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This post was originally published on the Biodiversity Heritage Library blog, July 6, 2017.

The American Museum of Natural History selected two unique sets of material to digitize for the CLIR BHL Field Notes Project: field books from the Whitney South Sea Expedition and the Archbold Expeditions. These were two long-running undertakings to systematically explore and collect the flora and fauna of Oceania. Both contributed invaluable specimens to the scientific research and exhibition collections at AMNH. We recently completed digitization of the Whitney South Sea Expedition field notes and are thrilled to have commenced work on the Archbold material. Arguably, the most rewarding aspect of participating in this project is raising awareness of some rather remarkable individuals and expeditions. One example is the 2nd Archbold Expedition to New Guinea. We recently digitized leader Richard Archbold’s journal from that journey, which helps shine a light on this particularly fascinating story.

Archbold Expeditions is a corporation originally founded and led by Richard Archbold. It funded a research collection and staff at the AMNH Department of Mammalogy and sponsored a series of scientific collecting journeys to New Guinea and northern Australia. Heir to a substantial fortune, Archbold was a collector, explorer, ecologist, photographer, mountaineer, and pilot. As a youth he developed a love of nature and technology which carried over into all his future endeavors. He was a Research Associate at AMNH since his participation as photographer and mammalogist in the Mission zoologique franco-anglo-américaine à Madagascar, an experience which would directly inspire him to continue exploration work. He led the first three of the Archbold New Guinea Expeditions himself, and in 1940 founded the Archbold Biological Station in Florida. This research station and Archbold Expeditions were associated with AMNH until the 1980s. The Archbold Biological Station is still vitally active today.

Archbold excelled at organization and planning, recognizing needs and filling them. He regularly made use of and adapted the most current technology and also sought after the best scientists and personnel for his expeditions.

Some of the 2nd Archbold Expedition participants, including scientific party Austin Rand, G. H. H. Tate and Leonard Brass. All three participated in multiple Archbold Expeditions.
“WH2; Papua, Oroville Camp; Juhlstedt, Rand, Tate, Archbold, Burke, Healy, Brass.” Archbold Expeditions Collection, Department of Mammalogy, AMNH.

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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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