Currently viewing the tag: "Spring 2011"

Today is my last day working on this project with AMNH. Richard and I continued to work through the departmental records. While we encountered some large collections that were easy to assess as they were clearly paper collections, we also came across some collections that were largely unprocessed which featured a variety of materials. A mixed format, unprocessed collection of only a few boxes ultimately took longer to assess than a large collection of paper materials. Going through the varied and mostly unorganized collections proved to be more time consuming as we tried to accurately identify the formats present and in what amounts. Having worked on Phase II now for just about a month, I was more familiar with the process and identifying material types present in the various collections.

This project has been a very interesting experience. Being part of the first group of project interns was a great opportunity to watch a project take shape. I very much enjoyed working with the materials and getting such a unique glimpse into the American Museum of Natural History has been an amazing experience. Working with Iris, Becca, Beth, and Barbara was fantastic and I thank them for all of their patience and guidance over the course of the semester. I wish everyone the best of luck as this project continues!

Over and out,

Jenny Brown

This afternoon Phoebe and I completed the Risk Assessment phase of the project for the collections in Room 36 of the Anthropology Department. This includes the Photographs Collections and oversize materials related to the Department’s Accession Files and various Curatorial Collections. Information regarding the extent, format, and condition of these collections is now gathered in a database devoted to this particular location in the Department. Below is an example of some artwork in good condition:

Having finished this phase of the project, if only in one location out of several, we got the sense that the Risk Assessment phase of the project is equally as intensive and time-consuming as the Cataloging phase. Obviously these impressions are specific to the Anthropology Department and likely not entirely applicable to the Museum’s other science departments. Nonetheless, the experience should be informative for the future of the project.

Our experience in the Anthropology Department was undeniably a positive and enjoyable one. It was a great privilege to have access to some of the amazing collections in the Museum’s possession that are not generally available to the public. Throughout our time in the Anthropology Archives, Kristen Mable was a tremendous help to us.  When we did take a step back from the projects we were focusing on, we would frequently marvel at the skill and effort required to manage such a large and active archive from day to day. We are also grateful for the support of Becca, Iris, Barbara and the rest of the team members in managing the more complex aspects of the project and allowing us to immerse ourselves in the work before us. We’re looking forward to continuing this project in the summer.



Today, I finally finished arranging and describing the, let’s say, multi-faceted T. Don Carter Collections. The work of an enterprising scientist such as him is fascinating — as are these ephemeral items from the 1927-28 Roraima Expedition (Front, Back). Little down time, eh?

Hello all — this post, unfortunately, will be my last as this is my final day here at AMNH. And I apologize for the recent blogosphere silence on my part, but Phase II has provided me with plenty of fascinating work to get through. I’ve been in the Anthropology Archives with Becca for the last few days, marveling at the enormous amount of information that gets generated on the various archaeological digs conducted by the folks up there. This information comes to us in an amazing variety of formats: oversized maps, field forms, Mylar maps, Beta tapes, transparencies, field notebooks, audio cassettes, floppy disks (both 5 1/4″ and 3 1/2″ formats), photographs, bound volumes, negatives, film reels, contact sheets, and many more.

Herein lay the biggest challenges that I encountered in Phase II. Identifying these various formats was not simple, and attempting to match a particular format to its proper collection unit (Mylar???) lead to plenty of questions for Beth. Most of the records were in very good shape, but occasionally there were questions relating to how they were stored, especially when it came to items such as CDs, VHSs, and floppies. These were often still housed in the plastic cases they were sold in, which seems safe enough, but could we call it “archival” storage? We also got the sense, at times, that some of these digital formats were backups of other records. This, of course, is impossible to confirm without opening each on a computer. Another question I had related to a large store of photographs, many of which were dated to the early twentieth century and depicted Nels Nelson on various digs. It was obvious that the date referred to what the photo depicted, not to the actual date that this particular photo was developed. Is there a way to clarify this, to ensure there is no confusion over the age of the physical photograph?

I think it goes without saying that almost everything we came across was fascinating (including a New Yorker piece noting David Hurst Thomas’ “luxuriant black beard” and penchant for pipe-smoking) and impeccably well-organized. And we always had Diana Rosenthal close by to help clarify things as well as to share plenty of entertaining stories about her department!

Of course, this being my last appearance on this blog, I’d like to thank all the people I had the opportunity to work with this semester. Not only did I learn a great deal, but I was heartened by the enthusiasm of all those involved as well as those not involved who were always happy to help.

So long!

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.

I find myself spending a little extra time with T. Don Carter these days, as new materials seem to keep surfacing, along with an evolving orientation on my part toward the arrangement, description and separation criteria of what is now 5 or possibly 6, or possibly 7, distinct but connected collections (Papers, Field Books, Memorabilia, Photographic Prints, Photographic Negatives, Slides, Film). What’s especially interesting as this project expands somewhat, is thinking about how these materials can perhaps be linked in terms of subject and content through encoding and cataloging. How can the disparate but related collections “talk” to each other and provide researchers with the wealth of related primary source materials to enhance their research: not just the field book, but photos of the specimens as well, on top of which the camera itself used to take the photos, as well as the photo contact sheets, etc. This range of materials on a single topic reinforce one another and provide rich historical texture in their variety.

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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As Phoebe and I continued the cataloging phase of our project today, we created entries for the Anthropology Department’s Exhibition Files. These collections frequently contained floor plans and blueprints for both temporary and permanent Exhibition Halls that have opened and closed over the course of the Museum’s history. In addition to these documents, the collections usually contained related research, correspondence and photographs. Particularly interesting were the volumes of accumulated label copy from old exhibits. Some photographs of models prepared for the Mexican Hall were very impressive. The materials from the Blackfeet Teepee Exhibit were greatly varied and provided a great deal of insight into Native American cultural practices. Included in the collection was an informative step-by-step guide to tanning animal hides using a mixture of moss and the animal’s brain. The guide explained how the glycerides in the brain tissue are highly effective in softening the hide being tanned. Though fairly gruesome sounding, it’s a traditional practice that has been used for centuries.

Yesterday, I revisited a few collections to help clean up some records and try to rearrange or combine like materials. This meant spending more time and looking more closely at records that in the first run through could not be treated in such detail. One of my favorite examples from Phase I appeared again yesterday: the field notes of Frank Watson, lepidopterist. Frank’s field notes ranged from 1896 (when he was 19 and exploring the wilds of Ramapo, New Jersey) to the time of his death in 1947, eight years after his retirement from the Museum. From the start, Frank’s interest was butterflies and his long career took him on numerous collecting trips to the West Indies. By the end of his life, however, his attention more and more turned to birds and his observations of higher-order winged creatures became nearly as astute as those of butterflies.

Stuffed in with Watson’s field notes were also those of Fred Rindge, another bug collector who toured the United States from 1955 until 1970. While Watson’s notes were written in more of a “telegraph” style, Rindge’s notes were more refined journal entries with more of a focus on the narrative of his travels (including lots of asides devoted his always-breakin’-down cars).

And, in honor of baseball’s return (and perhaps in light of recent labor disputes in the NFL), here are some papers from the short-lived “Headhunters” softball squad.

It seems that the members of the Employee’s Benefit Association were having trouble getting reimbursed for the expenses of the Museum’s softball. Umpire fees, new mitts, and clean jerseys were the requests that were made. But, it took months before the team was fully reimbursed. Luckily, it seems, a players’ strike was averted.

And, as one final item in the “Softball” folder showed, what would a softball squad without a functioning beer cooler!

Today’s work in the Anthropology Archives was greatly influenced by a project status meeting held last Wednesday. The meeting was primarily focused around establishing respective target paces for the Cataloging and Risk Assessment projects. Based on the number of collections left to be cataloged at the time of the meeting (about 50) and the time remaining before the Risk Assessment aspect of the project is slated to begin in Anthropology, Phoebe and I were asked if we could create catalog records for roughly 10 collections each day. While we fell one collection shy of meeting this daily quota, a couple of the collections we completed today were fairly large and a great deal of ground was covered. As there are only two Curatorial Field Notes Collections left to be cataloged before we move on to the Photograph Collections, we feel comfortable about our pace moving forward. It seems as if we’ve reached a certain degree of efficiency, moving quickly through the collections but still finding time to note interesting items and take some photographs for the blog.

Of note today were some sketches of Teotihuacan figurines from the collection of George C. Vaillant, the passport of Wendell Bennett from the year 1926, and a well-illustrated field notebook created by Richard Allan Gould and Junius Bird. We were also pleased to observe a collection of photographs in excellent condition from Stanley A. Freed’s expeditions to India. All of the photos were housed in plastic sleeves and stored either in leather bound albums or archival folders. There was no evidence of curling or deterioration.