Currently viewing the tag: "expeditions"

I’m currently interning at the American Museum of Natural History, working on their CLIR Hidden Collections project. The project has focused on the creation of EAC-CPF (Encoded Archival Context – Corporate bodies, Persons, and Families) records, in an attempt to highlight the individuals associated with AMNH expeditions. One of the goals of the project was to shed light on people in connection with these expeditions that researchers and the public may not be aware. While working on a record for explorer Carl Ethan Akeley, it struck me just how much one particular individual was not given more attention: his wife, Mary L. Jobe Akeley. The archives at AMNH house the Mary L. Jobe Akeley collection (Call nos. A342-A344), gifted by her estate in 1967 and 1977. The information within this substantial collection was used to craft an EAC-CPF record for Jobe herself, but I decided to go one step further to bring to light the accomplishments of this remarkable woman.

            There is an antiquated saying: behind every great man there is a great woman. This was never truer (and perhaps misleading) in the case of Mary Lenore Jobe Akeley.  In the world of explorers, it is Carl Ethan Akeley’s name that is more commonly known.  From his work with the Chicago Field Museum to his creation of the Akeley Motion Picture camera to his passion and desire to create the African Hall exhibition at the American Museum of Natural History (now entitled the Akeley Hall of African Mammals), it is Carl Akeley who we mostly remember. Few laypersons are aware of Mary Jobe Akeley and the work she had been performing long before she married, and well after.

             Born on January 29, 1878 in Tappan, Ohio, Jobe grew up with aspirations of being an explorer. She was bright, attending college by age 15 and earning two degrees, a Bachelor of Philosophy, and a Master of Arts by 1909. In 1930, she received an honorary degree of Doctor of Literature from Mt. Union College.  While in school she taught grammar and high school and was a member of numerous faculties, including the Head of the Department of history and Civics at the New York State Normal and Training School at Cortland and member of the Department of History at the Normal College of the City of New York(1). Throughout all of this, Jobe also began embarking on expeditions.

KIC Image

          Jobe’s main area of interest was the Canadian Rockies. Throughout the span of her life she would participate in ten expeditions to British Columbia. Her first two expeditions were in 1905 and 1907, where she helped botanize for Dr. Charles Shaw of the University of Pittsburgh. She would return in 1909, this time with Professor Herschel C. Parker, assisting in the Canadian Topographical Survey Expedition. Her next two expeditions, in the summers of 1910 and 1912 found Jobe exploring areas around Mt. Assiniboine and the Great Divide. During this time, she not only took numerous notes and photographs while on her expeditions, but she also began lecturing at various institutions about her discoveries (a newspaper article from 1913 indicated she gave over 40 lectures on the topic in 1912 alone) (1).

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In 1935, Henry Raven set out with Arthur S. Vernay, Stephen F. Hopwood, and other hunters, academics, and guides on a research trip to Burma. He served as lead scientist, collector, and primary photographer. Following along the northern section of Chindwin River, the group set out to document the indigenous birds, tribes, and customs of the area for further comparison and study back at the AMNH.

Before Raven left on the expedition, he first had to itemize and arrange for all the things he would need for the following three months. Some he would acquire personally, others were supplied by the museum, and even more items would have to be purchased with traveling funds once the team was en route through England, Bombay, and Rangoon.

‘List of Material Required for the Burma Expedition.’ Filed in Vernay, Folder  III-B3, Division of Vertebrate Zoology, Department of Mammalogy Archives, AMNH.

‘List of Material Required for the Burma Expedition.’ Filed in Vernay, Folder III-B3, Division of Vertebrate Zoology, Department of Mammalogy Archives, AMNH.

‘List of Material Required for the Burma Expedition.’ Filed in Vernay, Folder  III-B3, Division of Vertebrate Zoology, Department of Mammalogy Archives, AMNH.

‘List of Material Required for the Burma Expedition.’ Filed in Vernay, Folder III-B3, Division of Vertebrate Zoology, Department of Mammalogy Archives, AMNH.

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Have you ever walked through the halls of the American Museum of Natural History and imagined what it was like for a scientist in the 1920s to gather specimens and interpret important data? As a seasonal intern for the CLIR Hidden Collections project, I’m helping uncover and organize information documented by the museum and its staff for all interested researchers. Recently I’ve been working with the papers of Henry Cushier Raven, an Associate Curator of Comparative and Human Anatomy at the Museum and the plethora of his scientific reports- one of which had a very unique origin story…

AMNH neg.311245

“Hall of Ocean Life, showing assembling whale skeletons”, December 1925.
AMNH neg.311245

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After a week in Canada visiting family it’s back to business here in the AMNH Archives and Special Collections. Today I set myself a task: find the starting point for the Museum’s Northern Plains anthropological research. When and how did it begin? What was its rationale? Obviously these are good things to know when it comes to writing historical notes, but such disparate and extensive programs that extend across decades, under different curators and evolving departments, do not necessarily come with helpful and legibly-transcribed notes for future historians.

So: I went backwards. I read Museum publications from before the systematic plains research began and from the early years of the Department of Anthropology. Unsurprisingly, I didn’t find my perfect explanation, but I did find several early expeditions that provided the groundwork for—and probably piqued the interest of—those who would become involved in the Plains research. My impressions are that the personal interests of curators and patrons, a theoretical vogue around ideas of cultural dispersal, opportunism, the fear that indigenous American culture was vanishing under the onslaught of westernization, and the slow convergence of several research directions morphed into a sort of direction that could then be defined and made systematic.

No day would be complete without new questions being raised, and as usual mine are related to the organization of data. Around the turn of the century, expeditions tended to be named after a patron or destination and identified discretely; later they became field trip-components of larger projects that attempted to link, to compare and to contrast the findings of individual staff members. I’m reminded of just how important it is that this data can be sorted by fields such as ‘expedition name’, where appropriate, or ‘research program’ or ‘year’ as well as by explorer. As I’ve mentioned before, explorer name is extremely useful when it comes to tracking the often seemingly inexplicable movements of staff around North America. However, it is also necessary that context is provided to link these individuals to their place in the wider work of the Museum both at any one time and over time.

Now I just need to figure out how to enter these earlier expeditions into my name-based Excel system. There’s nothing like an evolving methodology to keep things lively!

While interning in the Anthropology Division under the supervision of Ms. Kristen Mable, Registrar for Archives & Loans, I had the opportunity to work with some very interesting collections, the first being the Papers of Junius Bouton Bird, 1907-1982, regarding his research in North America. Bird, a careful excavator and pioneer in the use of radiocarbon dating and textile studies was best known for his South American research. He became the Curator of South American archaeology at the American Museum in 1957. Bird sailed to the Arctic several times, becoming an expert sailor while doing archaeological research work in areas such as: Eastern Greenland, Hopedale, Labrador, Cape York and Southampton Island, to name a few. Artifacts from Bird’s excavations in Labrador and Southampton Island can be found in the AMNH Anthropology Division’s collections.

Junius Bouton Bird sailing, possibly on the schooner "Morrissey".

As I explored the field reports, correspondence and photographs in this collection, I came across an interesting photograph of an artifact known as the “spindle whorl”, found at the L’Anse aux Meadows Norse Vikings settlement ruins on the Northern coast of Newfoundland. This site was first discovered by Helge Ingstad, a Norwegian adventurer and writer, in 1960 by following a hunch and an ancient map. This site, found to be almost a millennium old, was believed to be the place where Vikings landed in North America about 500 years before Christopher Columbus. The “spindle whorl” artifact was in fact, a yarn spinner, about 1000 years old, which proved that the Viking settlers included women, who performed household tasks. Bird did conservation work at the site from 1961 to 1964 and also gave a lecture on the Norse. His notes and slides from the lecture can be found in this collection as well.

The Spindle Whorl artifact found at the Norse Vikings "L'Anse aux Meadows" site on the Northern coast of Newfoundland.

This collection also includes archaeological sites in the United States, such as mastodon sites in Hackensack, New Jersey and the Kunatah rock shelter in upstate New York, among others. Also included here are Bird’s papers on his research work in Honduras and Okinawa, Japan. Junius Bird died in New York in 1982, leaving behind plentiful evidence of his illustrious archaeological research work for future generations of people, researchers, students and interns, such as myself, to re-discover. I feel privileged to have worked on this exciting collection and grateful for this unique opportunity.


Barbara and I sat down last week to talk about how to collate the masses of data I’ve accumulated in my fact-finding expedition so far, which is—to put it mildly—all over the place. A Museum Journal article will state that RH Lowie visited a particular area in a particular year, an Annual Report will name the tribe visited, a photograph will suggest the presence of an assistant and, if I’m lucky, a helpful Anthropological Papers publication will state the rationale, broader project and funding source for the trip. On a really good day I stumble across some precise dates. All this is noted, alongside similarly random snippets for other Museum staff, in Word documents that are becoming increasingly unmanageable.

So: we decided to create an Excel document, using something that resembles Smithsonian EAC standards and will hopefully become useful in terms of the eventual transition to linked data: names, dates, locations, cultures studied, historical and biographical notes. A great idea – until I began to enter my findings. The biggest issue we have faced so far is how to group and sort data. ‘Expedition name’ becomes problematic as an identifier when multiple minor, unnamed trips form small parts of broader, named projects that extend over decades. ‘Staff name’ is problematic for the opposite reason – it makes no connection between multiple people working on the same broader project. Add to this the fact that many Museum staff spent a couple weeks in several different places for different projects on the same trip, and you have some severe categorization issues.

After some experimentation, we decided to list trips under the name of the expedition leader, which in many cases was the sole individual on the trip. The use of Excel means that the data can be sorted by other fields to find connections between trips based on time, place and broader project. A lot of information is still missing or unconfirmed, and what we have is extremely varied in its level of detail (one trip will be listed as ‘Summer 1914’, another simply as ‘1914’, another as ’12 August – 16 October 1914’) but it’s a start!

Hurricane Sandy has caused something of a delay to both my project and my blog posts, but everything is finally back at full steam ahead. Still, my thoughts are with everyone who is struggling with its ongoing impact.

As I have flicked through the Museum’s Annual Reports, Journal and Anthropological Papers publications, I’ve started to appreciate how enormous this task really is. Every year Museum staff (and enthusiastic volunteers) were sent out in all directions with an enormous variety of research tasks, some of which were cohesive parts of a larger project, and others which were somewhat opportunistic, such as that prompted by news of a building development on the site of unexcavated shell heaps in Florida.

While I began by focusing on one expedition at a time, which seemed like the most manageable approach, I soon realized that the sheer number of Museum staff in the field in any one year meant I would need to return to the same sources multiple times.

This approach also ignored the different levels of linkage and overlap between the expeditions. Robert H. Lowie’s expedition to Crow groups in Montana in 1910, for example, was part of a series of visits there he undertook over several years to gather, check and confirm data. It was also part of an ongoing attempt to analyze social organization among Plains Indians covering the area in the image below, which involved not only Lowie but also Clark Wissler, Alanson Skinner and Pliny E. Goddard, among others. This, in turn, was just one of several thematic studies within a broader project of investigating theories of cultural dispersal from Canada to the southwest United States, linking the Plains research with the Huntington Expedition as well as the Jesup North Pacific explorations.

Area covered by the Northern Plains research project

While this has meant my research needs to focus on several levels simultaneously, it has also been valuable in determining a scope for the project. Tangential explorations, side projects and self-sponsored volunteer investigations continue to pop up, however, so it will be interesting to see how these impact our ongoing attempt to create a framework for researchers.

I’m excited to have flown from sunny Sydney to New York (sunny upon my arrival but sadly stormy as time moved on) to be part of this project for the next six weeks. As an historian with an emphasis on photography and 2oth century culture, the potential of linked data to cross disciplinary boundaries is incredibly exciting. Not only will it create new ways to find information, it also allows context to be built up around diverse objects in a variety of locations. It means that a given expedition photograph and its metadata will no longer languish in an obscure corner of the internet. Instead, it can be linked to a story, with a date, a location, and actors who might have written about their experience, not to mention the other photographs they took and the objects they collected.

My job is to work on the context part of this project, producing historical and biographical notes for expeditions and their participants. The Museum’s southwest expeditions exist in the archives as a tangle of personalities, itineraries and discoveries. In the next few weeks I’ll continue a long process of unravelling the stories and making connections with photographs in the archives, and hopefully bring these valuable sources one step closer to becoming linked data.

I’ll be keeping track of my method and findings on here, so stay tuned!


Among the materials we cataloged today was a collection of accession records from the 1930s through the 1950s for materials used in AMNH exhibitions such as the Theodore Roosevelt Memorial and on the polar expeditions of Amundsen-Ellsworth and Admiral Richard E. Byrd. The most interesting part of these materials were the inventory lists of Admiral Byrd’s Antarctic expedition equipment. Should you find yourself in need of a reference for what to bring on a trip to Antarctica, I think we might be able to help you.

Sample expedition exhibition inventory list.

Also, it appears that Admiral Byrd’s footwear of choice was made by Thom McAn.

Advertisement for Thom McAn shoes.

Something else we learned today is that the Museum once had a Department of Geography. This department was quite short-lived, starting in 1934 and ending in 1938. According to the documents in the collection we worked with, once the department was closed, its Geographical Exploration collection’s materials were transferred to the Custodial department for storage.

Internal memo about Dept. of Geography's demise and subsequent material transfer.

There are extensive inventory lists from the Dept. of Geography for all items kept by the Museum from various expeditions, such as ones done by Lincoln Ellsworth, Admiral Byrd, and E.O. Hovey. There was also a ledger of geographical collections accession records from the department, which included details about photographs and other materials from expeditions that were once kept by this department.

Page from accession records ledger.

There were plenty of things to explore in this collection. However, one thing that remains a mystery to us is the more recent provenance of these records. They were found in a box with unrelated records from the Office of Public Affairs and seem to have come from the Department of Preparation and Installation. Perhaps they were just misplaced at one time. Hopefully, the data we have gathered will help to place them closer where they belong in the future.

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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