Currently viewing the category: "Phoebe Stein"

Well, it’s the end of my time here at AMNH, and it’s certainly been a great experience. I’ve enjoyed looking into some of the Museum’s hidden collections and making records for them so that one day they won’t be so hidden. Since most of my work was in the Anthropology Department, and because there is yet work to be done there, I’ve created a summary of what has been completed there, and what is left to be done by interns this Fall.

All locations in the Anthropology Archive have undergone Phase 1 cataloging.Todd and I began this work in the Spring semester, and thought that because the Department already had their own records this phase would go fairly quickly. It took much longer than expected because we were overly thorough in our additions to the records of things like Physical Description, and additions to the Summary field. Verifying authority records using the Library of Congress Authorities site also took considerable time.

The Server Room (Room 36), Anthropology 2 (Room 14), and the Hallway Map case have undergone Phase 2 risk assessment.Still needing risk assessment are Anthropology 1 (Room 15), Hallway filing cabinets outside of Anthropology 1, and Hallway cabinets outside of the kitchen area.



Bolding in the cataloging spreadsheet indicates new entries or information that was added to the records since obtaining the Department’s original catalog records from Kristen Mable.

Anywhere in the cataloging spreadsheet that the creator is listed as “AMNH Department of Anthropology,” the authorized heading is “American Museum of Natural History. Dept. of Anthropology.”I believe I’ve changed all of these using Excel’s find and replace function, but did not check line by line.

Field Notes were identified by determining whether the material appeared to be a first person account or observation of time spent in the field where the researcher was working.This includes field data sheets, sketches of sites, notes on what the researcher saw or heard at the site, and diaries kept while in the field.

Today in Anthropology I worked with Lauren to complete the risk assessment in Location II. There were only about 10 collections left in this location, and fortunately they were fairly large and generally only 1 or 2 collection units. We finished the risk assessment in this location before lunch, and moved on to the map case in the Anthropology hallway after lunch. Our favorite find from Location II today was this floor plan of an unknown museum from the “Notes on Museum Collections in Europe and America, 1911-1930” collection. Notice the bear hunt scene at the far left.

After lunch, we completed risk assessment on the hallway map case, and found these drawings of clay dolls from the collection of James Alfred Ford.

Next week we hope to finish risk assessment on the remaining hallway cabinets, which will bring us much closer to finishing both phases in Anthropology – hooray!

Today Becca and I wrapped up some final loose ends in Ichthyology. We spent the morning verifying some summary information with Barbara Brown for our catalog records and gathered date information for some collections that were missing it. We also made temporary post-it labels to identify which collections were in the various cabinets and drawers we’ve been digging through for the past couple weeks. Eventually these locations will get permanent labels when our catalog records are integrated into the OPAC.

Just before lunch, we were able to see into the rare books cabinet in the Dean Library that had been locked last week. The inside door of the cabinet had a cabinet organization chart which gave the set location of each book on the shelves. After briefly glancing at it with Barbara Brown, we noticed a few books appeared to be missing right off the bat. That will definitely need some investigation. We observed that several of the older and more worn books were tied with red string, but otherwise appeared not to have any data loss.

Here’s the cabinet, located in an alcove behind the movable shelving:

Barbara expressed some curiosity about why certain books were housed in the cabinet, and others on the movable shelving that appeared old and unique were not. Perhaps this collection needs a reevaluation, however a book’s age and appearance don’t necessarily betray its level of “rareness.” These are definitely some things to think about for the risk assessment portion of this project. As far as our documentation goes in this department however, we’re done! All that remains is the written report of our data that will be presented to the Ichthyology Department.

For the past two days Becca and I continued our work in the Ichthyology Archives. On Wednesday we focused our efforts in the department’s storage room, where we needed to finish filling out our catalog records and assess risks for all of the collections in this location. We were also able to finally see into two filing cabinets that had been locked and unseen for many years. One turned out to be a dud, and completely empty. The other, however, was full of a previous department curator’s research on intersexuality in fishes. As yet, this research is unprocessed but seems to be organized very well, which bodes well for future processing. We also came across some interesting objects that were completely foreign to us. We had to ask a member of the Department exactly what they were. Can you guess? (Click to enlarge.)

They’re S.E.M. preps, or Scanning Electron Microscope preparations. In this case, organic specimen samples, such as fish skin and bones, have been cleaned and given a very fine plating of gold. The specimens are then mounted to be viewed under an electron microscope. Pretty neat sciency stuff! Anyways, I was impressed.

Thursday morning we moved into the Ichthyology Department’s Dean Library. It is organized well, and kept quite cool, however the room does not have any humidity control. We did find a HOBO humidity data logging device on one of the shelves, but it’s unknown if the data is still being collected from it. We measured the linear feet of the books on the shelves, and took an individual count of the department’s rare books from their inventory sheet since the cabinet was locked. In the afternoon we measured the collection sizes of the department’s bulletins, novitates, financial records, and specimen loan paperwork. This information was then added to our cataloging and risk assessment databases, effectively completing our dataset for the entire Ichthyology Archive!

In the next couple weeks I’ll likely be returning to the Anthropology Archive to pick up where Todd and I left off with the risk assessment phase at the end of the Spring semester.

Yesterday and today were my first two days back at the Museum since the end of the Spring semester. I spent this time in the Department of Ichthyology Archive with Becca – quite a change from my previous work in the Anthropology Archive! This archive includes specimen catalog record sheets, published studies, data sheets, field notes and notebooks, x-rays of some of the department’s alcoholic preserved fish, Museum Novitates and Bulletins, maps, photographic prints, film and magnetic tape, and several unprocessed boxes.

Yesterday we began working in the mezzanine level hallway where the specimen catalog record sheets, published studies, data sheets, and field notes and notebooks are stored. Since this location is fairly compact, we were able to complete cataloging and risk assessment on these collections in one day. Our only risk-related concern in this location pertains to the field notebooks, some of which contained loose, unbound pages, and whose spines and headbands are showing some wear and deterioration.

This morning we tackled the department’s x-rays, which are stored neatly, if very tightly, in a filing cabinet in the very cool (double meaning!) skeleton storage room. After that quick job, we moved to the lower level where the map case is located. We estimated that about 630 maps, including topographical, water system, and a few annotated maps, organized by geographic region were in the case. These maps have been used for research and to define coordinates where specimens were gathered.

Next, we moved into the department’s storage room, where the Museum Novitates and Bulletins, photographic prints, film and magnetic tape, and unprocessed boxes are housed. This room unfortunately suffered a flood at the end of December 2010, so some items have been damaged by water, although the extent is unknown. We peeked into several filing cabinet drawers that held countless photographs of people, fishing locations, old exhibits, and even a Parisian fish cannery. We added preliminary titles for several of this room’s collections to our spreadsheet, but have not yet completed the cataloging phase. That will likely happen next week when we visit the archive again. Until then, take a look at some of our finds:

Axolotl with melanoma drawn from life in the lab in 1947.

Magnetic audio tape from "Indian Ocean Expedition" conference.

Drawer of photos in envelopes.

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This afternoon Phoebe and I completed the Risk Assessment phase of the project for the collections in Room 36 of the Anthropology Department. This includes the Photographs Collections and oversize materials related to the Department’s Accession Files and various Curatorial Collections. Information regarding the extent, format, and condition of these collections is now gathered in a database devoted to this particular location in the Department. Below is an example of some artwork in good condition:

Having finished this phase of the project, if only in one location out of several, we got the sense that the Risk Assessment phase of the project is equally as intensive and time-consuming as the Cataloging phase. Obviously these impressions are specific to the Anthropology Department and likely not entirely applicable to the Museum’s other science departments. Nonetheless, the experience should be informative for the future of the project.

Our experience in the Anthropology Department was undeniably a positive and enjoyable one. It was a great privilege to have access to some of the amazing collections in the Museum’s possession that are not generally available to the public. Throughout our time in the Anthropology Archives, Kristen Mable was a tremendous help to us.  When we did take a step back from the projects we were focusing on, we would frequently marvel at the skill and effort required to manage such a large and active archive from day to day. We are also grateful for the support of Becca, Iris, Barbara and the rest of the team members in managing the more complex aspects of the project and allowing us to immerse ourselves in the work before us. We’re looking forward to continuing this project in the summer.

As Phoebe and I continued the cataloging phase of our project today, we created entries for the Anthropology Department’s Exhibition Files. These collections frequently contained floor plans and blueprints for both temporary and permanent Exhibition Halls that have opened and closed over the course of the Museum’s history. In addition to these documents, the collections usually contained related research, correspondence and photographs. Particularly interesting were the volumes of accumulated label copy from old exhibits. Some photographs of models prepared for the Mexican Hall were very impressive. The materials from the Blackfeet Teepee Exhibit were greatly varied and provided a great deal of insight into Native American cultural practices. Included in the collection was an informative step-by-step guide to tanning animal hides using a mixture of moss and the animal’s brain. The guide explained how the glycerides in the brain tissue are highly effective in softening the hide being tanned. Though fairly gruesome sounding, it’s a traditional practice that has been used for centuries.

Today’s work in the Anthropology Archives was greatly influenced by a project status meeting held last Wednesday. The meeting was primarily focused around establishing respective target paces for the Cataloging and Risk Assessment projects. Based on the number of collections left to be cataloged at the time of the meeting (about 50) and the time remaining before the Risk Assessment aspect of the project is slated to begin in Anthropology, Phoebe and I were asked if we could create catalog records for roughly 10 collections each day. While we fell one collection shy of meeting this daily quota, a couple of the collections we completed today were fairly large and a great deal of ground was covered. As there are only two Curatorial Field Notes Collections left to be cataloged before we move on to the Photograph Collections, we feel comfortable about our pace moving forward. It seems as if we’ve reached a certain degree of efficiency, moving quickly through the collections but still finding time to note interesting items and take some photographs for the blog.

Of note today were some sketches of Teotihuacan figurines from the collection of George C. Vaillant, the passport of Wendell Bennett from the year 1926, and a well-illustrated field notebook created by Richard Allan Gould and Junius Bird. We were also pleased to observe a collection of photographs in excellent condition from Stanley A. Freed’s expeditions to India. All of the photos were housed in plastic sleeves and stored either in leather bound albums or archival folders. There was no evidence of curling or deterioration.

This morning Phoebe and I, as well as Becca, Iris, and fellow Special Collections Interns Sean and Jenny, had the privilege of attending the repeat performance of Stephen Quinn’s presentation on his expedition to revisit the site of inspiration for Carl Akeley’s mountain gorilla diorama. Akeley’s expedition to Africa was led in 1921, when the sketch was made that would serve as the background of the well-known diorama in the Hall of the African Mammals. Quinn’s presentation, which utilized various historic images and video footage from his own expedition, related his effort to communicate to Museum visitors and staff alike that the backdrops of the dioramas are in fact actual landscapes subject to the changes caused by natural processes and human activity. This notion was highlighted by Quinn’s updated depiction of the diorama site. In Quinn’s 2010 painting of the site refugee camps, a radio tower, and evidence of agriculture are clearly visible in place of untouched wilderness. Quinn’s presentation was truly moving and thought provoking, especially in regards to the need for wildlife conservation and the important role the Museum can play in educating the public about such an issue.

This afternoon, our work on the Curatorial Field Notes Collections continued. We encountered some very interesting collections, including those of Nels C. Nelson, Gordon F. Ekholm, and Junius Bird. Being very well-traveled, Nelson’s collection covered a diverse range of locales. A sizable portion of his collection though, came from the American Southwest. Ekholm’s collection focused on Mexico and Central America and contained a fair amount of photographic material. Of note were a collection of postcards depicting native peoples and scenes, as well as some amazing color glass slides of Mayan ruins at Chichen Itza. Unfortunately these didn’t lend themselves very well to being photographed. As for the overall scope of the project, our transition to Room 14 has allowed us to get a better sense of the ground we will need to cover in order to complete the cataloging phase of the project in the projected time frame.

Phoebe and I continued our work in the Anthropology Archive today. With the arrival of new shelving units to store the Department’s correspondence collections our physical workspace was considerably reduced. Despite the lack of space, the shelves did come in handy for laying out some of the collections, especially for the purpose of photographing some highlights for the blog.

We finished cataloging and verifying the collection records on one wall in Room 15, where the Non-Curatorial Field Notes Collections are housed. In order to avoid interrupting the work of some researchers, we moved from this side of the room to the central filing units to begin creating a record for the Department’s collection of Original Catalogs. Even after creating records for the Accession Files, getting just a vague impression of how many items have come into the Museum’s possession over the years is still stunning.

There were several collections we came across today which were of interest. There were some interesting watercolor illustrations of Panamanian pottery samples in the collection of A. Hyatt Verrill. One find of particular interest was in the collection of the South American Land and Exploration Company. In addition to correspondence and other records, there was an issue of the publication “India Rubber World” from the year 1897. The Company had investments in rubber tree forests in some countries in South America. Several articles concerning the proper germination of rubber tree seeds were circled in pencil.