Currently viewing the tag: "EAC-CPF"

Naturalist John Burroughs and Industrialist, Henry Ford in first Ford Car, 1913

Naturalist John Burroughs and industrialist, Henry Ford in first Ford Car, 1913

 The AMNH Library has been very, very…very! busy lately. This year started with the web migration in January that resulted in our magnificent new web site (kudos to Mai Reitmeyer, Gregory Raml, Jen Cwiok and Susan Lynch and Tom Baione, our fearless Library Director).

Some web links were lost in transition but have been repaired and the new site is a welcome improvement. Look for our new image database to be launched in the fall!

The new CLIR grant began in February and Iris Lee and Becca Morgan and I spent the spring planning and developing the project. Our summer interns are here and working away as you can see from Cara and Alison’s insightful postings below. We will be interviewing interns for the fall term at the end of next week. Nick Krabbenhoeft joined our team on July 15th for a six month practicum for his degree at the University of Michigan and has been consulting with Tom Trombone from AMNH Ornithology, Lawrence Gall from Yale’s Peabody Museum and Brian Wilson from The Henry Ford about the intricacies and vagaries of KE EMu software used by many of the AMNH science departments for their collections. We are investigating how the program might be used for AMNH archival records and whether it can be used to keep the EAC-CPF records that we’ve begun to produce. EMu does accommodate archival collection records in EAD in its cataloging module. Next on the list to investigate is ArchiveSpace. Iris has begun drafting the functional requirements for a system that can be used for our project to develop a cyberinfrastructure to hold our growing stores of data and based on that document, we will begin to make structured comparisons based on need, functionality and costs.

Creating and harnessing the data (sometimes this does feel like the Manhattan project!) has begun and we are struggling with issues like documenting workflows and managing permissions for the data sets in the spread sheets. Right now, Iris is the data master. This is one of the main reasons we need a content management system for the collection records (in EAD) that we created during the last CLIR project along with the creator records for names of persons and of expeditions (in EAC-CPF), and finally, for the biographical and historical notes that will relate and link many of the records, whether for collections or their creators. It’s a very interesting technological puzzle and we’re also in contact with a group working on a NYC Linked Open Data initiative.
Meanwhile, Becca, with her interns, is grappling with the conceptual issues regarding the creation of the narrative contextual notes that will be shared, in time, not only within the Museum but with other institutions. We’re closely following the development of a National Archival Authorities Infrastructure and the NAAC project. Our work shows the need for a redefinition of the contextual notes that were traditionally associated with collection descriptions but are now also associated with entity descriptions and that will be shared among institutions. For example, how long should these notes be? The answer will depend upon a number of factors, including available time, of course, and the relevance of the entity to the institution. Expect more to come on this. It gets surprisingly complex. This is not your mother’s finding aid.

Finally, anticipating our next major project to digitize some 10,000 photographs in the AMNH collection depicting North American Anthropology, we’ve been identifying images directly associated with specific expeditions and developing the biographical and historical notes to associate with those archival collections. We want to get copies of these images back to their source communities working with library school students in programs that emphasize Native American and First Nation curricula. It all comes around and we will implement a collection level approach in our image database where we can use the contextual notes generated for this project for finding aids for the photographs, many of which were taken on Museum expeditions.

Yup, a little busy. I’ll be at the Society of American Archivists meeting on a panel chaired by Sarah Demb from the Museum of London, on Thursday August 15th, called “Pushing the Envelope: Using Object Collections Management Systems to Catalog Archives” along with Carol O. Bartels from the Historic New Orleans Collection, the aforementioned Brian Wilson from The Henry Ford, and Mary E. Hope from the U.S. Army Medical Department Center of History and Heritage. Hope to see you in New Orleans!

110219 1925 Mrs Davis, Beck and Correia at fan palmm

Mrs Davis, Beck and Correia at fan palm 1925

The AMNH ornithological Whitney South Sea Expedition conducted active field research from 1920 to 1941. My task of writing biographical authority records of the expedition members has revealed the fascinating lives of not only the scientists who participated, but also of the often overlooked wives and native guides who assisted in the research.

The initial list of 17 participants included only the male scientists who embarked from North America. The list has since expanded to 29 and continues to grow. The added names are the wives of the scientists and the native guides or crewmen hired to help traverse the difficult terrain. It is only in brief passing that these seemingly peripheral characters are mentioned. However, their presence should not be underestimated. One field journal notes that the ship engineer, a native of the South Seas cited as “Hicks”, not only maintained the boat but also assisted team leader Rollo Beck in skinning and preparing bird specimens for shipment back to the United States.

The scientists’ wives were not merely along for a tropical vacation — Ida Beck accompanied her husband for nearly the full eight years that Rollo Beck was the expedition leader. Their exploration of the hundreds of islands comprising the South Pacific was a rough campaign full of constant illness, intense physical exertion and danger, as well as months of isolation. Many contemporary newspaper articles in the Beck vertical file at the AMNH research library vaunt Mrs. Beck as a woman on holiday who basks in the exotic landscape. However, the field journals and notes show that Ida spent most of her days aboard the cramped expedition vessel, the France. While on land she collected bird specimens and took field notes, accompanying the team through the harsh landscape, leaving little leisure time.

Another woman, Virginia Correia, was usually only referred to as the wife of Jose Correia — her first name did not appear in research until her obituary was found. Jose Correia, a collector on WSSE, described in his journal the importance of Virginia’s presence on the expedition. She saved him countless hours by collecting birds while he hunted. She gathered eggs and skinned specimens, a skill, Jose wrote, in which she surpassed most men. However, Virginia was never mentioned in field updates or official correspondence. At one point the expedition even considered charging Jose fifty cents a day to have his wife on board the France.

114957 WSSE Fiji Yasawas island 1925 The France 0001

WSSE Fiji Yasawas Island – The France – 1925

Almost one hundred years after the Whitney South Sea Expedition began, our focus has shifted to include all participants of the voyage. At times it has presented a research challenge since official correspondence often omits crew members and women. However, having access to field journals has been an invaluable source in collecting names of all who were affiliated with WSSE. A rounded story is beginning to form and I am excited at the prospect of giving the women and guides of the expedition an equal place among the scientists.

Stairway in cliff, east of Chettro Kettle. Hand holes cut in the rock.

Working files and image: Stairway in cliff, east of Chettro Kettle. Hand holes cut in the rock.

I’m on an expedition to an expedition, digging in the archives of the American Museum of Natural History to rediscover the history of the Hyde Exploring Expedition to Ancestral Pueblo civilizations in the Southwest. Benjamin Talbot Babbitt Hyde and his brother Frederick E. Hyde, Jr., financed an expedition in the winter of 1893-1894 to excavate the Ancestral Pueblo cliff dwelling civilization in Pueblo Bonito. In addition to the cliff dwellers, evidence of an earlier “Basketmaking” civilization was discovered beneath the canyon floor. The finds were substantial, including thousands of cylindrical pottery vases unique to this site, turquoise, flutes, baskets, and human remains. A second expedition (the Whitmore Exploring Expedition) pursued the work in the midst of the bitterly cold winter of 1896-1897. The Hyde brothers purchased and donated the artifacts from both expeditions to the American Museum of Natural History and continued to sponsor further archeological digs in the region. B.T.B. Hyde became an assistant in the AMNH Department of Anthropology and directly participated in a 1920 expedition (the Cartier Expedition) to Pueblo Bonito to verify the earlier fieldwork.

Over time, the objects, photographs, and glass negatives became separated from the field notes, catalogues, and correspondence that provide essential documentary information and context. Artifacts and documentation about them migrated to other institutions and to separate departments within the AMNH. This fragmentation of records and scattering of finds tests the archivist: arrange and describe a collection of images (mostly glass negatives) that have literally and figuratively lost their legends.

In the course of this work, I am struck by the parallel worlds of the archivist and the archaeologist. Both require imagination about where to dig, a light touch in sifting through fragile remains of the past, respect for stratigraphy and the geology of time, careful documentation, and a good faith effort to shed the biases of the present to see the past in its true context. The end goal draws me in deeper like light at the end of a tunnel–OK, I confess to transient fears that the beam may be an oncoming train–but mostly I’m driven by the purpose of this project: to create a fully text-searchable EAD finding aid and EAC records that link information about the creators of records to the circumstances and context of their use. Upon completion, this project will facilitate research from within the Museum and from any point on the planet with an internet connection.

But where to begin? Start with Hyde and go seek. Museum archivist Barbara Mathé and project archivist Rebecca Morgan guided me to secondary sources to learn about the history of archaeology in Pueblo Bonito. Cowboys and Cave Dwellers: Basketmaker Archaeology in Utah’s Grand Gulch by Fred Blackburn and Ray Williamson was a propitious beginning. They describe a process of “reverse archaeology”–matching museum collections back to their original location and date of excavation. Their work, and that of the Wetherill-Grand Gulch Research Project, involves the painstaking association of museum collections and archives with the signatures and dates explorers etched on cavern walls more than a century ago. These sources also provided an initial cast of characters, information about the relationships between them, and insight into the history of (often bad) museum practices in an era of hot competition to amass collections from historic sites of Native American civilizations. Names of key players that were lost or maligned in history, like that of Hyde Exploring Expedition leader Richard Wetherill, emerged. The templates for EAC records created by metadata analyst Iris Lee help me think schematically and organize the vast sprawl of information as I dig.

Moving on to primary sources, including the Museum’s institutional records, is as rewarding as finding pottery shards in Pueblo Bonito must have been for Richard Wetherill and the Hyde brothers. A historical picture is coming together from fragmentary but vivid and authentic evidence. Of course the “eureka” moments are satisfying, but exploring and identifying where not to dig is equally useful in mapping a guide to this collection. In contrast to the narrow window of a Google search, meandering through primary source materials often leads to startling vistas, a zooming out from Pueblo Bonito to the broader social context of the times. This makes me wonder, is it disengagement from current conflicts in the world today or is it an engagement with science and history that makes a day in the AMNH archives so immensely satisfying? Pushing aside political correctness to evaluate the substance of thought that bears the imprint of its time and prejudices, I found an answer in a May 31, 1918 letter from then-President of the Museum, Henry Fairfield Osborn to B.T.B. Hyde. Amid the barbarism wrought by “civilized” man in WWI, Osborn writes to Hyde in the Southwest:

“I look forward with increasing interest to your exploration of the Aztec ruin; it is altogether a bright and encouraging prospect, and a great relief, with our emotions stirred by the terrible condition of affairs on the continent of Europe,–Nature calm, serene and beautiful, and the work of primitive [sic] man a great resource in these days of trouble.”



Eli PankenAt my high school in Scarsdale, NY, seniors enjoy a major perk at the end of their high school careers in the opportunity that is Senior Options. This six-week program encourages seniors to find an internship or complete an independent project of their interest and really get a chance to take part in a working environment. I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to work at American Museum of Natural History Research Library in Special Collections. I couldn’t think of a more appropriate place to work than the institution that sparked my educational career when I was a boy.

My work in Special Collections has been primarily with the vertical files, particularly with the biographical files. I worked four days a week condensing and verifying the information within the biographical files. Before I arrived, these files were split into Bio 1 and Bio 2. The separations indicated the relevance to the museum; those who were Bio 1 tended to be employees, trustees, or other individuals closely related to the museum, while those in Bio 2 tended to have a greater degree of separation from the museum. The work I did over the six weeks will hopefully make it easier for the library to create finding aids and eventually link the data of the biographical files with the data of the expedition files and other files to be determined. This will be extremely important for future research, as it will allow for information to be gathered quicker and easier than before via the different links.

While the work could be mundane at times, I am glad I had the opportunity to intern in the Special Collections and I am eternally grateful to all the staff who helped me along the way and were always so kind and caring. I am eager to go back and continue to work on the vertical files; I just know something incredible will come out of the whole linked data idea!

The Research Library of the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH) is pleased to announce that it was awarded $320,400 from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, through a program administered by the Council on Library and Information Resources’ (CLIR) Cataloging Hidden Collections. The AMNH Archive Project will produce in-depth descriptions, called finding aids, for major archival collections relating to Museum expeditions. The project will also result in brief histories of these expeditions and biographies of those who participated in them.

Scientific expeditions and field work are the foundation for resource gathering by natural science museums worldwide. The artifacts and specimens collected by AMNH researchers in the field form the core of American Museum of Natural History’s scientific research collections. The Lumholtz Expeditions to Mexico, 1890-98; the Jesup North Pacific Expedition, 1897-1902; the Vernay Hopwood Chindwin Expedition to Burma, 1934-35; the Whitney South Sea, 1921-37; the Archbold New Guinea, 1933-64; and the Central Asiatic Expeditions, 1921-30, are a few of the most prominent.

The notes, sketches, diaries, journals, specimen books, photographs, recorded sound, and moving images, made by scientists, artists and assistants collecting in the field, are held in each of the AMNH science departments and record their observations about the biology, cultural traditions and ecological conditions of the specimens and artifacts in their natural environments. Describing these archival records will enrich the experiences of all who use the AMNH scientific collections for research in the disciplines of systematic biology, ecology, cultural anthropology, and the history of science, as well as those who prepare exhibitions and educational programs for the millions of visitors to the Museum and its websites.

The project will result in the creation of an institutional cyber-infrastructure with an eye toward the long term integration of information about the archival collections and the objects and specimens in the scientific collections in the AMNH, and ultimately, with related collections in other institutions using linked open data. These records will form the structure where digitized images of the collections, whether of a bat skeleton, a field sketch of a bird, a frog call, a film of a ceremony, or a photo of a paleontological dig may someday be accessed virtually. But on a more basic level it requires working in the archives held in the Research Library as well as in each of the Scientific Departments to organize and describe the physical collections.  “The core of the project is in the links we will make between the documentary records of the scientists in the field and materials they collected,” says Barbara Mathé, Project Director.  “It will allow researchers to locate materials that, up until this point, would not have been found to relate to their research.”

Libraries, archives, and cultural institutions hold millions of items that have never been adequately described. This represents a staggering volume of items of potentially substantive intellectual value, unknown and inaccessible to scholars. The Council on Library and Information Resources administers a national effort with the generous support of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to address this problem by awarding grants for supporting innovative, efficient description of large volumes of material of high value to scholars. Since the program began in 2008, eighty-seven grants totaling nearly $20M have been made to a variety of institutions nationwide. This is the second award from CLIR to support the AMNH Archive Project.

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