Eight of the 940 watercolor illustrations of fungi by Lewis David von Schweinitz in the Academy of Natural Sciences Archives.   Ewell Sale Stewart Library and Archives Coll. no. 437

Eight of the 940 watercolor illustrations of fungi by Lewis David von Schweinitz in the Academy of Natural Sciences Archives. Ewell Sale Stewart Library and Archives Coll. no. 437

It is quite probable that the facts of distribution, life history, and economic status may finally prove to be of more far-reaching value, than whatever information is obtainable exclusively from the specimens themselves.”

From: “The Methods and Uses of a Research Museum” by Joseph Grinnell (1915), Popular Science Monthly 77: 163–169.

Last week’s annual meeting of the Society of American Archivists provided a great opportunity for three CLIR recipients to meet about our proposed panel for the Hidden Collections Symposium in March. Christina Fidler, Museum Archivist, Museum of Vertebrate Zoology, University of California, Berkeley and Rusty Russell, Collection Manager, Botany, Smithsonian Institution and I were joined by Tim White who was unable to be there in person. Tim is Director of Collections and Operations at the Peabody Museum of Natural History and we all connected via Rusty’s mobile phone set to speaker, as we sat on the lawn outside the conference hotel.  What brought two archivists and two collection managers together?  Besides being CLIR natural science museum recipients, we share an enthusiasm for linking access to archives and scientific specimen and data collections.

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Awareness of the CLIR Hidden Collections project has spread throughout the Science Departments. Earlier this year, we received a transfer of film reels from Ornithology that they could no longer access, but were eager to see. The Library applied for and has received a grant of $16,380 from the National Film Preservation Foundation (NFPF) to preserve the Great Gull Island Film Collection.

The three films in this series offer a glimpse into the life work of AMNH Ornithologist, Helen Hays. Great Gull Island and Tern Watch beautifully showcase the Great Gull Island ornithological research station, located east of the North Fork of Long Island, where Helen and her team have conducted research on nesting Common Terns and endangered Roseate Terns for over forty years. Ducks, filmed by Helen as a student in the early 1960s, provides an important historic record of the behavior and mating habits of Ruddy Ducks in the West Pond at the nearby Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge.

Singer, Arthur, “Terns, Gull Island,” AMNH Digital Special Collections, accessed August 20, 2014, http://images.library.amnh.org/digital/index.php/items/show/26459.

Singer, Arthur, “Terns, Gull Island,” AMNH Digital Special Collections, Item#: 335342.

 

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In 2010 when the library’s first CLIR grant was underway we strategized with the project timeline, plotting a course through the departments. As often happens with projects involving inventory efforts, it became the starting point for a multitude of spin off projects. One of the largest and most inspiring projects has been our current CLIR hidden collections projects grant, of which we are well into our second year. Another happy occurrence has been the ongoing ‘department discoveries’ and transfers that continue to occur.

“Plants, botanical illustration, Kidong Valley,” AMNH Digital Special Collections, accessed June 16, 2014, http://images.library.amnh.org/digital/index.php/items/show/8312.

Before Alfred Kinsey studied human sexuality he studied gall wasps. During his years of entomological study, 1917 to approximately 1940, Kinsey amassed a significant collection of gall wasp specimens that eventually became part of the AMNH collections. Since 1995 the AMNH archive has had in its holdings a modest and seemingly incomplete collection for Kinsey which supports the museum’s late 1958 acquisition of his gall wasp collection.  The Alfred Kinsey entomological papers, 1917-1941 are described as only having correspondence for people with last names that begin with B; Balduf, Banks, Beutenmuller, Borgmeier. It had always been a bit of a mystery to the current library staff. It’s clear that the collection had been separated before 1995, but where the other portion of the collection lived was unknown.

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I’m currently interning at the American Museum of Natural History, working on their CLIR Hidden Collections project. The project has focused on the creation of EAC-CPF (Encoded Archival Context – Corporate bodies, Persons, and Families) records, in an attempt to highlight the individuals associated with AMNH expeditions. One of the goals of the project was to shed light on people in connection with these expeditions that researchers and the public may not be aware. While working on a record for explorer Carl Ethan Akeley, it struck me just how much one particular individual was not given more attention: his wife, Mary L. Jobe Akeley. The archives at AMNH house the Mary L. Jobe Akeley collection (Call nos. A342-A344), gifted by her estate in 1967 and 1977. The information within this substantial collection was used to craft an EAC-CPF record for Jobe herself, but I decided to go one step further to bring to light the accomplishments of this remarkable woman.

            There is an antiquated saying: behind every great man there is a great woman. This was never truer (and perhaps misleading) in the case of Mary Lenore Jobe Akeley.  In the world of explorers, it is Carl Ethan Akeley’s name that is more commonly known.  From his work with the Chicago Field Museum to his creation of the Akeley Motion Picture camera to his passion and desire to create the African Hall exhibition at the American Museum of Natural History (now entitled the Akeley Hall of African Mammals), it is Carl Akeley who we mostly remember. Few laypersons are aware of Mary Jobe Akeley and the work she had been performing long before she married, and well after.

             Born on January 29, 1878 in Tappan, Ohio, Jobe grew up with aspirations of being an explorer. She was bright, attending college by age 15 and earning two degrees, a Bachelor of Philosophy, and a Master of Arts by 1909. In 1930, she received an honorary degree of Doctor of Literature from Mt. Union College.  While in school she taught grammar and high school and was a member of numerous faculties, including the Head of the Department of history and Civics at the New York State Normal and Training School at Cortland and member of the Department of History at the Normal College of the City of New York(1). Throughout all of this, Jobe also began embarking on expeditions.

KIC Image

          Jobe’s main area of interest was the Canadian Rockies. Throughout the span of her life she would participate in ten expeditions to British Columbia. Her first two expeditions were in 1905 and 1907, where she helped botanize for Dr. Charles Shaw of the University of Pittsburgh. She would return in 1909, this time with Professor Herschel C. Parker, assisting in the Canadian Topographical Survey Expedition. Her next two expeditions, in the summers of 1910 and 1912 found Jobe exploring areas around Mt. Assiniboine and the Great Divide. During this time, she not only took numerous notes and photographs while on her expeditions, but she also began lecturing at various institutions about her discoveries (a newspaper article from 1913 indicated she gave over 40 lectures on the topic in 1912 alone) (1).

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In 1935, Henry Raven set out with Arthur S. Vernay, Stephen F. Hopwood, and other hunters, academics, and guides on a research trip to Burma. He served as lead scientist, collector, and primary photographer. Following along the northern section of Chindwin River, the group set out to document the indigenous birds, tribes, and customs of the area for further comparison and study back at the AMNH.

Before Raven left on the expedition, he first had to itemize and arrange for all the things he would need for the following three months. Some he would acquire personally, others were supplied by the museum, and even more items would have to be purchased with traveling funds once the team was en route through England, Bombay, and Rangoon.

‘List of Material Required for the Burma Expedition.’ Filed in Vernay, Folder  III-B3, Division of Vertebrate Zoology, Department of Mammalogy Archives, AMNH.

‘List of Material Required for the Burma Expedition.’ Filed in Vernay, Folder III-B3, Division of Vertebrate Zoology, Department of Mammalogy Archives, AMNH.

‘List of Material Required for the Burma Expedition.’ Filed in Vernay, Folder  III-B3, Division of Vertebrate Zoology, Department of Mammalogy Archives, AMNH.

‘List of Material Required for the Burma Expedition.’ Filed in Vernay, Folder III-B3, Division of Vertebrate Zoology, Department of Mammalogy Archives, AMNH.

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Coelacanth mosaic at 81st Street subway platform

When walking to the exit in the 81st St. – Museum of Natural History subway station, among the creatures on the walls welcoming visitors to the museum is a fish that may appear to be just another prehistoric creature from some geological age long ago. In truth, it wasn’t until the twentieth century that paleontologists learned that this fish, previously thought to be a long extinct dino-era species found only in fossils, was alive and well in the waters off South Africa.

The Coelacanth (pronounced SEEL-uh-kanth) is an exceedingly rare and endangered species of fish that is related to land-dwelling vertebrates, and its lack of evolution over hundreds of millions of years make this fish what experts have dubbed a “living fossil”; the fish looks just as it did when it first appeared in the Devonian period fossil record, some 375,000,000 years ago.  In 1938, fishermen caught the first living Coelacanth specimen near the mouth of the Chalumna River, right off the southeastern coast of South Africa. It was purportedly noticed in a fish market by a woman named Marjorie Courtenay-Latimer, who was a curator at the nearby East London Museum.  She, in turn, sent sketches and a description of the primeval fish to renowned South African ichthyologist J.L.B. Smith who recognized it as a Coelacanth and named the species Latimeria chalumnae after Ms. Courtenay-Latimer and the river in which it was found.  As of 1957 only 12 other living specimens had been found, all near the Comoros Islands, and were taken the Natural History Museum in Paris for study. The original discovery was hailed by scientists worldwide as one of the most important natural history discoveries of the century.

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Have you ever walked through the halls of the American Museum of Natural History and imagined what it was like for a scientist in the 1920s to gather specimens and interpret important data? As a seasonal intern for the CLIR Hidden Collections project, I’m helping uncover and organize information documented by the museum and its staff for all interested researchers. Recently I’ve been working with the papers of Henry Cushier Raven, an Associate Curator of Comparative and Human Anatomy at the Museum and the plethora of his scientific reports- one of which had a very unique origin story…

AMNH neg.311245

“Hall of Ocean Life, showing assembling whale skeletons”, December 1925.
AMNH neg.311245

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Young James Chapin with owl, 1906-7?

“Young James Chapin with owl”, circa 1906.  AMNH Department of Ornithology.

As part of my internship this fall at the American Museum of Natural History, I was asked to create authority records for the American Museum Congo Expedition (1909-1915) and its two scientists: the mammalogist Herbert Lang and ornithologist James Paul Chapin. I particularly became engrossed with the story of Chapin’s experiences. He was a fascinating figure in the history of the Museum, and one of those individuals I have now placed on my “If I could have a dinner party with five people” wish list.

Born a stone’s throw from the Museum, Chapin’s family moved to Staten Island when he was three.  There he cultivated a love of nature, encouraged by his mother.  His childhood nickname was Chippy, and his first scientific presentation as a teen was on the observations of a mouse in captivity.  Although he had obtained a scholarship to Columbia University, he postponed college for a year after high school and obtained work at the Museum.  It was there that he found his home away from home.  He would stay with the Museum for 43 years, and even after his retirement maintained a very close association with the institution as Curator Emeritus.  In 1935 he wrote that he was “First employed by American Museum at the age of 16…hopes to work hard for the Museum as long as he lives.” He ultimately would do just that.

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