Currently viewing the tag: "Non-Curatorial Field Notes"

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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Phoebe and I continued our work in the Anthropology Archive today. With the arrival of new shelving units to store the Department’s correspondence collections our physical workspace was considerably reduced. Despite the lack of space, the shelves did come in handy for laying out some of the collections, especially for the purpose of photographing some highlights for the blog.

We finished cataloging and verifying the collection records on one wall in Room 15, where the Non-Curatorial Field Notes Collections are housed. In order to avoid interrupting the work of some researchers, we moved from this side of the room to the central filing units to begin creating a record for the Department’s collection of Original Catalogs. Even after creating records for the Accession Files, getting just a vague impression of how many items have come into the Museum’s possession over the years is still stunning.

There were several collections we came across today which were of interest. There were some interesting watercolor illustrations of Panamanian pottery samples in the collection of A. Hyatt Verrill. One find of particular interest was in the collection of the South American Land and Exploration Company. In addition to correspondence and other records, there was an issue of the publication “India Rubber World” from the year 1897. The Company had investments in rubber tree forests in some countries in South America. Several articles concerning the proper germination of rubber tree seeds were circled in pencil.

Our work on the Non-Curatorial Field Notes Collections in the Anthropology Archives continued today. This being our sixth day of cataloging the collections, we were able to discuss with Becca some issues regarding the level of detail we will reasonably be able to include in our catalog records and the pace we would like to maintain as we move forward with the project. As this is just the first pass of the collections, Phoebe and I wanted to get a sense of how much information concerning the quantity of non-paper formats we should try to add to the Anthropology Department’s existing records. This issue will naturally inform our estimated pace for cataloging the collections.

The most striking collection we encountered today was that of Sasha Siemel, whose expedition to Argentina evidently involved a great deal of hunting and subsequent photos of slain panthers. There were numerous pictures depicting the accomplished hunters standing before their collection of skins. In one photo, of which there were many copies, we counted ten leopard skins strung up behind the hunters. In another photo, a hunter was holding open the mouth and displaying the teeth of his kill. While the images were fascinating to look at, it was somewhat disturbing to think of a time period in which wildlife conservation was largely disregarded.

On a much lighter note, the Anthropology Department hosted representatives of the Heiltsuk Nation from the island of Bella Bella in British Columbia. They put on an impressive display of traditional song and dance, which included the blessing of the hallway of the Anthropology Department with the eagle down they hold to be sacred. The representatives explained some aspects of their culture and graciously thanked everyone they came into contact with at the Museum for making an important experience possible. It was clear that their visit and the opportunity to interact with the artifacts of their ancestors was immensely meaningful to them. It was also a considerable honor for us to witness this segment of their visit and get a glimpse of the cultural traditions they are proudly carrying on.

Today’s adventures in the Anthropology Archives yielded some very interesting discoveries.

One Waldemar Jochelson caught our eye for his status as a rogue exiled Russian scientist. According to an article atop Jochelson’s own collection, he was appointed by the Russian government to AMNH’s Jesup North Pacific Expedition to study the cultures of the North Pacific coastal regions. The Russian government actually had no intentions of lending support to the expedition, but rather only desired the notoriety associated with such a prestigious institution. Jochselson and a fellow scientist were later discovered to be Siberian exiles, therefore the Russian government could easily write them off.

The collection of Lucy Kramer attracted our attention, for it was entirely composed of pictographs used by the Rosebud Sioux to document their “Winter Count.” The original pictographs were drawn on an animal skin, and housed in a collection outside of AMNH. In Kramer’s collection we viewed a photograph of the original. The pictographs spanned the years 1796-1926, and depicted the most notable event of the previous year. The pictographs documented things such as a harsh winter when many expectant mothers died, clashes with warring tribes, the arrival of White men, the spotting of rare white buffalo, and one winter known as “The Winter of Falling Stars.”

Berthold Laufer’s collection contained copper plates from his expedition to China. The plates were used to print some of the exhibit materials in AMNH’s Hall of Asian Peoples. Neither Todd nor I had ever seen original copper plates, so this was very interesting for us. We were aware of silver’s use as a photographic element, but copper was new to us.

As always we continued to verify the Anthropology Department’s catalog records, and note any apparent risk factors facing the collections.

Our second day of work on the Non-Curatorial Field Notes Collections was a continuation of the previous day’s efforts to verify the information obtained from the Anthropology Department and make any necessary additions or corrections.

After a discussion with Becca, we began to also record information about the various types of media present in some collections and estimate their quantity where possible. We’ve included this information in 300 field for physical description. We have also begun to give brief descriptions of the field notes present in these collections.

By far the most interesting collection we encountered today was that of Otto Finsch, whose extensive collection of material, primarily from Australia, New Guinea, New Zealand, and Java, included beautiful hand drawn color illustrations of people and cultural objects.

In regards to the Risk Assessment aspect of this project, we did come across one collection whose condition was certainly worth noting. The Andrew E. Douglass Collection contained a catalog with an attached note explaining damage caused by roaches sometime between the years 1989 and 1994. The upper right hand corner of the volume was almost entirely chewed away with additional damage elsewhere.

Today in the Anthropology Archives, Todd and I began the work of confirming and updating catalog records for the Non-Curatorial Field Notes Collections. The Department of Anthropology already had basic catalog spreadsheets for these collections, so it was our job to pull each collection from the shelf, confirm its contents and location, and add any data that might be missing from the existing spreadsheet. Our additions were mainly in the 500 Notes field where we noted if a collection contained field notes. We also added whether the Creator was Personal, Corporate, or Meeting. A few of the collections also seemed to have inconsistencies between the dates on their labels and in the spreadsheet, so we either corrected this with Kristen Mable’s approval, or made notes to go back and check later.

Several of the finding aids within the collections had bolded indexed names listed for which the Museum owns separate collections. Todd and I thought these contributors names might be of use as subject added entries in the catalog record for different points of access. Barbara Mathe concluded that this could be a “Rainy Day” project because at this point the catalog doesn’t need quite that much detail.