- Field books
Currently viewing the tag: "Finding Aid"
When walking to the exit in the 81st St. – Museum of Natural History subway station, among the creatures on the walls welcoming visitors to the museum is a fish that may appear to be just another prehistoric creature from some geological age long ago. In truth, it wasn’t until the twentieth century that paleontologists learned that this fish, previously thought to be a long extinct dino-era species found only in fossils, was alive and well in the waters off South Africa.
The Coelacanth (pronounced SEEL-uh-kanth) is an exceedingly rare and endangered species of fish that is related to land-dwelling vertebrates, and its lack of evolution over hundreds of millions of years make this fish what experts have dubbed a “living fossil”; the fish looks just as it did when it first appeared in the Devonian period fossil record, some 375,000,000 years ago. In 1938, fishermen caught the first living Coelacanth specimen near the mouth of the Chalumna River, right off the southeastern coast of South Africa. It was purportedly noticed in a fish market by a woman named Marjorie Courtenay-Latimer, who was a curator at the nearby East London Museum. She, in turn, sent sketches and a description of the primeval fish to renowned South African ichthyologist J.L.B. Smith who recognized it as a Coelacanth and named the species Latimeria chalumnae after Ms. Courtenay-Latimer and the river in which it was found. As of 1957 only 12 other living specimens had been found, all near the Comoros Islands, and were taken the Natural History Museum in Paris for study. The original discovery was hailed by scientists worldwide as one of the most important natural history discoveries of the century.
Continue reading »
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.
The George Newbold Lawrence Correspondence Collection
When I first began sorting through the hundreds of letters between Lawrence and his friends and colleagues in this collection, I expected the majority to be highly scientific—difficult for the average person to understand, loaded with terms and concepts foreign to non-ornithologists, and concerned with personal and institutional avifauna collections. Upon deeper inspection, many of the letters confirmed these suspicions. Some of Lawrence’s closest friends, including Baird and Cassin, held important positions in museums just beginning to establish their ornithology departments at the turn of the century. They dedicated their lives to bird study, and much of their correspondence reflects that. Though short, a letter from Robert Ridgway, Curator of Ornithology at the Smithsonian Institution and founding member of the American Ornithologists’ Union, packs in the scientific names of multiple new specimens found by their mutual friend Frederick A. Ober, discusses and compares the descriptions and habitats of the species, and references the exact pages of a source book to support his research.
In another letter from A.L.J.F. Sumichrast, a naturalist and collector, a list of bird species is included in dense letter written completely in French. References are made to small differences between scientific names and other ornithologists like Baird are cited in his discussion. Lawrence’s correspondence with John Grant Wells, an ornithologist, contains more of the same highly specialized talk.
But not all of the correspondence in this collection was so serious. In one of many letters to Lawrence, John Porter McCown shares his love of “wandering through the woods and making the acquaintance of the birds.” He talks about eliminating potential predators from his property– “I allow no cats about my shanty and I extend protection to the feathered tribes…The result is that my premises abound in birds – quails raise their young in my yard” — and goes on to note that he refrained from starting a collection of birds as he had “seen none but old friends.”
Letters like these display the dual-nature of ornithologists like Lawrence. Fascination with birds, often cultivated from a young age, led many to pursue the science and partake in the rigors of studying, naming and exhibiting species found all around the world. But, when possible, these men also protected birds in their natural habitats and resisted the compulsion to kill and collect for the advancement of science.
Hello everyone! After working through the spring semester with Claire and Becca in Invertebrate Paleontology, I’m two weeks into making my way through the George Newbold Lawrence Correspondence Collection. Lawrence was a nineteenth-century amateur ornithologist and author. His collection of over 8,000 bird skins and 300 new bird species was donated to the American Museum of Natural History in May 1887. The correspondence collection for which I’m currently creating a finding aid was given to the museum in 1929 and comprises hundreds of mostly handwritten letters by Lawrence and his friends and colleagues.
Lawrence was born on October 20, 1806 in New York City, but spent a good portion of his childhood at his father’s country home along the Hudson River. As a young man, he enjoyed observing and studying avifauna in their natural habitats across the wooded areas of Manhattan including Fort Washington Point and Manhattanville. Lawrence eventually went into partnership with his father in the wholesale drug business and became head of the firm in 1834. But after being introduced to Spencer Fullerton Baird who would become the first curator at the Smithsonian Institution in 1841, he devoted his life to the study and classification of birds.
Lawrence used his wealth and business background to finance several Smithsonian expeditions, and in 1842 published his first scientific paper on the Black Brant (Bernicula nigricans). This began his nearly fifty-year-long career of contributing ornithology papers to natural science periodicals. Together with Baird and American ornithologist John Cassin, Lawrence worked on the ninth volume of the Pacific Railway Reports, government-funded explorations, studies and surveys of the American West intended to discover the best route for the trans-continental railroad. The volume was eventually revised, expanded and republished in 1860 as The Birds of North America encyclopedia.
Throughout his life, Lawrence was an active member of the New York Lyceum of Natural History as well as the New York Historical and Geographical Societies. He eventually also became an Honorary Member of both the American Ornithologists’ Union and the Linnaean Society of New York. His knowledge of New World ornithology is widely celebrated: one genus and twenty bird species are named after Lawrence in recognition of his contribution to the science. He forms, together with Baird and Cassin, the great triumvirate of the Bairdian Epoch of American Ornithology.
I’m excited to continue working with and learning from the Lawrence collection. It’s incredibly well-organized with neatly labeled and alphabetized folders. Despite the fact that the majority of letters are from the mid-to-late nineteenth century, moreover, it’s amazing that the collection is in excellent condition. I’ve only just begun constructing its container list, but I’ve already become well-acquainted with Lawrence and his associates. In the coming weeks, I’ll describe some of the most interesting letters in the collection to provide a better sense of this businessman with a real passion for ornithology. Stay tuned!
Today marks the end of my journey with the Hayden Planetarium Interplanetary Reservations collection. It has been a long and tedious journey but the mission has been accomplished successfully. Although I cannot guarantee that humans will ever navigate via spacecraft from planet to planet, I can guarantee that if you wrote a letter to the Hayden Planetarium between the years of 1950-1953, and it was subsequently kept on file, then you can find your letter in this collection. I can also say that these letters are ready to be shipped to any company seeking passengers for space travel in the future. Although the passengers may be a bit old, or even deceased, this company will have a pool of hundreds of avid space travelers to choose from. It has been a joy arranging and describing the letters in this collection. I must admit that that I spent many hours just reading the letters from individuals all over the world longing for an opportunity to suit up and blast off to their favorite planet. The letters also brought me back in time a bit. Being 24 years old I kind of missed out on the whole Space Race of the Fifties and Sixties, and the excitement and paranoia that went along with it. So it was both cool and educational to read an elder generations thoughts and emotions. It was really interesting to read about the passion and enthusiasm, and at times pessimism, that Americans and all earthlings had for astronomy and “all-things space”. I implore anyone who has not read any of these letters to visit the Flickr site at http://www.flickr.com/photos/amnh/sets/72157628295324859/with/6554625987 and read some of the more interesting ones.
This particular individual was so excited for an opportunity to travel into space that he wanted the entire selection process to be skewed in a way that put him at the top.
This is my last blog post on the John Treadwell Nichols’ collection, and I’m hoping to touch hearts with it. Fortunately, I saved the especially personal and sentimental side of Nichols’ records for this purpose.
Today I finished up the last of my finding aid. It was especially messy considering I needed to go through his small pocketbooks, the personal off-the-record pocketbooks. I assumed these small books—approximately the size of matchboxes—would reflect the clinical entries of Nichols’ other stuff.
The journals spanned from the early 1930s deep into the 1950s, ending just months before Nichols’ death. From what I know of Nichols, these last few decades were quiet. Although active in his own research, Nichols’ career had arrived and blossomed. He had the title of Curator Emeritus but that was the extent of his involvement with the Museum, and while he founded some of its most notable societies, the field of Ichythyology had cooled towards Nichols. Most of his colleagues viewed Nichols as a recluse. In one letter, his youngest son observed that his father was a bit of a quiet eccentric at the end of his life who never discussed his research with the family. None of his children knew of their father’s accomplishments until they were adults.
The small pocketbooks were messier than his past journals, and scanning their yellowed pages, I wondered if there was any value to them. The script and sketches were smudged, but I noticed that he’d glued a small cut-out picture of his wife on the inside of each cover. The further I examined the books, I noticed there were small poems interspersed with the recorded animal sightings.
I started going through the pages to see if I could find a reference to his family—or his pretty wife. I knew it was unlikely because I’d seen a letter where Nichols’ son insisted that nothing too personal be contained in this public collection. I also doubt that the private and reclusive Nichols might disclose anything about his family in a book of animal observations. He must have considered that his colleagues might one day leaf through them for their own research.
While I saw no references to his family, I found a small folded essay tucked into a pocketbook from 1942. The title “Thesis on Men” made me chuckle. It reminded me of Nichols’ scientific background, and I suppose he’d approach people in the same sort of clinical manner he did to fishes, birds, or amphibians. I couldn’t tell if it was Nichols’ original work, but it had a sense of humor that a few obituaries and profile pieces referred to—a biting sense of humor that I’d had yet to see.
So here is the Entry: “Thesis on Men”
Men are what women marry.They have two hands, two feet, and sometimes two wives, but never more than one dollar or one idea at one time. Like Turkish cigarettes, they are all made of the same material; the only difference is that some are better disguised than others.Generally speaking, they may be divided into three classes—husbands, bachelors, and widowers. A bachelor is a negligible mass of obstinacy, entirely surrounded by suspicion. Husbands are three types—prizes, surprises and consolation prizes. Making a husband out of a man is one of the highest forms of plastic art known to civilization. It requires science, sculpture, common sense, faith, hope, and charity. Mostly charity.It is a psychological marvel that a small, tender, soft, violet-scented thing should enjoy kissing a big, awkward, stubby-chinned, tobacco-smelling, and bay-rum scented thing like a man.If you flatter a man, you frighten him to death. If you permit him to make love to you, he gets tired of you in the end. If you don’t, he gets tired of you in the beginning.If you believe in him, you cease to charm him. If you believe all he tells you, he thinks you are a fool. If you wear gay colors, rouge, and a startling hat, he hesitates to take you out; but if you wear a little brown beret and a tailor-made suit, he takes you out and stares all evening at a woman in gay colors, rouge, and a startling hat.If you join the gaieties and approve of his drinking, he swears you are driving him to the devil. If you don’t approve of his drinking and urge him to give up his gaieties, he knows you are a snob.If you are a clinging vine type, he doubts whether you have a brain; if you are a modern, advanced, intelligent woman, he doubts whether you have a heart. If you are silly, he longs for a bright mate; if you are brilliant and intellectual, he longs for a playmate.Man is just a worm in the dust. He comes along, wriggles around for awhile, and finally some chicken gets him.
After I read through the essay, I decided I’d include it in my blog post today. Working with archival materials can be very sad in that the people related to the materials are dead and gone and have been outlived by scraps of paper. I touch the remnants of these people and am reminded that I’ll leave my own scraps—or perhaps emails and text messages—and that will be all that’s left of me.
However, when I read this entry, I realized that Nichols valued the universality of life more deeply than his own individual accomplishments. His essay “Thesis on Men” testifies to how irrational and contradictory life is. Men are all the same—curator or not, researcher or not. We are made from the same material, and we don’t want different things but want what we don’t have. The discussion about finding a wife and being tamed by one is a universal experience that all people go through, and of course death is inevitable.
But here Nichols relishes how all men will have to struggle the same way and die, and this resonated with me. I’ll be graduating in two weeks from college, and I worry what the future holds, will I be successful, am I using my time properly? This essay by Nichols reminded me that—despite the varied details—the nature of life is uniform among all people. We find love and make love and reject love, and then we die.
The essay made me wonder what Nichols would have preferred to leave behind or be known as. I wonder if he’d have wanted his career as a curator and researcher emphasized as his foremost passion, or if he’d have been pleased to have an archival collection full of pictures of his wife and his young children. I wonder if leaving behind the legacy as a generic father would’ve pleased him much more than the 1913 founder of the naturalist magazine, Capoiea. Perhaps he wouldn’t have approved of his son’s request to suppress anything to revealing about the Nichols’ household or his parent’s marriage.
This blog entry makes me wonder what I’d fill my own archival collection with, what I’d want to be known for, etc. Success and proper titles paint a distinct picture, but I wonder if they convey a real person or a personality? I knew Nichols’ history and I knew the skill and precision of his observation and scientific writings, but these small personal details, the pictures of his wife and this small essay, gives me a much better and interesting grasp of his character.
Regardless, I’ve had an amazing time here at the American Museum of Natural History. I’ve enjoyed every second of it and am grateful to Iris Lee for mentoring me and helping me figure out the protocol. This has been a wonderful experience.
Today I spent some time looking into the box marked Biographical Materials. This is only one of the eighteen boxes of the John Treadwell Nichols’ collection that I’ve been cataloguing this spring. The Biographical Materials section generally takes up a folder or two in collections that center around an individual, and it generally consists of letters between the individual’s relatives and the institution acquiring the personal materials. Although it’s surprising to see the difference in the font, the speech, and the tone, the most jarring thing about the Biographical Materials is realizing how the world really saw the person. In the case of John Treadwell Nichols, the majority of the folder was devoted to the correspondence between his youngest son, David G. Nichols, and various naturalists around the United States.
During his career here at the Museum, John Treadwell Nichols not only over-saw the development of the Department of Herpetology and Ichthyology when it was organized in 1909, but he became the first curator of the newly separated Department of Ichthyology in 1919 after Bashford Dean stepped down. In addition, Nichols founded the American Society of Ichthyologists and Herpetologists (ASIH) and its journal, Copeia, out of his small office here in 1913 while still in his twenties.
The letters in this box between David G. Nichols and the zoologists around the United States date from the early to mid-eighties. Interest in the founding of Copeia had begun to emerge among the zoologist community as the ASIH publication approached its 75th Anniversary. However, in the letters addressed to David, the members confess that they haven’t found any information relating to Nichols and the journal’s founding. A zoologist from Ohio State University observed that even the Museum of Natural History didn’t have a collection of Nichols’ records and “kn[e]w nothing of his files” or their whereabouts. This lack of information on John Treadwell Nichols was shocking, when he contributed hundreds of articles and was President of ASIH during the early thirties in addition to his position as curator for the Museum.
The responses from David G. Nichols introduced a portion of his father’s life that his personal journals and letters hadn’t conveyed. In one letter David, the youngest of Nichols’ four children, recalled his childhood and the relationship with his father. Whereas his siblings had lost their interest in zoology and instead “emerged into the business world” after college, David was removed from high school during his sophomore year and spent the next few years collecting mammals for the Museum throughout North America and Europe. On the outset of World War II, David didn’t even have a high school diploma but had traveled extensively around the world. Despite that his father and he “were unusually close along a number of dimensions…spending much field time together studying mammals and birds,” he never knew about his father’s involvement with ASIH or the journal until a Museum lecturer took him aside and told him.
In addition to his father’s modesty however, letters also alluded to an “isolation” between John Treadwell Nichols and his peers in the fields of Ichthyology or Herpetology. One especially sad letter dated November 18, 1987 from James W. Atz, a Curator Emeritus of the Museum, apologized to Nichols’ son for “these slights and neglect” by the scientific community to his father’s memory. Atz went on to observe that despite Nichols’ accomplishments, “your Father became increasingly isolated” from the two fields he’d been so instrumental in organizing. The entire field, including Charles Breder Jr. a fellow ichthyologist whom Nichols co-authored many articles with and Carl Hubbs who took over as editor of Nichols’ journal, he concluded, “rather discounted your Father’s accomplishments.” It was sad to think that the isolation of his waning years should obscure the rest of his career.
The saddest part—conveyed by the various requests made by zoologists and other scientists on David G. Nichols for his father’s personal records—was that Nichols had become relatively unknown and undocumented after his death, despite how successful and esteemed ASIH and Copeia had become. At the end of the letter, Atz made a revealing analogy when he compared the legacies of Nichols and his peer, Breder. Both of these men became isolated for the field of ichthyology in the years preceding their deaths, but Breder made sure a friend wrote his obituary so he would “not suffer the final dishonor of having that duty performed” by a stranger or a competitor in his field.
This observation illustrates the importance of archives. In the case of John Treadwell Nichols, his life and contributions could’ve been contained in a bibliography or an obituary. The American Museum of Natural History has a brief file on him consisting of a few newspaper articles, printed interviews, and various copies of his obituary. So why can’t this replace a collection of Nichols’ personal materials?
This file is a collection of people writing on Nichols’ life. That’s history, but is it enough? The file doesn’t cover any of the contrasting views I encountered in the Biographical Materials. There’s nothing about how his reputation soured among the scientific community during the last years of his life, and there’s very little on the nature of his relationships with his family, friends, or even peers.
I believe, and I don’t think many would disagree, that archival collections are much more reliable at capturing the true nature of a person or an event—the different threads and contradictions, etc—than history. Archival collections aren’t accessible to everyone and so the historians process the information and analyze it for the public. They aren’t objective, and two historians looking at the same material can come up with different conclusions. That’s how history changes and brings life to the past, and archives fuel these debates. Without archives, history would be at a standstill. If we destroyed a collection after someone wrote on it, then that person would get the last word. If interest hadn’t reemerged for John Treadwell Nichols, there would only be a collection of obituaries. All the other views and aspects of the man would die with his relatives, his friends, and his peers. Everything would be gone. I almost consider the archives alive because the same materials can be analyzed so differently. A few years from now, another intern might discuss Biographical Materials and propose that this reveals something entirely different about Nichols’ personality. Who knows?
I’ve begun drafting a historical note on the establishment on the Department of Ichthyology (fish studies) to provide more context to the John Treadwell Nichols’ personal collection. Although John Nichols became curator of this department in 1920, he was involved in it from its conception in 1909. In my research of the department’s history, I’m struck by how humble and uncertain its beginnings were. The Museum initially established this branch under the Department of Ichthyology and Herpetology (amphibians) and appointed Bashford Dean (1867-1928) as the head. Dean, concurrently the Curator of Arms and Armor at the Metropolitan Museum of Art across the park, was also a specialist on armored fish and during World War I, he’d serve as a Major in the U.S. Ordnance Service, developing improved helmets and special body armor.
Although the Museum had collected an impressive amount of vertebrate zoological specimens, very little attention in comparison was given to its invertebrate holdings. However, in only a decade after its establishment, the young Assistant Curator G.K. Noble observed that the department’s collection “has increased from one of the smallest to the fourth largest museum collection in the United States, and now includes nearly 50,000 specimens.” Dean himself would attribute this tremendous growth to the efforts of the forty-two year old Mary Cynthia Dickerson over herpetology and the twenty-six year old John Treadwell Nichols over ichthyology. Both Dean’s assistant curators realized the importance of generating interest, and Dickerson became Associate Editor of the American Museum Journal from 1909 to 1910 and Editor of the publication from 1910 until 1920, while Nichols launched the journal Copeia from his museum office in 1913.
Furthermore, the staff agreed that early efforts should be put in amassing a collection and producing exhibits for the public over research. In her 1919 annual report, Dickerson wrote that the “department, being still considerably under ten years of age, differs from the other departments of the institution, many of which are a half century old, in having relatively meager and inadequate reference material.” She concluded that “attention must be centered on building up this material for several years before the department will be in a position to do its most efficient and authoritative work.”
The department’s staff fought Dean’s initiatives to exchange its materials with other museums for the purpose of research because they believed that the museum itself could become influential in the field of invertebrate studies. Dickerson and Nichols involved themselves in field work. In the Nichols’ collection, I’ve found countless journals full of observations. His own children testified that Nichols would pay them to catch turtles and frogs and report back to him the location and time. Through this method, Nichols was able to research the distances and patterns turtles traveled throughout their lives. Also, Dickerson and Nichols aided and collaborated with parties sent by the Museum around the world to gather specimens. For example, the 1909-1915 Congo Expedition collection kept in the archives here contains a few letters between Nichols and the various participants.
In less than a decade, Nichols and Dickerson were able to amass a formidable collection of fish, reptile, and amphibian specimens so much that, the Department of Herpetology separated from Ichthyology in 1919 with Dickerson as its curator. Although these are just the early years of Nichols’ involvement with the Museum, they demonstrate how vital Nichols was to invertebrate zoology. His collection reflects the new department’s emphasis on gathering and advertising their specimens. Nichols documented the wildlife in New York City and on his voyages abroad. He sketched and collected numerous samples of the same species to make certain that he knew the general features and could identify abnormalities.
Although I’m not researching Dickerson, I decided to include her because she started out very much like Nichols. Both were passionate naturalists on their own time. Nichols was a young man who had taken time off from his studies at Harvard to travel around the Caribbean on a small boat. Various journals in his collection document the experience—the boredom and tedium of sailing on the open sea surrounded only by seagulls. Dickerson was an older woman who had contributed to various journals and on her own time amassed one of the largest turtle collections in the United States by the time she donated it to the Museum in the early 1900s. Apparently, only one type of turtle known to exist in the United States at the time was missing from it.
Both of these people, driven by a natural love for research and discovery, would bring the Museum’s collection of invertebrate zoology the respect of competing institutions around the world. Both Nichols and Dickerson would become curators of their various departments in 1920; however, Dickerson tragically began to lose her sanity after the appointment and in December later that year was committed to Bellevue hospital. Recording her demeanor during a 1922 visit, one of her colleagues from the museum observed how Dickerson wept when describing the frustration she felt knowing she wouldn’t be the person to finish the collection.
I’m of course not planning to include all of these sordid details in my historical note, but I found the department’s beginning so astounding. The Museum of Natural History is an institution that is respected around the world, but discovering how it got there is inspirational. It is interesting to think that the relatively unknown Nichols and Dickerson played big parts in establishing the department’s reputation, and they did it by focusing efforts on building up a collection, a slow task, rather than go directly into research—a move that would probably have kept the department fairly minimal.
The Kalbfleisch Research Station was located on Long Island in Huntington, and it came into being after August Kalbfleisch willed her estate to the Museum. The hundred acre property was used primarily for ornithological research for about 20 years as Dr. Wesley E. Lanyon, a curator of birds at the museum served as its resident director. At the heart of the station’s activities was its Undergraduate Research Program which brought between 9 and 12 college students to live and work at the station each summer. Students were expected to conduct their own research projects and had the opportunity to study under the scientists from the museum. Although it was extremely popular, budget cuts to a separate institution responsible for funding the program forced it to end in the mid-seventies and the station was shut down by the end of the decade. Some controversy arose when the museum was forced to sell the property to real estate developers in the early eighties after failing to find a similar institution to buy the property.
I’ve only gone through a few pictures thus far, but it from what I can tell, the student program looked like a fun time. Everyone seems to have stayed in the in the estate’s main house, and there are shots of everyone eating around a large kitchen table. This collection seems to include a ton of photos, so hopefully I’ll find some good ones to share with you all here, and either way, it will be interesting to see how the museum utilized this unique, though short lived, research station.
This spring, I’m creating a finding aid on the journals, manuscripts, and other documents in the John Treadwell Nichols’ Collection here at the Museum. A member of the staff at the American Museum of Natural History for fifty three years, Nichols initially began his career here as an assistant curator of recent fishes in the newly established Department of Ichthyology in 1909. (Before that, fishes were categorized under the museum’s department devoted to insects.) He became curator from 1927 until retiring in 1952 and had the position of curator emeritus until his death in 1958.
At the beginning of his career, Nichols traveled around mostly in the Atlantic, around New York and the New England region. He kept detailed notes on the animals he encountered and collected the basis of the Department’s collection of marine fish in his early years at the Museum. He traveled from Nova Scotia to Alaska, New York to Puerto Rico, and even from the United States to China to research the theory of whether some fresh fish had migrated from China to America when the two continents were joined.
Known for his efforts in the field, Nichols was attributed with personally establishing and over-seeing the Department’s expansive collection of specimens. In their profile pieces on him, several newspapers noted Nichols’ collection of fishes preserved in pickle jars that had survived his time there. When asked if the Museum encountered any problems with their fish collection, Nichols admitted that during Prohibition some employees had sipped a lot of the alcohol used for preservation of the specimens, and the fluids had run dangerously low in some jars.
In addition to his hands-on field work with the Department, Nichols published many books on fish, like “The Fresh-Water Fishes of China” and would found the American Society of Herpetologists and Ichthyologists during the forties. He’s also famous for his work on the identification of a large 998 pound white shark that that was caught off the New Jersey shore in 1935. He was an explorer and a devoted researcher who was deeply interested in the entire field of zoology.
Today, I broke into the initial journals Nichols kept. Spreading from 1907 until 1916, the journals cover Nichols’ time as a zoology major at Harvard University where he earned his BA in 1907 to his time spent as an associate curator for the new Department. The settings range from Central Park, New York City, to Havana, Cuba; however, Nichols’ analysis of the areas generally depicts the weather. He details the creatures he encounters, describing color, measurements, sex, and movements.
A strictly professional correspondence, the journal illustrates Nichols’ many travels and his high regard for detail and analysis. In writing the finding aid, I hope I can depict the information half as thoroughly as Nichols. He draws pictures and takes from the accounts of his peers, local boys from Cuban ports to New Jersey farms, and other natives to build a narrative of each new encounter. It becomes apparent what a devoted zoologist he was, and I found myself trying to keep track of his various colleagues and new locations. It was difficult to avoid getting lost in his descriptions of Mourning Warblers’ yellow bellies and their sharp short “chip chip” or the Sea Lions lying on the rocks in San Francisco. I am excited to see his personal correspondence and even get a better sense of his peers who appear generally as acronyms in these journal entries.
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
Links to Related Sites