James A. Peters field notes, Mexico, 1949, page 39. This field book contains the notes of James A. Peters during his trip to Mexico in 1949. Places visited include Veracruz, Michoacán, Jalisco, and Nayarit. SIA2012-6279.
By Carolyn Sheffield, Project Manager
Book Project is pleased to announce that page scans for over 200 of the
cataloged Smithsonian field books are now available online through the
Smithsonian’s Collection Search Center: http://collections.si.edu/search/results.htm?tag.cstype=all&q=unit_code%3AFBR&fq=online_media_type:%22Electronic+resource%22. Additionally, over 300 new
records have been added since the field book records were launched in
Although the project started out as a cataloging initiative in 2010, we recognized early on the need for not just remote access to the catalog records but also to the rich and varied content found in field books. Starting with a grant from the Smithsonian Women’s Committee, and continuing with the ongoing efforts of the Smithsonian Institution Archives’ Digital Services, we are thrilled to begin seeing this goal realized.
Cover of the Albatross logbook, Hawaiian exploration #1, Mch 14-31, 1902, dr 3791 - dr 3819, hy 4035 - hy 4052. SIA RU 7184.
Page from the Albatross logbook, Hawaiian exploration #1, Mch 14-31, 1902, dr 3791 - dr 3819, hy 4035 - hy 4052. SIA RU 7184.
The page scans that are now online provide great representation of the variety of topics and formats that field books can take. For starters, there are numerous ship logs from the Albatross documenting voyages in the 19th and 20th centuries. Built in 1882, the Albatross was one of the first large vessels designed specifically for marine research. The Albatross logbooks contain a wealth of information, not just about species, but about weather and other environmental conditions at the time. As demonstrated by projects like OldWeather, ship log data can be extremely useful for understanding historic climate patterns and helping scientists model projections. If you dig old ships and marine biodiversity, check out our earlier post on the Albatross collection: http://nmnh.typepad.com/fieldbooks/2012/10/new-uses-for-old-books.html.
Some of the other field books now online provide a look into terrestrial research. From herpetologist James A. Peters, you can get a sense of what it was like to conduct field work in Mexico in 1949 and read detailed descriptions of some of the specimens he saw. Peters' Field Notes: Mexico, 1949 also includes a bit of an unexpected treat--a sketch of a horse and buggy can be found inserted between his pages of notes.
Sketch of a horse and cart, insert in James A. Peters' Field Notes: Mexico, 1949. SIA RU 7175.
Page from James A. Peters' Field Notes: Mexico, 1949. SIA RU 7175.
Harrison G. Dyar’s field books, or “blue books”, are some of my personal favorites and several of these are also now available. These include detailed notes on his daily observations and frequently include sketches. Dyar was a renowned entomologist whose personal life is perhaps as well remembered as his professional life. He served as honorary curator of Lepidoptera at the Smithsonian and as a mosquito specialist for the USDA. He is perhaps best known for his peculiar habit of digging elaborate tunnels under his two homes in Washington D.C.
Page from Harrison G. Dyar's Bluebook 532-574. SIA Acc. 12-447.
To view all of these and more, visit http://collections.si.edu/search/results.htm?tag.cstype=all&q=unit_code%3AFBR&fq=online_media_type:%22Electronic+resource%22. To repeat our search strategy, you can also start from http://collections.si.edu, type unit_code:FBR in the search box and then use the Online Media facet to limit your search to records with electronic resources. Enjoy!
By Tad Bennicoff, Reference Archivist, Smithsonian Institution Archives
|James A. Peters field notes, Mexico, 1949: Notes on Eleutherodactylus occidentalis specimen. Smithsonian Institution Archives, Record Unit 7175, Box 49, Folder 4, Image SIA2012-6364.|
One of the joys (and perhaps frustrations!) of conducting historical research is the mystery of what might be found upon reviewing original, archival materials. Quite often, one enters into such research with anticipation, hope, and a level of expectation regarding the information being sought. If the focus of consulting a particular historical resource lies solely in unearthing details to further one’s own theory, or confirm an expectation, it can become easy to overlook the fascinating materials encountered along the way, and the destination becomes more important than the journey. Such was the case as I commenced with this article.
My experience working with the Smithsonian’s collection of field books is rather limited, as I am not assigned to the Field Book Project, but rather am a Reference Archivist at the Smithsonian Institution Archives. My chief responsibility is to reply to the inquiries we receive related to our holdings. Thus, I do not have the luxury of becoming intimate with a particular collection and spend considerable time breezing past materials that may be of personal interest, but unrelated to a specific research request. This very “businesslike” approach is similar to James A. Peters's style of note taking found in Record Unit 7175: James A. Peters Papers, and Records of the Division of Reptiles and Amphibians, 1927-1973 (Papers), 1927-1966 (Records).
|James A. Peters field notes, Mexico, 1949: Tracing of Hyla smaragdina specimen. Note the source of the tracing is cited. Smithsonian Institution Archives, Record Unit 7175, Box 49, Folder 4, Image SIA2012-6426.|
James Arthur Peters (1922-1972) was trained as a biologist. He spent time as a member of the Brown University faculty (1952-1958) and served as Professor of Biology at San Fernando State College (1959-1964) prior to accepting the position Associate Curator in the Division of Reptiles and Amphibians at the United States National Museum (now the National Museum of Natural History) in 1964. He became “supervisor and curator” of the division in 1967, a title which he held until his untimely passing in 1972. His field notes are very professional, his handwriting quite legible. Each entry includes careful details, such as the date, location, and circumstances under which a specimen was observed. It is obvious that Dr. Peters valued his field notes, as he added typed pages expressing conclusions formed after extensive observations in the field. His field notes also include tracings of specimens from published works wth citations. Upon reviewing just a few pages, it becomes clear that the field notes of James Arthur Peters would be a valuable resource for an aspiring or established Herpetologist.
Conducting research on another’s behalf can be challenging, especially when you happen upon interesting or curious materials unrelated to the request. This happens quite frequently, as it did upon preparing this post. I was reviewing the field notes of George Sprague Myers (Record Unit 7317: George Sprague Myers Papers, circa 1903-1986 and undated,) a Herpetologist, Ichthyologist, and former Assistant Curator in Charge, Division of Fishes, United States National Museum. Professor Myers left the United States National Museum in 1936 to accept a professorship at his alma mater, Stanford University. Myers was a prolific writer and educator, with more than 600 published papers to his credit (a well-written memorial resolution for George Sprague Myers is available online.)
|High School notebook of George Sprague Myers. Smithsonian Institution Archives, Record Unit 7317, Box 57, Folder 1.||High School notebook of George Sprague Myers. Pages containing History notes, as well as drawings of fish. Smithsonian Institution Archives, Record Unit 7317, Box 57, Folder 1.|
The field books held by the Smithsonian Institution may be viewed as a microcosm of the Institution itself; there is a little something for everyone, whether it be the seasoned scientist seeking very specific data, a student of history interested in reviewing primary sources, or a researcher hoping to develop a human profile of a field book author who seemingly gathered and processed data with machine-like precision. One of the goals of the Field Book Project is to digitize many of the field books and make them available with only a few strokes of your keyboard. If you are interested, and take the time to review the pages and enjoy the journey, I believe you will find the field books to be much like the totality of the Smithsonian Institution: Seriously Amazing!
More James A. Peters field notes on our blog
More herpetology field notes on our blog
By Sonoe Nakasone, Field Book Project
|James A. Peters field notes, Mexico, 1949: notes on Pelamis platurus specimen. Smithsonian Institution Archives, Record Unit 7175, Box 49, Folder 4, Image SIA2012-6407|
When I talk to others about the rich information within field notes, I am thinking of the field notes of James A. Peters. As it happens, Peters’s field notes (Smithsonian Institution Archives RU007175) were one of the first collections I cataloged back in 2010. Why has it taken me so long to write about Peters then? “Why” indeed.
Mostly narrative and diary-like, these notebooks contain overflowing accounts of specimen collecting, travel, and landscapes. If you can get past my silly subheadings, you might begin to understand why these notes are exceptional.
The specimen is the thing
I have seen many examples of field notes with abundant specimen detail, yet Peters’s notes still rank among the most impressive. For some entries, Peters goes so far as to include traced illustrations of species from cited publications accompanied by descriptions of a specimen collected. Also typical of Peters are entries like this one from 28 February 1949:
I found three sceloporus under a single piece of bark on a large log about 3 feet above ground [...]. The center of the belly is light orange in 2, greenish in the 3rd. This light area is bordered in all 3 by a very bright orange. The sides are black with greenish spots and strips. They have more or less defined green dorsocatgal lines.
Above, Peters not only records information about the habitat of the specimens by noting exactly where they were found, he also very precisely notes colors and distinguishing marks.
|James A. Peters field notes, Mexico, 1949: notes on Ctenosaura pectinata. Smithsonian Institution Archives, Record Unit 7175, Box 49, Folder 4, Image SIA2012-6318||James A. Peters field notes, Mexico, 1949: traced illustration with description. Smithsonian Institution Archives, Record Unit 7175, Box 49, Folder 4, Image SIA2012-6279.|
Location, location, location
By including locality information at the head of nearly every journal entry, Peters instilled unrealistic expectations in me; I soon realized many other collectors were not so meticulous. Further (often more granular) locality information was also available within the journal entry. His entry for 31 July 1950 is an excellent example of this: “Coalcoman, Michaocan” is included at the head of the entry; within the body, Peters writes, “shot one [Ctenosaura pectinata] at foot of Sierra de Guzman, about ½ mi SE of Coalcoman.” Peters must have understood the value of locality information to be so exact. One of his books even contains a Gazetteer of localities with brief descriptions.
Seeing the forests and the trees
Recording information about the surrounding environment during field work is important for understanding the types of habitats in which specimens live and thrive and can provide future generations with a historic picture of that landscape. Many of Peters’s field notes include such observations. On 27 June 1950, Peters writes:
The thorn scrub begins about 50-75 feet back of the beach line, and continues wherever it has been allowed to survive clear back to the town of Coahuayana, which is quite low. I walked west of C. as far as the river which is about 4-5 kilometers, […] it is all this same type of scrub. There are a few fig trees, quite a bit of organ pipe cactus and also a lot of the flat, round cactus, which was in bloom (ocotillo?).
The use of distance measurements and lists of vegetation above paints a vivid image of this locality. Although Peters was a herpetologist, he even attempts to identify one type of cactus. This flowing account continues for nearly three pages before any mention of a herpetological specimen.
Adding to his rich descriptions of environment, Peters also often includes information on elevation, weather, air temperatures, and water temperatures, so that an accurate idea of the condition in which specimens were collected is known.
|James A. Peters running notes, Mexico: description, 27 and 28 February 1949. Smithsonian Institution Archives, Record Unit 7175, Box 49, Folder 4, Image SIA2012-6213|
After nearly two years working for this Project, Peters remains one of my favorites to use as an example of field notes. His patience and diligence in recording so many useful details of his collecting trip are impressive, and I hope that young naturalists can not only benefit from the data Peters recorded, but also learn from his comprehensive style of note taking.
By Tad Bennicoff, Reference Archivist, Smithsonian Institution Archives
|Cover of journal kept by Rafinesque on his trip from Philadelphia to Kentucky, 1818. Smithsonian Institution Archives, Record Unit 7250, Box 1, Folder 3, Image SIA2012-6042|
When the folks involved with the Field Book Project http://www.mnh.si.edu/rc/fieldbooks/ asked me to contribute to this blog, I was uncertain of how to approach the task. The study of science and its many disciplines have never been one of my strengths. My background is in History, which has led me into a much enjoyed career as a Reference Archivist. Thus, I resolved to focus on the historic significance of the field notes held by the National Museum of Natural History and the Smithsonian Institution Archives. One of the frustrations of a Reference Archivist, especially one who has the good fortune of being surrounded by collections as diverse as those held by the Smithsonian, is that there is little opportunity to really immerse one’s self into a particular collection. The upside of course is the variety of topics and research I am permitted to pursue. Such research, however, is almost entirely dictated by the questions we receive from the public. To this end, I was recently tasked with reviewing Record Unit 7250: C. S. (Constantine Samuel) Rafinesque Papers, 1815-1834 and undated; the finding aid for this collection is available online.
Constantine Samuel Rafinesque was a Naturalist and Philologist born on October 22, 1783, in Constantinople (a brief biography is available on the University of Evansville faculty webpage). In the autumn of 1818 Rafinesque undertook a trip from Philadelphia to Kentucky, where he stayed with John James Audubon for eight days. During his travels south, Rafinesque kept a journal of his plant and animal observations. This journal is part of Record Unit 7250, and it is remarkable. Nearly two hundred years old, the journal is composed of notes (in French) and sketches of plants, shells, fish, and mammals. The sketches are not of Audubonian quality, but then again, they presumably were completed in the field and essentially are a snapshot of select specimens.
|Rafinesque’s drawings of tortoises observed along the Ohio River, 1818. Smithsonian Institution Archives, Record Unit 7250, Box 1, Folder 3, Image SIA2012-6075.|
Upon applying white cotton gloves to my hands and opening Rafinesque’s leather bound journal, carefully turning each weathered page, I began to contemplate, historically, the nature of Rafinesque’s travels. There were of course no automobiles, so transportation must have been either by horse, perhaps a horse drawn carriage, or by foot. Furthermore, there were few roads and presumably even fewer maps. In fact, Rafinesque drafted his own maps, some of which are noted in the journal.
|Map drawn by Rafinesque during his travels from Philadelphia to Kentucky, 1818. Smithsonian Institution Archives, Record Unit 7250, Box 1, Folder 3, Image SIA2012-6086.|
Technology that we so easily take for granted was absent. There were no cameras to document observations, no laptop or tablet computers to record thoughts, no cell phones, no ballpoint pens, no electric lights, no water resistant rain gear, etc. I can only image that such scientific research was indeed laborious.
|Rafinesque’s drawings of fish observed during trip from Philadelphia to Kentucky, 1818. Smithsonian Institution Archives, Record Unit 7250, Box 1, Folder 3, Image SIA2012-6107.|
Frankly, I find the lack of our modern technology in the Rafinesque journal to be quite appealing, for if there had been digital cameras and iPads, we almost certainly would not have Rafinesque’s hand-written notes and sketches. Historical documents have a way of transporting the reader to the moment in time in which they were created, and as I studied the journal, I marveled not only at its contents, but also the journey it has traveled from the untamed wilderness of 18th century America to the custom made archival box and climate controlled facility where it resides today.
|Inner cover of journal kept by Rafinesque on his trip from Philadelphia to Kentucky, 1818. Smithsonian Institution Archives, Record Unit 7250, Box 1, Folder 3, Image SIA2012-6043.|
The Rafinesque notebooks continue to be consulted by researchers and scholars, a testament to the significance of their contents. The particular journal described in this post is in the process of being digitized, and may soon be available for researchers to consult through the wonders of technology Rafinesque never could have imagined. Based upon the time, effort, and care Rafinesque invested in recording his observations, I suspect he would applaud not only that his research continues to be valued by scholars, but also it may soon be available to researchers around the globe.
Other Field Book Project articles on Rafinesque:
By Sonoe Nakasone, Field Book Project
Doris Mable Cochran (1898-1968), measuring a turtle shell. This image is from the Smithsonian Institution Archives Women in Science set on the flickr Commons. See more women in science highlighted on The Bigger Picture this month.
Why should Doris Cochran receive only brief notes? One, others have documented her career better than I can here. Two, I wanted to highlight Cochran, but unfortunately, the Smithsonian Institution Archives (SIA) does not have many of Cochran’s field notes. As this blog focuses on field note related topics, the lack of Cochran field notes is problematic; I can only briefly touch on the few materials at SIA regarding Cochran’s field research.
Women have struggled to gain acceptance and equality in the sciences and many other arenas, which is why we celebrate the history of women at least once a year during the month of March. Doris Cochran was no exception to the number of women at the Smithsonian who fought to advance in their careers. “The Clutter Museum” author Leslie M-B carefully documents the difficulties Cochran faced in lobbying for her due status and pay at the Smithsonian in this 2006 article. (Leslie M-B’s article is a must read.)
The SIA collection “Doris Mable Cochran Papers, circa 1891-1968” contains several typescript drafts for publications, correspondence, and notes on specimens that other people collected. Cochran’s long SI career began in 1919 before she completed her Masters in Zoology. There is a lot of other people’s “stuff” in Cochran’s collection, probably because she was first hired as the trusted aid to Leonhard Stejneger, who headed the Division of Reptiles and Batrachians, then Assistant Curator in 1927, Associate Curator in 1942, then acting head of the Division after Stejneger’s death in 1943. I hoped to find field notes from either of her field trips to South America (1935 and 1962-1963) with noted Brazilian herpetologists Adolpho and Bertha (Adolpho’s daughter) Lutz. Fortunately, SIA has a travelogue from her 1962-1963 trip containing natural history notes and references to herpetological specimens collected. Also included are frog photographs from her 1962-3 trip, an essay summarizing her earlier South American collecting trip in 1935, and an essay entitled “Collecting Frogs in Brazil” (ca. 1935).
The 1962-3 travelogue documents Cochran’s National Science Foundation funded trip to visit museums in Brazil and Colombia and collect frog specimens, building on the collections she made in 1935. There’s a slight possibility Cochran did not write the travelogue. The small, leather bound volume was given to Cochran about a month before her trip, but the entries often refer to “Doris”: either Cochran liked to refer to herself in the third person, or the travelogue belonged to someone else. Whether or not the travelogue is Cochran’s, it is invaluable for its itinerary information, event highlights, and descriptions of surrounding flora and fauna. The photos of frogs from this trip, although not labeled with species names, are also valuable documents of Cochran’s field work.
|Cover of Cochran's 1962-1963 travelogue.||Photograph of frog in Colombia, 1962.|
Cochran’s essay about her 1935 trip to South America, although not field notes, contains a first-hand account of a collecting event. The essay provides names of collecting localities, names of accompanying collectors (such as Joaquim Venancio), and notes on the frogs, new genera and species of fish, and other biological specimens collected. In Cochran’s “Collecting Frogs in Brazil,” she delved deeper into the 1935 trip by including names of specific specimens collected and anecdotes describing the circumstances in which the specimens were collected.
|Excerpt from 1962-3 travelogue. Itinerary.||Excerpt from 1962-3 travelogue. This page describes Cochran and her colleagues collecting frogs.|
As Leslie M-B notes, by the very end of Cochran’s career, she was finally promoted to her desired pay grade, but did not receive the title she lobbied for. Yet, Cochran didn’t seem to let such persistent prejudice affect her work. She continued to work until her forced retirement, one month before her death.