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The Crocker Land Expedition (1913-1917) had difficulties from the start. The expedition whose mission was to investigate an Arctic landmass Robert E. Peary reported seeing, was originally supposed to begin in July 1912, but due to the death of George Borup, one of the expedition leaders, in April of 1912, the expedition was put off until the following July, 1913. Then, an expedition that was supposed to last for one season ended up being four years long. During this time the Crocker Land Expedition’s ship the S.S. Diana wrecked and there were three unsuccessful rescue attempts before Captain Robert A. Bartlett, aboard the steamer “The Neptune”, finally reached the remaining members in 1917 (in the winter of 1916 several of the expedition members had traveled south by dogsled and returned home).
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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!
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.
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.
On our first day in the AMNH Archives, we got acquainted with the collections, primarily focusing on departmental records.
We worked on a variety of material types ranging from the early to mid-20th century. It was a great place to start the project and to know the history of AMNH at a glance, it included administrative reports, historical analysis of charters, constitution and law, report of history of Museum founding, donation and consultant reports on the future and funding of the Hayden Planetarium.
We also worked with a collection of manuscripts that consisted of translations of newspaper and scholarly articles about snails, oysters, pearls, and shells. These translations were done between 1938-39 for the Works Progress Administration Translation Project. The original articles were obtained from the New York Public Library and were written in various languages, including English, French and German. Some of the handwritten papers in this collection have become brittle, but most of the typescript pages, which make up the bulk of the collection, are in good condition.
We encountered some subjects that we were not very familiar with; therefore, doing research about the topics that we worked on the papers today will definitely help our work for the next time!
I don’t know if all of the museum departments have undergone so many name/identity changes, but certainly the department pertaining to woods, forestry, conservation, botany, and ecology has. It began as the Department of Woods and Forestry (1910-1937), and became known as the Department of Forestry and Conservation (1937-1946), the Department of Forestry and General Botany (1946-1953), the Department of Conservation and General Ecology (1953-1956), and finally the Department of Vegetation Studies, which appears to have become part of the Department of Special Activities in 1961.
For the past few weeks I have working on the Department of Forestry and General Botany papers from 1953-1958. These records pertain to the research, planning, design, and construction of the Landscape Hall (more formally known as the Felix M. Memorial Hall of Ecology) and the Hall of North American Forests. Most of the material consists of the actual notes for constructing these halls. A lot of it is handwritten or typed, memo-style notations. There is also printouts of exhibition text with hand-written edits.
The only problem has been that there is limited record of the actual department from this period, and I had to do some serious research into the Annual Reports in order to pinpoint the dates of departmental transitions and also the openings of different portions of the halls. The department dates are above, and the Felix M. Warburg Memorial Hall of Ecology opened in 1951, and the Hall of North American Forests opened to the public in 1958.
In 1957, when the Hall of North American Forests was about to open to the public, a photograph was taken of Matthew Kalmenoff painting the background for the Oak-Hickory Group exhibit. Because the records are mostly the notes and sketches saved during the planning of the exhibit, finding this photograph in the 1956-1957 Annual Report really contextualized the magnitude of this project compared to the scant information on the finished exhibit in the department papers. I believe this is because the Exhibitions Department would have most of the records for the actual construction of the exhibitions, whereas the Department of Conservation and General Botany was responsible for the research and logistics of what would go into the exhibits.
Regardless, the picture shows the near-finished product of a process that is shown, in the records, to be meticulous, creative, and above all else, as accurate as possible to the natural landscape depicted in the mural. If you haven’t already, I recommend looking through the Annual Reports. They contain a lot of really great photographs and information about how the museum has changed and developed over time.
Morris K. Jesup, the ideal philanthropic gentlemen and the museum’s third president, played a major role in creating and expanding various collections within the museum. Of particular interest to me these past months has been the Jesup Collection of North American Woods, founded in 1881 and funded with Mr. Jesup’s own money, to collect specimens of wood and (ideally) foliage of all trees that grow natively in North America. The collection is pretty substantial (17 boxes), and the material provides unique insight into the development of the museum as well as the preservation and display of wood and foliage specimens.
One of the most interesting relationships preserved in the collection pertains to the acquisition of the wood specimens themselves. In addition to the scientific community, Mr. Jesup corresponded with railroad companies requesting that they send him any new woods that they encountered while clearing for tracks, and with logging companies requesting the same.
One photograph really piqued my interest. It was tucked in a folder of miscellaneous photographs obtained in the late 1940’s during the building of the Hall of Landscapes, and it shows a man leaning against a cross-section of an enormous redwood tree. On the back, someone has written “now in London England- 22 ft. diameter 4 ft. long.” In the background you can see railroad tracks, the line of clear-cutting, and even some houses. It really captures the extent of logging in California. What is also interesting is that none of the surrounding trees are anywhere near the size of that being displayed, suggesting that when this photograph was taken the tree may have already traveled some distance.
I wish there was more information about about the context of the photograph- what is the approximate date? 1910? 1920? Was the picture taken because this was an unusually large specimen (which, depending on the year, it could have been), or is it unusual for another reason? Why was it cut to a thickness of only 4 ft.? Obviously the railroad track here is already built, but I’m still curious about the relationship of logging and railroad construction, and ultimately how/why the museum obtained this photograph when they were constructing the Hall of Landscapes. In most of the forestry collection everything is well-documented and its origin is easy to determine. This small file of miscellaneous photographs is one of the only mysteries.
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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