- Field books
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“It is quite probable that the facts of distribution, life history, and economic status may finally prove to be of more far-reaching value, than whatever information is obtainable exclusively from the specimens themselves.”
From: “The Methods and Uses of a Research Museum” by Joseph Grinnell (1915), Popular Science Monthly 77: 163–169.
Last week’s annual meeting of the Society of American Archivists provided a great opportunity for three CLIR recipients to meet about our proposed panel for the Hidden Collections Symposium in March. Christina Fidler, Museum Archivist, Museum of Vertebrate Zoology, University of California, Berkeley and Rusty Russell, Collection Manager, Botany, Smithsonian Institution and I were joined by Tim White who was unable to be there in person. Tim is Director of Collections and Operations at the Peabody Museum of Natural History and we all connected via Rusty’s mobile phone set to speaker, as we sat on the lawn outside the conference hotel. What brought two archivists and two collection managers together? Besides being CLIR natural science museum recipients, we share an enthusiasm for linking access to archives and scientific specimen and data collections.
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Iris joined me today on my maiden voyage into the slide collection of the Museum. The day began with bugs and ended in spiders but brought us to Aztec ruins, street markets in India and the San Juan Yacht club before bringing us closer to home with the animals of Bear Mountain and the original 1920 library staff of the Museum. I smelled my first band-aid scented glass mounted slide (delicious!) and found out that George Borup, a team leader on the Peary Exploration of the North Pole, rode 3255 miles on a dog sled to drop supplies in advance for the rest of the team.
The main point that needs to be followed up on from today’s work is to find out who Max Pine was and why a collection was attributed to him–there is no mention of his name anywhere except for on the outside of the collection box.
It was fun being taken around the world with the collection and I’m just hoping that the other images from the day will keep the final image I saw from my mind when I go to sleep tonight:
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.
Today was our first day in Invertebrate Zoology. We were greeted by our nice new friends: tarantulas and hissing cockroaches.
At first, we tried to get a sense of the collection’s scope and order. Some items were in banker’s boxes, while others were neatly arranged in file cabinets. To get our feet wet, we decided to work on the correspondence collections in the file cabinets. At first the process was a little slow, but we soon caught our rhythm which made things go much more smoothly. For the most part, nothing terribly interesting jumped out to us; however, there were a number of envelopes with photographs in the Pedro Wygodzinsky collection that appeared to span his personal and professional lives. We hope to examine these closer when we enter Phase II of the project; as well as several bundles of field notes, drawings, and diaries scattered throughout this selection.
One major perk we came across in the second file cabinet we opened was a set of inventory sheets prepared in 1986 as part of a New York Historical Document Inventory project. This was an enormous help to us in while we were creating records for the larger collections. For example, the dates on these forms were a huge time saver because they saved us the effort of getting a selection of dates from the files.
Stay tuned for what treasures we come across next week.
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.
The quest to complete the inventory for the field notebooks continued today in Mammalogy. In last week’s episode, we faced the choice of whether to complete one record for the entire collection or record the basic information for each individual record. After contemplating what a collection-wide record would look like, we decided on the latter course of action. Depending on the creator, collections have varied in size from one folder within an archival box to several bound volumes. We came up with seven basic categories. The first pertains to the name range for archival boxes containing more than one collection. With this information those responsible for retrieval should be able to locate the requested materials more easily. Next we designated a space for creators, dates and expedition names or locations. The Type field describes whether the field notes are journals, catalogs, correspondence or notes. This is followed by a general notes field and extent.
With the completion of this project, we are hoping that the original collections will be more accessible in the online catalog. As an example, we found the following microfilm record in the AMNH catalog:
The original was inventoried just today and may hopefully get its own call number in the near future. Archival work means big dreams.
Today we started to catalog the extensive field notes collection in the Department of Mammalogy library. This valuable collection is made up of field books, specimen catalogs, species accounts, notes, correspondence, etc. Some of the works are collected in library-bound volumes; others are stored in folders in archival boxes. As we went through the collection, we learned more about what makes up a field book. They can be the journals kept during an expedition, but can also include written entries, newspaper clippings, photographs, business cards, and even footprints. We learned that they also come in all sorts of shapes and sizes and are made of all sorts of different (and some very pulpy) kinds of papers. In the field notes collection, we also found other works that go beyond the narrow definition of a field book, such as photograph and lantern slide indexes from expeditions. We also found lists and lists of specimens that were donated, purchased or collected for the Museum.
Today was our first day participating in the summer semester internship program. After getting our ID cards, we made our way to the Department of Mammalogy Archive, the home of the Museum’s original library. Throughout the summer, we will be exploring the archive to inventory and record the contents of the collection. Today we worked on phase one of the project. We found some nicely processed collections containing departmental correspondence, administrative files and Richard Archbold files. The photographs from the Archbold expeditions to Arizona, Cape York and New Guinea are stored in black rolling cabinets with pull-out racks with pictures sleeved individually. The Field Notes Collection proved more challenging: what to do with them and how will they be entered: as one record or broken down by expedition? We also found some unprocessed collections: B. Elizatbeth “Betty” Horner papers and the Marie Lawrence papers. Most of the collections we encountered were well organized allowing us to get familiar with the working conditions and the cataloging worksheet. At the end of the day, we had a chance to look around the rest of the archive and brace ourselves for the upcoming challenges.
As far as we know, this collection of negatives represents the last piece of the T. Don Carter Collection. It was discovered in the library stacks recently, not far from where Richard had been working on the collection. It’s certainly a fascinating find: a few hundred negatives, all related to Carter expeditions: to Abyssinia in 1928, Indochina in 1931 and West China in 1934. Today, we focused our energies on making sense of the large collection of negatives from Abyssinia. Consulting the field notes from that expedition, we learned that Carter visited the region in November and December of 1928.
The negatives came to us in no apparent order. There were certain potential series within the collection: portraits of the local population, portraits of Carter and the others on his expedition, shots of the specimens that were gathered, and scenes from camp. Pictures were devoted to the expedition’s mules, which seem to have a special place in Carter’s heart. Not only were these cantankerous animals the subject of many photographs, but their habits and personalities are observed in the notebooks. Alongside the mules, there were plenty of mice, dead or alive. In one curious photo, Carter and a pal hold up their kill — two tiny mice — while resting leaning upon their rifles. How you still get a usable specimen with that kind of firepower is beyond me.
A slightly more sinister photo we found involved nothing less than a plague of locusts. A young man walks across a field, stirring up thousands of locusts that had recently decimated the crops in the area.
In arranging and describing the T. Donald Carter Field Book Collection, a question emerged that required delving into the topic of field books with more specificity than had previously been required. Though he was AMNH Assistant Curator of Mammals, TDC was what you might call an obsessive bird bander from his youth through post-retirement. Whether it was at his country house in New Jersey or while on expedition in South America for the AMNH, TDC engaged in bird banding activities all the time. What exactly is bird banding, you ask? I had to learn that as well: bird banding is an attempt to track bird migration by placing a ring around one of their feet. The TDC bird banding books include recorded date regarding dates, locations and numerical values assigned to different birds. I was unsure if these activities, outside of the scope of TDC’s official scientific department and conducted outside of his purview as AMNH mammals curator, constituted field books, as the TDC personal Papers are a distinct collection from the Field Books from scientific expeditions sponsored by the musuem.
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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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