cubic feet of sloth dung had been excavated during the 26 days of work.
As for the rest of story…
During my research I found out a little more about the value of the sloth scat specimens. In 1976, Rampart Cave caught fire. According to a New York Times Article (March 11, 1977 by Boyce Rensberger) the cave, which was noted to be “one of the world’s richest known sources of fossils and other evidence of life in the ice age,” smoldered for months. National Park Service staff eventually decided to seal off the cave in an attempt to extinguish the fire by cutting off oxygen, after finding that using water weakened the limestone ceiling of the cave. The specimen damage was extensive. According to a 1992 article in the American Society of Parasitologists, two thirds of the speciments were destroyed by the fire.
It may appear to be “only” animal scat, but it is in fact a rich source of information on Ice Age life, an item that people risked their health to collect and their lives to save from destruction, and a specimen that is all the more precious because of the loss of its place of origin.
We’re excited to announce our latest record update to Smithsonian’s Collections Search Center. There are now 481 digitized field books available online. These include newly digitized field books from collectors such as William Healey Dall, Vernon Bailey, and F. Raymond Fosberg.
We are also pleased to make available the first catalog records for collections in the Department of Paleobiology, National Museum of Natural History, covering the work of Frank Whitmore and Remington Kellogg. The Paleobiology records will enhance the field book catalog records that already exist in Division of Mammals and Smithsonian Institution Archives for these two collectors.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
Taking out slab containing three Merycochoerus skeletons. Excavations led by Barbour, Wortman, and Gidley in various locations throughout the United States, circa 1900-1935. From lantern slides found in the Division of Vertebrate Paleontology Records. SIA2011-1416.
By Scott Thybony
Scotty Thybony at Canyon Diablo, Arizona.
Taking notes has become second nature for me. After scratching down a few observations in the field, I return and work them into narrative notes. They can end up being anything from a straight-forward record of events to stray impressions tied together into a storyline.
|A few of the notebooks used by the author in the field. Photograph by Scott Thybony.
On recent trips to the Grand Canyon, these fieldnotes have included an investigation of paint smears on a cliff wall where the artist Louis Akin cleaned his palette more than 100-years ago. They’ve described the dramatic unfolding of the last monsoon storm of the summer and traced the story of an old inscription carved on a rock face by the orphaned son of an Arctic explorer who died of starvation on a disastrous expedition.
So field notations in all their variety interest me – the journals of explorers, the notebooks of artists, and the diaries of scientists. At times I’ve found myself deep in the back rooms of the Smithsonian Institution among file cabinets and specimen drawers, deciphering the faded pen and ink records they contain. The field notebooks have a rawness to them I like, a spontaneity not found in monographs and memoirs. One day I sat in the research library reading the diary of Charles Walcott, a geologist who spent three cold months in 1882 and 1883 studying rock formations below the rim of Grand Canyon. I was searching for descriptions of the landscape between Nankoweap and Vishnu Temple written when he was seeing it for the first time, unfiltered.
Charles D. Walcott at Grand Canyon Smithsonian Institution Archives, Record Unit 95, SIA Local Number: 83-14116 or 75-2248
What I didn’t expect when I opened his diary was to encounter the human side of the geologist. Walcott, who would go on to become director of the U.S. Geological Survey and head of the Smithsonian, was 32-years old and had lost his wife six years before. As he rode the train west, he recorded in his diary a few routine observations and the normal chance encounters with other passengers. And then the tone of his writing changed. The scientist made a hurried entry beginning with the words, “Met a nonsensical girl . . .”. It ended with a bold flourish of the pen, the only flourish in the entire diary. And tucked between the pages I found a lock of fine blonde hair. Sensible geologist encounters nonsensical girl, and balance is restored to the world.
Once in the field, Walcott wrote about the geology, naturally, and the winter storms sweeping in, bringing snow and sleet. He mentioned the packers, who hauled in supplies and carried out specimens, and trails so difficult they lost a mule off the edge of one. He noted his frostbitten feet and water pockets freezing solid at night, forcing the men to place chunks of ice around the campfire to melt for the animals. Camped at the river he wrote about the crashing rapids sounding like Niagara Falls.
I took notes on his notes from the Grand Canyon, but that’s not what stayed with me when I left the archives. Walking down the street, I kept thinking about the wild flourish of the pen – and left between the pages of the diary, a single lock of hair, long forgotten.
A former river guide and archeologist, Scott Thybony writes books and articles for major publications. His interviews have ranged from astronauts to medicine men, while his travels through North America have resulted in award-winning magazines articles.
Local Number: 83-14116 or 75-2248
By Edward Davis, University of Oregon
|Original J. Arnold Shotwell Mammalogy field book, 1947. Photo by Lieke Dircks, 2012.|
Field books are the lifeblood of a natural history collection. It's hard to conceive of a museum without its field notes, but that's exactly what I found when I arrived at the Condon Fossil Collection of the University of Oregon (UO) Museum of Natural and Cultural History (MNCH) in 2007: close to 100 years of collections without original field notes. Digging into the problem revealed that the notebooks weren't gone (a relief) but had just followed collectors when they left the museum.
Our fossil collection traces its history back to the pioneer geologist Thomas Condon, who began collecting in the area that is now John Day National Monument in the 1860s. Condon amassed almost 6000 specimens, with the majority of his collections from the John Day and Fossil Lake fossil mammal faunas. Upon Condon’s death in 1907, UO acquired his collection, forming the basis of the current MNCH, and in 1918 hired Earl Packard to succeed him.
|Original Shotwell Paleontology field book, 1952. Photo by Lieke Dircks, 2012.|
Packard had Condon's notebooks transcribed into a new printed catalog, which has been passed down to me through a series of mimeographs and photocopies of mimeographs. While I haven't yet seen Condon's original notebooks, I do have a good record of the provenance of Condon's fossils. I am still hopeful of finding Condon's original notebooks, and as time allows, I plan to visit the UO archives and other appropriate archives in the state.
Earl Packard’s field notes are a more difficult problem, but we seem to have found a solution. Packard oversaw the Condon Collection through the 1930s, when all natural science research at Oregon public universities (including the Condon Collection) was moved to Oregon State University (OSU) in Corvallis. Shortly after Packard retired in 1950, the Condon Collection returned to UO, but Packard's notes have remained in Corvallis, where they are a part of the OSU archives. Elizabeth Orr, our still very active emeritus collections manager, has been instrumental in hunting down Packard’s missing records. While we don't yet have a complete set of Packard's notes, it is reassuring to know they exist and are protected at the OSU archives.
Transcribed Paleontology field notes from Shotwell, 1955. Photoby Lieke Dircks, 2012.
After Packard retired, the Condon Collection was incorporated into the UO Museum of Natural History under paleontologist J. Arnold Shotwell. Shotwell was a tremendous collector, amassing tens of thousands of specimens over his more than 20 years at UO. Unfortunately, a 1972 disagreement with the UO administration over budget tightening measures lead to Shotwell’s angry departure from the UO; he carried all his field notes with him. In the 2000s, Ted Fremd, then Head Paleontologist at the John Day National Monument, approached Shotwell, and the two developed a friendship. Over the following few years, Shotwell shared many of his notes with Fremd, who in turn has shared copies with us, allowing us to finally fully document Shotwell’s critical paleoecological collections. Unfortunately, Arnold Shotwell died in early 2012, but before he died the paleontologists at UO managed to reconcile with him, even recognizing him with a MNCH lifetime achievement award. His family has graciously agreed to pass on to MNCH the remainder of the notes, photographs, and maps documenting his field collections.
The UO paleontologists after Shotwell are still with the university, either as emeritus or active faculty, and have been contributing their field books to the MNCH archives. For all new collections, we archive digital copies of field books annually and add their printouts to the museum’s physical archives. I hope my story gives you a sense of the frustration I have felt tracking down these notes, knowing that the effort of decades of fieldwork is lost without them. A sense of scientific duty drives my new dedication to the immediate deposit of field notes. As ethical collectors, we must ensure that future workers won’t have to search for our field books; without supporting documentation, the specimens we collect today may as well be paperweights.
By Lesley Parilla, Field Book Project
Image from P. A. Glick’s publication Collecting Insects by Airplane in Southern Texas in 1957. Image is Public Domain from Google eBooks.
Aviation has had significant effects on the nature of field work. It has changed not only how the collectors get to a site, but also how they see and collected, resulting in wide-ranging consequences.
By the mid-twentieth century, commercial aviation was dramatically changing the speed of travel; collectors, up to that time, would commonly travel long distances via train or boat. With commercial aviation, a weeklong boat trip to Africa became a multi-hour long flight. During the 1960’s when commercial air travel became more widespread, there was an influx of major surveys by Smithsonian departments involving large numbers of staff that would have proven far more logistically complicated prior to commercial aviation. The speed and ease of commercial air travel meant collectors could spend significantly less time getting to their sites and more time on-site. With the time they saved, collectors could spend longer at one location or visit additional ones.
The advent of planes also affected collecting by changing collectors’ perspectives. Collectors could see the environments they studied from an entirely new vantage, hundreds or thousands of feet in the air. Some scientists even took it a step further and used aviation as a way to collect the specimens. Perry A. Glick, an entomologist with the US Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Service, used nets that attached to planes, enabling insect collecting in air to study the altitudinal distribution of insects. He produced several publications about this during the 1950’s and 1960’s.
By the 1940’s, there are examples of scientists attempting to integrate the aviation into their field work observations and collecting. Some of these attempts proved less than successful, while others helped demonstrate aviation’s value to field work. I found a reference to an unsuccessful attempt with a helicopter in a journal of C. O. Handley, Jr. Judging from the results, I am assuming they did not try it again.
[Thule, Greenland, 1948] The way it turned out he flew in the helicopter instead and spent the afternoon trying to fish from that. On the water, with its rotors off, the plane blows about like a kite even in a small breeze. Thus no matter where they would land, they would soon drift in to the beach. Another disadvantage was that when the helicopter starts on the water after its rotor has been dead, the whole thing spins with the rotor until the latter attains sufficient speed to stabilize the plane.
Though the helicopter proved less than useful over water, it yielded results over land. The journal includes hand drawn maps that indicate that survey results were successful, as seen in recorded observation taken via helicopter and on foot.
Example of F. Raymond Fosberg’s observations from an airplane. Photographed by Emily Hunter.
A more successful example of aerial observations is the work of F. Raymond Fosberg, (discussed in the February 24, 2012 article by Emily Hunter), who recognized the benefits of aerial observations alongside ground observations for his field of botany. Several of his field books include extended aerial observations of sites where he collected botanical specimens. Fosberg even published articles promoting the use of aerial photographs for surveying and studying botanical distribution. He proposed using military aerial photographs (that were taken during World War II) for this purpose. I have not been able to determine whether his hopes for these photographs came to fruition, but there are now a considerable number of examples of aerial photography being used for this type of botanical study.
Botany was not the only other field to make use of aviation. Harry S. Ladd used aerial observations in his field of paleontology and geology. Field notes document his observations via helicopter, noting the shape and character of reefs in Fiji, as seen below in a journal excerpt.
May 7, 1968 Tues - By Hill helicopter from Heron Id to Gladstone [Fiji]. Flying over reefs confirms impressions obtained on ground – i.e. if lee reefs and lagoons. Reefs appear to be more saw-toothed on lee than on windward. No suggestion of lithothamnion(?) ridge to windward – only what looks like a low marinol bulge (of debris?). Lagoon of Wistari(?) appears to have small ring-like structure-comparable to that seen yesterday in Heron lagoon plus irregular.
Since the 1960’s, the use of aviation and aerial photographs has spun off in a myriad of directions. Aircraft and aerial photographs are now used for monitoring and management wildlife habitat, locating and analyzing archaeological sites, and studying plant ecology. Scientists and even the National Park Service are beginning to utilize unmanned aerial vehicles.
All of the forms of transportation discussed in our transportation series have helped shape the research recorded by the field notes we document. Sometimes they present challenges to the collectors, sometimes a new advantage or perspective. For me, it demonstrates the flexibility and ingenuity of our collectors to see and to use opportunities as they present themselves. Field work often seems to be journey of the unexpected; I can’t wait to see what comes next.
By Lesley Parilla, Field Book Project
The relationship between railroads and field collecting is a story of expediency and access. Prior to air travel and the interstate system, collectors often found the easiest way to travel within the vicinity of their home institutions or long distances was by train. When cataloging field books I learned that where trains went and even how railroad lines were constructed helped shape the collections of the Smithsonian.
Railroad Station in Huigra, Ecuador, taken by A. S. Hitchcock, 1923-1924. Smithsonian Institution Archives. RU229, Box 19, Folder 2. SIA2009-2925.
I first saw this in the collection of Bohumil Shimek. He spent a lot of time collecting and observing along railroads in Iowa. Shimek had an unusual perspective on natural history. He studied a combination of geology, paleontology, and botany, often in reference to erosion. Railroad lines provided an ideal environment for his work. As the railroads were built in the countryside, engineers made cuts into the terrain, which gave Shimek easy access to study the geological structure alongside surrounding vegetation. When reading Shimek’s field books, one can often follow long portions of railroad lines.
Initially I thought the use of railroads was unique to the study of geology and paleontology; it fit with the trend I saw in geologists’ and paleontologists’ field books of looking for already exposed strata (they often observed and collected in mines and eroded banks of waterways). As I looked through catalog records and talked with some of the Smithsonian scientists, I learned that railroad lines affect many other disciplines because collecting often occurs enroute.
Train in Puerto Pinasco, Paraguay during Wetmore's field work, September 4, 1920. Smithsonian Institution Archives. RU007006, Box 170, Album I. SIA2012-0858.
Selecting a collecting site is not always a formal process. Although official investigations or expeditions might be organized to target specific localities, frequently specimen collecting occurs when a collector finds an opportunity. What does this mean? Scientists collect during lunch breaks, at home, and enroute to major collecting sites. This informal collecting style is one reason the Smithsonian has such a strong collection of specimens from the Washington DC / Baltimore area, often along old railroads that have since been removed.
During the nineteenth and early twentieth century, railroads were a major form of transportation on the east coast. Many collectors from the Smithsonian traveled by rail. While traveling, they recorded observations of terrain and vegetation; when the train stopped at intermediate points, collectors exited to collect in the vicinity. Travel by rail influenced the collecting of plant, mammal, and bird specimens. Below is just a sample of some of the collectors who utilized railroad lines during their collecting.
Now that I see the trend, it makes sense. Railroad lines made travel across long distances much easier. It seems only logical that scientists would take advantage of the railway system by collecting along its established routes. It makes me wonder, will I be able to write a similar post someday about the birth of the US interstate system?
By Carolyn Sheffield, Field Book Project
Dr. Anna Kay Behrensmeyer,
As part of our Beyond The Field Book Project section of this blog, we are initiating a series of interviews to learn more about who uses field books and for what kinds of research. The other week I had the privilege of interviewing Kay Behrensmeyer, PhD, in the Department of Paleobiology. She is a contributing author to “Field Notes on Science & Nature” and keeps meticulous field notes herself. She shared some great information on the role of field notes in her own research, which focuses on Paleoecology and Taphonomy. Taphonomy is the study of how fossils and organic remains are preserved. According to Dr. Behrensmeyer, “Taphonomy [has to do with] the transition from the biosphere to the lithosphere. The fossil record is a tiny sample of life in the past so a lot of my career has been devoted to figuring out what that little sample means in terms of the original animals, plants, and ecosystems. Field notes link the fossils and the age and the lithology and the ancient environments. And everything kind of comes together around that primary data.”
What role do the notes you take in the field play in figuring that out and how would you use that in a lab or how would you describe that process?
Being in the field is a wonderful experience that I love [but] it is a small percentage of my total research time. I learned that you can get distracted and not remember a lot of what’s going on when you do field work. So I began taking really careful notes.
One example I’m [working] with now are Pila snails, known today as “Apple Snails.” The opercula, or “trap doors” of these snails are mineralized in life and relatively easy to fossilize. We collected many of them as in the ancient strata of Pakistan, even though we never see the whole shell. There are bands on the opercula of Pila that could indicate a seasonal climate, so we need to know exactly where they came from. My field books provide that information.
In your piece in Canfield’s publication, it really stood out how important the visual materials – the photographs and the sketches—were to your work.
I’m very visual as a thinker—so if I can connect back with an image like this one of the bone beds, or the strata or even the people […] then I can really get my head back into that space.
|Dr. Behrensmeyer's notes and polaroid documentation of a bone bed near the Kenyapithicus Site, November 24, 1987.
I usually worked with an old style Polaroid camera that took black and white because the black and white survives better, archivally. The colors in Polaroid film just didn’t last very well. We used a color polaroid in Kenya, and if you scan them right away then you can archive them, but in the notebooks the prints fade.
And Pakistan--we can’t go back any more, of course, because of the politics. It’s doubly important there to have the diagrams and the Polaroids.
How would you use that information when you come back from the field?
For drawing the stratigraphic sections, the layers, into diagrams. You need to have all the information you can to reconstruct those layers and the strata when you’re back in the lab, and to filter the information about the fossils as well. It’s a tried and true axiom that you need good field observations to do this type of research.
|Dr. Behrensmeyer's notes describing the rock type at Kenyapithicus Site, October 9, 1990.
For example, here’s a date and these are the sample numbers. And the tiny writing to fit in as much information as possible on the page. This is a description of the rock type. Its tuff, which is a volcanic ash. This is very important for recording the name of that particular volcanic layer. There’s a rich fossil deposit here and it’s sandwiched between two very nice radiometric dates. It’s very important to document the age as well as the layers that this bone bed was in. We called this the Kenyapithecus site. This is an important early relative in human lineage. In the publication, there’s a much simplified version.
I do a lot of transferring of information from my primary field notes. And they’re always what I go back to if there’s a question.
Do you ever consult field notes that were done for another expedition, for example a historic expedition?
I also worked in the Jurassic Period early in my career. The bone searchers of that time, Marsh and Cope, were out looking for dinosaurs. We used their early records, especially maps, sketch maps, and books. All of that can be a real treasure trove of important information.
Do you find that those historic field books are generally easy to locate?
If it’s a well-known museum, you just ask them if you can visit and look at the field books. Or some of them are reproduced digitally now, although generally you have to go to the museum where the scientist worked. Field notebooks before the 1960’s are not available unless you go to the archives. It would be wonderful if they were more accessible.
So if these were made available online, how would you want to be able to search for them?
Definitely if there are maps, sketches, diagrams, I would want to see those. The place, latitude / longitude – some kind of GIS referencing system. Those are particularly valuable. I had an intern last summer who went to the field notes of the people who collected with Teddy Roosevelt in Africa, and there are catalogs of all the specimens they collected in 1911. It was a real problem figuring out what a place name, then, was now. And there were two identical names for rivers that were in opposite ends of Kenya.
Also any reference to fossils and, of course, the dates. The people that were involved; the institutions; where the camps were. Maybe weather. In a way, it’s a record of what climate was like then, too. In Wyoming, they got snowed-in in May or October, they were pushing the limit because they were on a treasure hunt and they were trying to get the dinosaurs out, according to some of the books you read about those early expeditions. There may not be heavy snow in May anymore. That’s more on the end of the human side of it. That’s also really valuable.
Is there anything else that you would like to add about the use of field books or the value of field books in your research?
They’re a really important part of our legacy and our research. They’re essential.
Thank you, Dr. Behrensmeyer, for sharing your insights on some of the valuable information that we can find recorded in paleontological field notes. Please join us next month for another installation in our interview series when we talk with Curator Emeritus, Storrs Olson, from the Division of Birds.
By Sonoe Nakasone, Field Book Project
If you’ve been reading our blog and viewing our Flickr sets, there should be no doubt in your mind the important role photographs have played in the field.
My most recent example of photographs documenting field research is found in the Charles Lewis Gazin Papers (Smithsonian Institution Archives Record Unit 7314). The “field books” (the textual records that we most often think of as field notes) corresponding to these photos are currently housed in the Department of Paleobiology, National Museum of Natural History.
There is something to learn from each captivating image in Gazin’s collection. Both the mysterious nature of some of these photos and the difficulty of providing an accurate description prompted me to ask first myself, and later staff from the Department of Paleobiology, questions about what these images depicted. I share these photos, questions, and answers with you below.
Wyoming, 1941, Gazin, SIA 2012-3630, Box 18, Folder 16, Smithsonian Institution Archives.
Wyoming, 1941, Gazin, SIA 2012-3654, Box 18, Folder 16, Smithsonian Institution Archives.
Wyoming, 1941, Gazin, SIA 2012-3292, Box 18, Folder 16, Smithsonian Institution Archives.
Wide angle photographs like those above are common in many of the field note collections the Field Book Project has catalog from various fields of biology. I wondered, however, if these images had particular significance for paleobiologists; could information about a location’s geology be ascertained from a photograph, for example? As Department of Paleobiology Fossil Preparator Steve Jabo told me, these beautiful images do serve a practical purpose. As with similar images in field notes for other disciplines, these images contain geographic data. “Besides the “wow” factor of seeing your campsite / locality in the context of the regional geology,” Steve says, “these photos are handy for re-finding your locality,” especially years later. Steve explains, “even though you put a dot on a topographic map, it’s not always easy to find the exact spot again.”
Finding fossils in the field
Uncovered specimen, 1959, Gazin, SIA 2012-3460, Box 19, Folder 16, Smithsonian Institution Archives.
The question when I saw this image was simple: “What’s going on?” My initial guess was that the person in this photograph was cleaning the dirt off of the specimen, but as I learned from Steve, the fragile fossil was actually being protected. The substance in the jar was painted onto the bones. When the substance dried, it kept the fossil and surrounding rock intact as they were excavated.
Not your 5th grader’s paper maché
Creating field jacket, 1951, Gazin, SIA 2012-7646, Box 19, Folder 4, Smithsonian Institution Archives.
Creating field jacket, Panama, Gazin, SIA 2012-7645, Box 19, Folder 4, Smithsonian Institution Archives.
Row of field jackets, Panama, 1951, Gazin, SIA 2012-7644, Box 19, Folder 4, Smithsonian Institution Archives.
Some of my favorite images from this collection are above. I assumed that the people depicted in these photographs were creating molds of the fossils, and was amused to see that the process looked similar to the paper maché many of us made as kids. The idea of molds inspired more questions. Why make molds in the field? What was the purpose? Rather than continue this guesswork, I emailed FossiLab Manager Abby Telfer and learned that these were not molds at all, but field jackets. Because fossils are fragile they are often encapsulated in “jackets” typically made from plaster and burlap. Abby also noted that during the time of these photos, it was not unusual for paleontologists to use bandages instead of burlap. An image of an opened field jacket can be seen in Abby’s article Fossil Hunting under the Watchful Eyes of Lions on the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History blog.
As someone from a library and archival background, I found that cataloging these particular photos provided an unexpected yet fascinating way to gain a deeper understanding of field work and techniques used by paleontologists. Thanks to help from Steve and Abby, Gazin’s images have now lost their air of mystery to me, but they will always remain spectacular examples of visual field notes of events and the places they occurred.
By G. Wayne Clough
Secretary, Smithsonian Institution
Machu Picchu, Peru. Taken during Secretary Clough’s visit (2011).
Every great institution is built upon a bedrock foundation of timeless values that shape its culture and identity. The Smithsonian has always embraced a passion for learning. We are fortunate to have had a founder, James Smithson, and many other early champions who were deeply committed to acquiring knowledge through research. Mr. Smithson was a scientist of the Enlightenment period who chose to work in the new field of chemistry. One of his other passions was mineralogy—not only discovering new minerals but determining practical uses for them. Mr. Smithson prided himself on the work he did in the field to identify minerals. His work was highly regarded by his peers, and at a young age he was elected to the prestigious Royal Society of London. It was such a notable distinction that only one American of the time was so honored—Benjamin Franklin. After Smithson’s death, one of his mineral discoveries, zinc carbonate, was dubbed “smithsonite” in honor of his lasting contributions to the discipline.
The Smithsonian’s first secretary, Joseph Henry, a prominent scientist and engineer himself, continued the legacy of scholarly research. The subsequent secretaries in the Smithsonian’s formative years shared similar science and engineering backgrounds and reinforced the ethic of research and scholarship initiated by James Smithson and Joseph Henry. For 166 years, research has remained one of the Smithsonian’s core values essential to the Institution in all areas: science, art, history and culture. Its importance is permanently enshrined in the zinc statue Columbia Protecting Science and Industry. The statue is being cleaned now instead of standing at its usual spot atop the Smithsonian’s Arts and Industries building, but it still symbolizes the important contributions of the sciences and arts and pays tribute to the benefactor who made it all possible.
Tragically, most of Mr. Smithson’s comprehensive mineralogical field journals were lost in a fire after they had been transferred to the Smithsonian, but now, as then, field books are critical to what we do. They reflect the work of hundreds of Smithsonian scientists and scholars who have conducted comprehensive research at sites all over the world. Simply stated, detailed research requires going to the source, no matter the availability of resources online or through technology. You cannot understand the “why” of a botanical species if you do not know the “what” of its ecological setting. You cannot explain how a civilization created a Deer Stone monument in Mongolia if you do not visit the region where it was made. And you cannot understand how the Inka could possibly build a remarkable civilization in less than 200 years, only to see it disappear, except by doing the field research needed to understand the world of that time.
Smithsonian field books document the evidence-gathering phase of research. They capture the thoughts of scientists and scholars as they formulate hypotheses that will subsequently be tested by other scientists and scholars. They form the basis for conclusions, publications and educational materials that derive from the work of individuals. Collectively they represent the Smithsonian's institutional memory of thousands of expeditions and investigations.
Secretary Clough visiting field site at Machu Picchu, Peru (2011).
I was fortunate to have served as a faculty member at some of the most respected research universities in our country, and one of my joys was working on exciting research with my 34 PhD students. Field work has always been a particularly satisfying endeavor for me and was an important component in the investigations I undertook on landslides and earthquakes, here in this country and around the world. As Secretary of today's sprawling Smithsonian, my own
research interests have necessarily taken
a back seat to the needs of the Institution at large, but I still have the opportunity to live vicariously through the work of my talented Smithsonian colleagues. From time to time I have ventured back into to the field to see their work in action in places like Peru, Chile, and Kenya. Observing these talented experts in their element truly brings their impressive and important research to life. In each case I have documented these excursions with travel journals so I can share the remarkable efforts of our scientists and scholars. They are available for people to see at the Smithsonian Magazine website. It is important for everyone to see us in action and understand how Smithsonian research is making a difference, not just in Washington DC, but all over the nation and throughout the world.
Secretary Clough visiting field site at Bighorn Basin, Wyoming. (2010)
My travel journals are the closest thing to a field book I do today. Writing these journals requires extensive preparation and delving into the subject matter before I arrive at a site. Fully understanding the location puts the research into context and enables a deeper understanding, both for me and for readers of the journal. When I visit sites like the Bighorn Basin in Wyoming, as I did with NaturalHistory scientist Scott Wing, the effort pays off. While there, Scott arranged for me to crack open a shale fragment exposing a fossil from 55 million years ago that documents a time when the earth was much hotter than it is today. By applying the results of field work about this epoch, we can unravel the mystery of modern climate change and better understand the causes of rising temperatures and its potential effects on the planet. Scott’s field books document 15 years of remarkable discoveries he and his colleagues made in the Big Basin. These detailed logs explain what triggered a massive release of carbon and methane into the atmosphere. His field books are invaluable research tools that will continue to serve as foundations upon which other scientists can build, sparking new insights into our planet’s climate.
Secretary Clough holding a fossil of a palm frond, demonstrating how warm the climate was. Bighorn Basin, Wyoming (2010).
Like our collections, field books are treasures of knowledge and information, but they also serve to document in real time how the scientific method is used to unlock the mysteries of our world. Previously, field journals have only been accessible to a select few. Now, thanks to my talented colleagues who have begun digitizing our field books, we can share these valuable resources with everyone. The Smithsonian is undergoing a renaissance, utilizing the modern tools of technology to fortify our traditional strength of scholarly research—and enhance the learning for everyone. It is an exciting new day for this venerable Institution.
Together the Royal Ontario Museum and Parks Canada have created a spectacular website about the Burgess Shale or Les schistes de Burgess. The English and French website contains high quality still and moving images of this amazing paleontological site located in Yoho National Park, part of the Canadian Rocky Mountain Parks World Heritage Site. As you will read later, the Smithsonian played a small role in contributing to this project.
Approximately a half billion years old, the Burgess Shale is a Cambrian period formation and one of the earliest fossil beds in which soft-bodied fossils of animals and algae are preserved. The new website documents over 125 years of discoveries including current research by the Royal Ontario Museum Burgess Shale Expeditions through a number of dynamic features.
In addition to the features outlined above, the website also includes links to resources and information about Parks Canada.
Sarah Stauderman, Principal Investigator of the Field Book Project’s conservation efforts, is acknowledged on the Burgess Shale website credits page for her assistance with Smithsonian archival materials related to Charles Walcott.
The Smithsonian Institution maintains a substantial collection of photographic and other materials related to Walcott, including 42 field books housed within the Smithsonian Institution Archives Record Unit 7004, all of which have been cataloged by the Field Book Project. Although Smithsonian field books won't be available on the Burgess Shale website,the field books do provide rich information for further understanding the abundant information, media tools and resources available on the Burgess Shale website.
More about the Charles Walcott field notes
Charles Walcott’s field books at the Smithsonian Institution Archives range more than fifty years (1879-1940). Some of his early field notes were composed in a journal style, including general observations, daily work completed, sketches of landscapes, as well as geological information relating to the surveys he completed for the United States Geological Survey. Most of the field notes in his collection contain few general observations and more commonly consist of geological sections, descriptions, and observations of fossils seen, and pertinent details about surrounding vegetation and environment. Often his notes were on loose sheets of note paper removed from their original notebook and separated by entry.
By the time he studied the Burgess shale in British Columbia, Walcott’s field note entries consisted of several pages clearly listing location and describing observed sections, with height of each layer, its composition, color, texture, other characteristics, as well as presence of fossils. See examples of Walcott’s field notes below.
Field notes of Charles D. Walcott, August 6, 1909, describing of geological formation of
Moraine Lake at Valley of the Ten Peaks, Banff National Park, Canada.
Summer is drawing to a close for interns at the Smithsonian Institution. Our own interns, Jenny Mathias and Emily Hunter, have left us with well over 600 catalog records, blog posts, and two spectacular sets of images now available to view on Flickr's The Commons. These sets were created using images Jenny and Emily encountered during their internship. We asked Jenny and Emily what inspired their selections of the images in their Flickr sets. Here is what they had to say.
Field Book Lantern Slides by Jenny Mathias, MLIS Candidate, Pratt Institute
The first collection I cataloged for the Field Book Project consisted of lantern slides. Who knew these beautiful 3.25 x 4 inch, hand painted, glass objects were also field notes? Imagine my delight at seeing with my very eyes exactly what collectors saw in the field on the Smithsonian-Roosevelt African Expedition of 1909 (Smithsonian Institution Archives Acc. 06-093). The next collection I cataloged at SIA was a collection of lantern slides documenting the work conducted by Division of Vertebrate Paleontology (SIA RU424). These slides include images of Barbour, Wortman, and Gidley, and countless other unnamed field researchers collecting and preparing fossils of dinosaurs and large mammals for display in the museum. My flickr set contains just 19 of the 115 glass lantern slides I saw during the first 2 weeks of my internship. Hope you enjoy them as much as I do.
Pacific Ocean Biological Survey by Emily Hunter, MLS, University of Maryland
After cataloging textual field notes by over 40 Pacific Ocean Biological Survey scientists, I was delighted to find two manuscript boxes of photographs, offering visual depictions of species I had read so much about. Most of the photographs in the collection are of birds, representing the major focus of the biological survey to observe and band sea birds. In creating this grouping of images, I was inspired by the range of species represented, the beauty of the photographs, and of the birds themselves. Images include photographs captured up-close of birds in their natural habitats, as well as interesting nest constructions, and eggs, and a couple of illustrations by researchers in the field.
I was struck by the level of detail of the markings on a Fairy term egg that seemed almost to be scribbled on with a magic marker like a modern work of art. A Black-footed albatross looking down towards the egg at its feet is kind of...well, moving. A photograph of birds swirling over building ruins on East Island freezes a moment of blissful chaos. Perhaps my favorite image, however, is a photograph of a Leach's storm-petrel specimen, held by its captor, and cropped square to show only the outstretched arm and hand holding the dead bird. There is something both gentle and sad about this image. The cropping, the soft background, and the warmth of the hand contracted with the sharp focus and stiffness of the specimen intrigued me. The content is scientific, but the photograph is quite artistic.