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Hello there friends and neighbors. It seems like its only been a blink of an eye since I first started my experience here but alas this is my farewell of sorts. Thanks goes out to my partner/peers Daniel, Joanna, and Phoebe for being great sounding boards and solid people to work with. It has been a whirlwind of exciting discoveries for me and I would like to offer special thanks to Rebecca, Barbara, Iris, and Tom for their patience, insight and encouragement. I believe I will be leaving here with knowledge and understanding that will benefit me and hopefully others. Ironically I am here on my last day trying to tie up loose ends on the collection for the Department of Preparations (right where I started). What started out as a simple paige box is now a galaxy of historical records spreading out to other related materials and active use. I hope others take the time to explore this collection and treasure the marvels that it holds.
Today we received a wonderful treat in the North American Mammal Hall. While heading an effort to make the dioramas more environmentally friendly through better lighting, Beth and her team of taxidermists, conservators and other experts have also been giving the dioramas and their inhabitants some much needed touch ups. Beth filled us in on many of the issues they confronted like the fading of fur, dust, bubbling paint on the back wall of the displays, and the unpleasant yellowing of some of the snow scenes. Steve Quinn, one of the restoration artists, talked to us about the steps it takes to preserve the landscapes as well as the story each scene depicts. Many details such as body size/structure, diet, hunting style, types of fur, and season all must factored in when staging and repairing the depictions. We were proud to hear that information from the Mammalogy archive proved helpful for retracing the steps of the Hall’s original designers.
After that thrilling experience we ventured up to the sixth floor of Mammalogy to inventory the map and gazeteer collection. Many of the maps were used on expeditions throughout the world and were well organized. Number codes were assigned and a finding aid was available to explain the system of classification. The gazeteers, or geographical directories, collected the information about where specimens were collected. Included were latitude, longitude, altitude and other helpful information that allows the current staff to find places that might not appear on ordinary maps. We leave you with some map-related photo to help you find your way home.
Provenance is often the key element that allows a collection to be useful, understandable and relevant to many researchers. The order and arrangement of the archived material reflects the origin of the source materials and the judgment of the primary archivist. The provenance can act as a marker or guideline to the relationship of the materials to the subject matter and how the collection should be experienced especially if there are no finding aids.
Well ladies and gentlemen that brings us to our current issue, dare I say dilemma. I think our little photographic friend here is lost. I discovered our friend filed under “Asiatic Halls” and although I am fine with him being in his current home, due to my faith in provenance, my archivist intuition is telling me something different. No I don’t have a badge but you don’t have to be a detective to spot the signs of (possible) dissociation. Dissociation is far from a victimless crime. It can set into motion a chain of events that could be a researchers worst nightmare.
Wait!!! This just in: Through the paper trail of correspondence we have indeed identified our little friend as a South Asian “Gibbon”. In a letter from Arthur Vernay to then Director Sherwood, Vernay refers to the gibbon as a “vital specimen for the Asiatic Hall”. So much for intuition, mystery solved. Provenance you’ve done it again!
Today we completed Phase 1 in the Department of Mammalogy. In total we described 97 collections, but because of the organization of the archive, that number fails to tell the whole story. In reality, the total number of collections, if properly processed, would probably be more in the vicinity of 15-20. The second floor of the archive in particular is home to a majority of the visual images related to the various expeditions conducted by the Department from the turn of the century through the 1950s. Some of the images feature specimen samples, but the great majority of them tell the stories of those expeditions. It would be an interesting future project to properly arrange and describe the collections so that they are housed together, by expedition. Pictures were taken by different members of the expedition, perhaps resulting in the segmented housing of the images throughout the archive.
In the course of this project, we have grown close to Richard Archbold, pictured here. He was born in New York City in 1907 and was an heir to the Standard Oil fortune. From 1929-1939, he worked with the Museum to organize and sponsor four expeditions, first to Madagascar and then three to New Guinea. He supported other expeditions to New Guinea and Australia after WWII as well. Evidence of these efforts are everywhere in the archive.
It is interesting to note that the Archbold correspondence collection is carefully arranged, as are the publications that stemmed from the expeditions. Perhaps this has been considered sufficient to telling their story. The visual images, however, give life and full weight to their experiences and their proper arrangement, description and cataloging would be very exciting to see. The breadth of the photographic collection is such that with the right amount of attention and organization. This collection can be offered a second life and a new audience through the scanning process. A digital archive seems a natural step in sharing these historically and scientifically rich images. During the course of our inventorying, we have also come across countless color and black and white prints, slides of all types – from kodachromes and stereoslides to glass and lantern – negatives in various sizes and fragile “vintage” prints as well as a copper plate portrait. One of the recommendations we would make is to install proper temperature and relative humidity controls.
As we have recorded already, the existence of an air conditioner on the first floor has created two separate climates. Today we guessed that there was a difference of about 15 degrees between the two floors. For Phase 2 we have assessed the risks to each collection, however, the lack of temperature and humidity controls represents the greatest risk of all.
In today’s episode of “Inside the AMNH” our explorer comes across a dusty acid free folder at the back of a dusty Paige box.
“What’s in that dusty acid free folder ?“ the archivist said.
“Why what do you know, it’s a script!”
That’s right our guide couldn’t believe his eyes when he saw that inside the folder named “Spice Exhibit” was a radio drama style script from the perspective of Marco Polo and other explorers. The story and the exhibit tell of the early spice trading routes and how they were regarded as “more precious than gold!” Also a part of today’s adventure our guide had his first encounter with a mysterious Fata Morgana in the form of “Crocker Land”. I don’t want to spoil that story just yet so you should do some investigating of your own and we’ll compare notes later.
In an effort to bring various aspects of the collections to light we have spent a great deal of time in description mode. This can be a sensitive activity because the materials found in one collection may overlap into the subject fields of another. Today we came across a number of slides that were somehow at the bottom of a collection from a different part of the world. What had happened was the images were grouped by the photographer not by the exhibition. If you don’t make note of the details there is no telling what confusion may be created.
Another issue that we have come across is determining where a “collection” begins and ends. Many of the prints, negatives, slides and other visual images from various Museum expeditions were housed in the same drawers (though not intermixed). For our purposes, is it important to carry out the time consuming effort of distinguishing each specific collection or tie them all together based on themes, providing detailed information within the spreadsheet? Since this is only the first and most basic step in the process, we decided to combine and provide as many details as possible so that an informed decision can be made about how the record catalog will look later on in the process.
For your pleasure, we have attached a photo from an exhibition memorabilia collection we inventoried today. Jumbo the Elephant was PT Barnum’s most prized elephant. His skeleton was donated to the Museum but our man Akeley stuffed it, enabling Jumbo to travel with the circus for years.
The Archival gods have smiled upon me on this day in the form of an acid free box full of treasures. At present I have been set with the task of creating a finding aid for these long lost items but its has been a stop and go process because of what I keep finding. The collection in question is from the Department of Preparation and Installation and I must tell you they lived up to their name. The correspondence of requests and affirmations are so specific that I can testify that in the creation of the North American Mammal Hall no detail was left to chance. Of course the exhibits speak for themselves but the letters of correspondence set the tone for a back story of formal yet gracious language. For me the letters have been a little window to the past that have helped me to appreciate the efforts of James L. Clark and George Sherwood in a new way. The other pearl of the day came to me as a glass mounted slide that I uncovered among some photographs. The slide is of an early set up for a wildlife diorama. Multiple letters were sent to experts in several fields to make sure every aspect of these mounted depictions were authentic. Let me know if you can find a blade of grass out of place!
During our time spent in the Mammalogy archive we came across a large bound collections of newspaper clippings and published bulletins. The newspapers dated from the beginning of the twentieth century to just after World War II and were in pretty good condition barring a few preservation issues. Many of the newspaper clippings were held together by paper clips that have left some marks and indentations. Other clippings were secured to the pages by a mysterious adhesive that amazingly left no residue on the articles. Many articles were held to their page by metal paperclips. The paperclips were not rusted but still threatened the long term health of the clippings. Still, despite the relatively decent condition of the articles, they were yellowing and brittle.
The biggest collection featured the work of Richard Archbold, an American zoologist and philanthropist who undertook multiple expeditions on behalf of the Museum. The collection featured articles detailing his exploits in New Guinea as well as his use of the latest equipment, such as ham radios. Having come across multiple collections, we speculated about their use. A few guesses included publicity to highlight the work of the Museum to procure additional funding, vanity, or simply to chart previous efforts. Either way, the collections should be handled with care so that future researchers can ask and answer the same questions.
Here’s a picture of one of Richard Archbold’s scrapbooks.
TagsAinu AMNH library catalog Anthropology Archives Archbold Archival Arrangement archives Authority Names CAT Cataloging CLIR 2010 clir 2012 Correspondence Crocker Land Department of Preparation and Installation Department Records EAC-CPF expeditions Fall 2011 Field Notes Finding Aid finding aids Hayden Planetarium Herpetology Archives hidden connections IMLS LARA linked data Mammalogy Archives Manuscript Collection Museum History Non-Curatorial Field Notes Ornithology Archives Paleontology Archives Phase 2 photographs Photo Print Collection Processing Research Library Risk Assessment Slide Collection Spring 2011 Spring 2012 Summer 2011 Summer 2012 T. Don Carter
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