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Boo hoo, alas, after three months, today was our last day in Herpetology. We spent the day trying to do as much as we can to complete the risk assessment of the processed collection, and the cataloging and risk assessment of the unprocessed collections. As we mentioned in last week’s blog, the unprocessed collections are HUGE. There were many boxes of papers, slides, photographs (both black & white and color), notebooks, and more. To give a perspective, Ernest A. Liner’s collection has over 8,000 slides! Whew! Unfortunately, most of these slides have sustained damage due to being housed in non-archival plastic sleeves. The sleeves are sticking to the emulsion of the slides. We were told that these slides are one of the most important items in his collection. Hopefully, these slides will be preserved somehow.

Near the end of the day, we found boxes of slides that showed the various stages of venomous snake and spider bites including several slides depicting autopsies of fatal bites. These slides are from the Sherman Minton collection. Minton seemed to specialize in studying the effects of venom and anti-venom.

To conclude, while we learned a lot about cataloging and risk assessment of archival collections, we also increased our knowledge of reptiles and amphibians as a side benefit. Jannette’s favorite out of the entire collection was the giant turtles that greeted us everyday as we walked to the archival room. My favorite reptile was Ernest Liner’s smiling pet, Buster, the Mexican beaded lizard.

In Herpetology, we are nearing the end of the cataloging and risk assessment phases. Today, Rebecca continued with the risk assessment of the processed collections, while I catalogued the unprocessed collections. Adding to the disorganization, there were numerous boxes placed by the filing cabinets that needed to be sorted out. Not all the boxes were labeled, so I had to deduce who the creator was. I was able to do this by deciphering the handwriting on the materials in the unidentified boxes. The result was there were actually three collections (Ernest A. Liner, Roger Conant, and Sherman Minton.) These were labeled accordingly so hopefully, during the next cycle, it will be easy to continue with this project.

On the risk assessment side, things are moving quickly. While the majority of the materials were field notes, Rebecca came across some interesting black and white photos and beautiful etchings of various species. We have to say that we’ve made good progress and hopefully we will finish on the last day of our internship.

While tackling some of the unprocessed collections in Herpetology, we came across a century 0ld scrapbook of newspaper clippings about toads. The clippings spanned from 1911 to 1936 and the scrapbook was in good condition. One very interesting article that caught our attention was about a hop toad that was found alive in Nantucket after 21 years entombed in cement! We were amazed and intrigued to read about this. Upon further research, we found another article that mentioned of a horn toad that suffered a similar fate. However, he was discovered alive after 31 years in West Texas. The article discussed the findings of a researcher who claimed that certain species of frogs can exist without food or water for a hundred years. Wow, this was truly mind boggling!

Other than our trip through old newspapers, we were able to complete the cataloging and risk assessment of the rest of the unprocessed collections that were mixed in with the maps. These included photographs, negatives, posters, artwork, and other mixed formats, including field notes. We are finding that cataloging these unprocessed collections takes a bit longer due to the vast variety of formats. However, looking through these “treasure troves” makes this project fascinating and enjoyable.

Again, there were many photographs that are in need of correct archival storage and treatment. We found a cool looking enlarged x-ray of a coiled snake that we think almost looks like a chain necklace. Next week, we shall be exploring a different room in Herpetology, who knows what we will discover next!

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Risk assessment was the name of the game today as we continued to survey the herpetological collections. At first, we didn’t find anything unusual. As we continued, however, the Herndon Dowling Collection caught our attention. Dowling was a curator of reptiles in New York Zoological Park from 1960-1967 and Emeritus Professor of Biology at New York University. During the 1920s, he conducted studies of the black swamp snake and discovered two subspecies. Therefore, it came as no surprise that his collection contained mostly of anatomical drawings of snakes. We were impressed that these drawings were very detailed and done in pencil. Notations on the drawings indicated that they were copied from specimens in the museum. The photos on the left show the precision of the drawings.

On a conservation note, these drawings were not well protected and are left loose in the archival box. Ideally, they should be placed in mylar sleeves and put in archival envelopes or folders.

Today in Herpetology for a change of pace, we decided to take a side trip to the map room. Needless to say we found some maps. Big maps, small maps, old maps, new maps, sketch maps, maps in Spanish, black and white maps, color maps, relief maps and even some hand drawn maps. As you can see by picture above, one map was almost bigger than Marilyn!!

The maps spanned the entire world including every continent as well as countries, states, counties, cities, townships and even some maps of remote locations where the herpetologists found and marked specific specimens.

Most of the maps were in good condition. All are kept in map drawers and many are separated with acid-free paper. Some of the older maps are brittle and ripping. The following map is of Arizona which a herpetologist who happened to pass by estimated it was from the 1930s.

We did find some maps that were laminated. We we wondering if that may be a good solution for the older maps that are falling apart. Are these maps too fragile for the laminating process?

So far we have estimated over 2000 maps in this collection and that does not include a locked cabinet we can not get into yet. Among this collection are also many items that are not maps and should probably not be in this room but more on that later….

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In the Herpetology Archives today, we came across an interesting self-made herpetologist, Ernest A. Liner. He was from the deep South and taught himself herpetology even though his real profession was in sales. He was known in his local area as someone to call on if he or she stumbled upon reptiles and amphibians in their neck of the woods.

Mr. Liner contributed to the field of herpetology and received an honorary doctorate from the University of Colorado in Boulder in 1998.

In the left-hand picture, Ernest is with his pet, a 36-year old Mexican beaded lizard. (Doesn’t the lizard look like he’s smiling?) Mr. Liner passed away on September 23, 2010 at the age of 85 in Houma, Louisiana.

We’re moving along in the Herpetology Archives Collection, and now we’re up to the letter D. Most of the collections in the C’s were straightforward; there were not too many unusual materials to describe. Today, we surveyed numerous diaries of herpetologist Roger Conant and his wife, Isabelle Hunt Conant, who accompanied her husband on his various expeditions. She also photographed snakes that were very lifelike, that seemed to jump out of the picture.

We did have a question about cataloging the date range. For example, in the Jared M. Diamond collection, there was a published article about an expedition that took place in 1969; however, this article was included in an AMNH Bulletin published in 1979. Do we include the publication date as part of the date range field? We discussed this issue and weren’t sure. We opted not to, and instead decided to put the publication date in the side note field.

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We made good progress today – we were able to catalog many collections, most of which contained field notes from expeditions. Almost all the field notes that we read were about frogs. There was one particular interesting collection titled the AMNH Hispaniola Expedition that occurred in 1935. Although this collection only contained one item – a sketchbook with notes by Melville P. Cummin, his illustrations were quite impressive. The artwork depicted primarily of you guess it, frogs! Similar to the watercolor paintings from the Third Asiastic Expedition, the sketches (we think the medium used is pencil), were lifelike and beautiful. The pictures shown vouch our findings.

One question that came up was with the Archbold Expeditions Collection. We weren’t sure if the creator should be the sponsor (Archbold) or the herpetologists who were on the expedition, especially since the field notes were written by the scientists. Upon checking with Becca, we found out that the creator is actually the Museum. Well, live and learn. We even found one chart where the data was unidentifable. We ended up labeling it as research for a lack of a better term. To end our day of frogs, we took a trip to view the Frog Exhibit.

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Today we discovered some fascinating paintings in Herpetology and also ran in some confusion with MARC fields. While working with interdepartmental records we came across specimen lists that included expedition names. So the question becomes what field (611 or 711) should the expedition names be placed in? While the lists themselves were not from the expeditions the specimens on the lists were from the expeditions. We chose 711 but are still not sure.

After lunch we got a chance to work with some of the most beautiful and lifelike watercolor painting we have ever seen. The watercolor paintings were created in the field by a Chinese artist who was commissioned to accompany the expedition and create paintings of frogs, snakes, salamanders and lizards. The paintings are from the Third Asiatic Expedition in 1921-1926 and are part of the Clifford H. Pope Collection. These paintings are in excellent condition and words cannot describe the detail and realistic quality of the artwork. A herpetologist in the department told us the paintings had not been published but have been on exhibit at the Museum. Our personal opinion is they REALLY should be published.

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Today being the first day, we organized the materials into eight collections using post-it notes and processed them, referring to the finding aid binder. We catalogued metadata on the spreadsheet taken directly from the files. There was some confusion as to the order of the contents in the file drawers but we were able to figure it out. We still need to finish completing the metadata fields in these collections. Overall, the contents of the files were in good condition.

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