Currently viewing the tag: "Mammalogy Archives"

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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Today Becca and I ventured up to Mammalogy to continue the brainstorming process about how to assign location numbers to the collections. While Mammalogy’s archive was the site for the Museum’s original library, today it can best be described as “complicated.” On the first floor, the original shelves were taken out and filing cabinets were inserted in their place. Each bay is separated by the original metal work. In addition, many filing cabinets have archival boxes stored on top of them. The first floor houses the reprints collection, field notes, Archbold correspondence and expedition photographs, Department correspondence, Sydney Anderson’s papers and Karl F. Koopman’s unprocessed files. The correspondence files and reprints are arranged well within the filing cabinets, but the Anderson papers, while collected together, can’t really be described as truly processed in the archival sense. Mr. Koopman’s papers have yet to be processed, from conference badges to college yearbook.

The second floor setup is similar, but represents a more extreme version. This is where we find the visual materials related to the many expeditions the Department has been involved with. Like many New York City residents the collections have roommates. The materials are often organized separately, but live together in one drawer. This situation makes it difficult to completely ascertain where a properly labeled collection would begin and end. Prints taken by different photographers from the same expedition are organized separately, but if fully processed, would they be part of the same collection? The collections are not unprocessed, but they are not processed either.

This situation led us to the conclusion that it would be easier to number the bays rather than the collections themselves. In most circumstances this would not be recommended, but here it works as a temporary solution. The next step in the process will be to actually label the sections as unobtrusively as possible, working with the Mammalogy Department to get their official buy-in. We discussed whether to use labels on cardboard, wire and other office supplies to develop a professional look.

As today is my last day at AMNH, I wanted to say thank you Becca, Iris, Barbara, Beth, Joanna and Michael for their support and partnership. I’ll miss thoroughly scrubbing my fingernails at the end of each day and the vague smell of formaldehyde. The Museum is truly a magical place and I am grateful to have contributed in my small way.

Today we received a wonderful treat in the North American Mammal Hall. While heading an effort to make the dioramas more environmentally friendly through better lighting, Beth and her team of taxidermists, conservators and other experts have also been giving the dioramas and their inhabitants some much needed touch ups. Beth filled us in on many of the issues they confronted like the fading of fur, dust, bubbling paint on the back wall of the displays, and the unpleasant yellowing of some of the snow scenes. Steve Quinn, one of the restoration artists, talked to us about the steps it takes to preserve the landscapes as well as the story each scene depicts. Many details such as body size/structure, diet, hunting style, types of fur, and season all must factored in when staging and repairing the depictions. We were proud to hear that information from the Mammalogy archive proved helpful for retracing the steps of the Hall’s original designers.

After that thrilling experience we ventured up to the sixth floor of Mammalogy to inventory the map and gazeteer collection. Many of the maps were used on expeditions throughout the world and were well organized. Number codes were assigned and a finding aid was available to explain the system of classification. The gazeteers, or geographical directories, collected the information about where specimens were collected. Included were latitude, longitude, altitude and other helpful information that allows the current staff to find places that might not appear on ordinary maps. We leave you with some map-related photo to help you find your way home.

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:;=D/Xolalla&SORT;=D&SUBKEY;=olalla/1%2C4%2C4%2CE/frameset&FF;=Xolalla&SORT;=D&3%2C3%2C.

The original was inventoried just today and may hopefully get its own call number in the near future. Archival work means big dreams.

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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.

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Today we completed Phase 1 in the Department of Mammalogy. In total we described 97 collections, but because of the organization of the archive, that number fails to tell the whole story. In reality, the total number of collections, if properly processed, would probably be more in the vicinity of 15-20. The second floor of the archive in particular is home to a majority of the visual images related to the various expeditions conducted by the Department from the turn of the century through the 1950s. Some of the images feature specimen samples, but the great majority of them tell the stories of those expeditions. It would be an interesting future project to properly arrange and describe the collections so that they are housed together, by expedition. Pictures were taken by different members of the expedition, perhaps resulting in the segmented housing of the images throughout the archive.

In the course of this project, we have grown close to Richard Archbold, pictured here. He was born in New York City in 1907 and was an heir to the Standard Oil fortune. From 1929-1939, he worked with the Museum to organize and sponsor four expeditions, first to Madagascar and then three to New Guinea. He supported other expeditions to New Guinea and Australia after WWII as well. Evidence of these efforts are everywhere in the archive.

It is interesting to note that the Archbold correspondence collection is carefully arranged, as are the publications that stemmed from the expeditions. Perhaps this has been considered sufficient to telling their story. The visual images, however, give life and full weight to their experiences and their proper arrangement, description and cataloging would be very exciting to see. The breadth of the photographic collection is such that with the right amount of attention and organization. This collection can be offered a second life and a new audience through the scanning process. A digital archive seems a natural step in sharing these historically and scientifically rich images. During the course of our inventorying, we have also come across countless color and black and white prints, slides of all types – from kodachromes and stereoslides to glass and lantern – negatives in various sizes and fragile “vintage” prints as well as a copper plate portrait. One of the recommendations we would make is to install proper temperature and relative humidity controls.

As we have recorded already, the existence of an air conditioner on the first floor has created two separate climates. Today we guessed that there was a difference of about 15 degrees between the two floors. For Phase 2 we have assessed the risks to each collection, however, the lack of temperature and humidity controls represents the greatest risk of all.

Today I cleaned up the Department of Mammalogy data collected as part of Phase One of the project. I focused on creators and/or contributors and looked up the name authority file. Who doesn’t love the Subject Added Fields? A collection of Department of Mammalogy staff photographs provided a fine opportunity to look up all those names we’ve become so familiar with (although they seem less familiar when you read the authority file name): Allen, J. A. (Joel Asaph), 1838-1921; Anderson, Sydney, 1927-; Anthony, H. E. (Harold Elmer), 1890-1970; Archbold, Richard; Brass, L. J. (Leonard J.); Carter, T. Donald (Thomas Donald), 1893-1972; Chapman, Frank M. (Frank Michler), 1864-1945; Gregory, William K. (William King), 1876-1970; Hartman, Frank Alexander, 1883-1971; Hill, John Edwards; Lang, Herbert, 1879-1957; Koopman, Karl F.; Lawrence, Marie A.; Morden, William J. (William James), 1886-1958; Musser, Guy G.; Raven, Henry Cushier, 1889-1944; Sommer, Helmut G.; Tate, G. H. H. (George Henry Hamilton), 1894-1953; Van Deusen, Hobart M.; Van Gelder, Richard George, 1928-1994. That is one “Who’s Who” of the Department of Mammalogy!

We also received a request for materials related to the Crocker Land Expedition.Haven’t heard of Crocker Land near Greenland? That’s because there is no Crocker Land.A fine mystery we learned about (for a quick read, check this out).A look at the Photographic Print collection catalog I’ve been working on gave me some clues: there are some expedition photographs, as well as prints from the two attempts to bring back the explorers.Talking with Michael, the other Mammalogy intern, we were able to find another potential source. Although neither of us had seen the name of the expedition in our Phase One work, we looked at the finding aid for the Department of Mammalogy correspondence and there it was: there is a file for Robert Peary, the expedition leader and Greenland specimen collector. Should be an interesting read.

Today, we came across yet another technology format. We found some stereo slides taken by Hobart Merritt Van Deusen of the 1959 and 1964 Archbold Expeditions. Stereo slides, much like stereographs, are slides with two side-by-side images meant to capture 3-D images. There is a stereo slide viewer in the library (with a replacement bulb!) but unfortunately, we did not have the two D batteries required to enjoy Van Deusen’s fine work.

In addition to finding many new types of formats, we continue to come across prints and documents that chart the life of the museum itself. The various halls that house the Department of Mammalogy exhibits have changed throughout the years. It is interesting to link some of the correspondence about the creation of the exhibits to the architectural plans for the exhibit halls. We have seen that throughout the years, the iconic blue whale has moved to various locations throughout the museum. The attached photo shows one incarnation. Today, we came across a special book of photographs that was given to each donor that contributed to the North American Mammal Hall. The back of the book shows how their contribution was used and gives a hint of how the museum hall was created.


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In an effort to bring various aspects of the collections to light we have spent a great deal of time in description mode. This can be a sensitive activity because the materials found in one collection may overlap into the subject fields of another. Today we came across a number of slides that were somehow at the bottom of a collection from a different part of the world. What had happened was the images were grouped by the photographer not by the exhibition. If you don’t make note of the details there is no telling what confusion may be created.

Another issue that we have come across is determining where a “collection” begins and ends. Many of the prints, negatives, slides and other visual images from various Museum expeditions were housed in the same drawers (though not intermixed). For our purposes, is it important to carry out the time consuming effort of distinguishing each specific collection or tie them all together based on themes, providing detailed information within the spreadsheet? Since this is only the first and most basic step in the process, we decided to combine and provide as many details as possible so that an informed decision can be made about how the record catalog will look later on in the process.

For your pleasure, we have attached a photo from an exhibition memorabilia collection we inventoried today. Jumbo the Elephant was PT Barnum’s most prized elephant. His skeleton was donated to the Museum but our man Akeley stuffed it, enabling Jumbo to travel with the circus for years.

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Today we created catalog records for some unprocessed or partially processed collections of former members of the Mammalogy Department. The collections, for the most part, are made up of the research notes, data sheets, correspondence and notes. But these collections also include all sorts of other formats: from the expected (photographs, negatives, slides and maps) to the more unexpected (glass slides, diplomas, boat flags, and audio recordings). The Karl F. Koopman papers include some unique “collections,” such as one made up of greeting cards and the more unusual one of conference nametags.

The Department of Mammalogy keeps very detailed records for all their specimens. There are catalogs organized by record number and by species, and there are also subsets containing specimen numbers from an individual expedition or for a specific animal. The records are kept in heavy bound volumes, with all the information neatly entered by hand and each record offers a great level of detail. We got a sense of the size of the collection of specimens, with the latest bound volume going beyond specimen 260,000 – and that is only in the Mammalogy Department.

We made our way to the second floor of the library with the glass tile floors. Here we found items related to the exhibits, from when to get a specimen from Yosemite to how much do the exhibit materials costs. For each animal in the North American Mammal Hall, there were files detailing the process behind creating exhibition space: from display diagrams, to the placement of the specimens.

Pictured here is one of the flags from the the papers of Sydney Anderson, a former member of the Museums Mammalogy Department. There were five flags from the Exploradora riverboat used during Museum expeditions to El Beni, Bolivia from 1963-1965. The flags represented the US Marines, Bolivia, Brazil and the National Geographic Society.

The green disc is from the Joseph Curtis Moore Papers. We were not completely sure what the discs were used for, but guessed that they were for personal recording. In this instance, the labels matched lecture notes in the collection. There was no sign of the playback machine, however.