The Bigger Picture: Visual Archives and the Smithsonian
Posts tagged with: Field Book Project
- The Smithsonian is on Pinterest (can you tell I’m excited)! In honor of Valentine’s Day, check out their board, the “Art of Love”—love-struck objects, artifacts and artwork from the Smithsonian museums.
- Like an artist’s palette—The Field Book Project blog explores the sketchbook of a scientist who walked through the markets of Hawaii to take “color notes” on the fish sold there.
- Wow. A Brown University student uncovers the lost audiotape of an address Malcolm X made in 1961 in Providence.
- The five most anticipated Smithsonian exhibits of 2012.
- The Library of Congress' Digital Preservation blog follows up on our earlier blog post about designing preservable websites with a great list of best practices for website design [via Lynda Schmitz Fuhrig, SIA].
- The opening remarks given by David S. Ferriero, the Archivist of the United States, at last week’s web chat about the “Yes We Scan” petition for a national effort to digitize federal records. A full Q&A from the chat will follow soon.
- Hey, they must love their local library . . . hangingtogether.org shares this video via their colleagues at the University of Washington Libraries. Recently, a local Seattle band, Pickwick, walked into the main library reading room and did an a cappella version of one of their songs:
As part of a Fellowship at the Smithsonian Institution Archives, I’m researching the scientific activities of the United States Commission on Fish and Fisheries—today part of both The US Fish and Wildlife Service and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).This research is part of my larger dissertation project investigating the impact of aquarium technology in American biology between 1880 and 1930. Established in 1871to investigate and alleviate the problem of diminishing fish stocks, the Commission (which was renamed the Bureau of Fisheries in 1902), used multiple channels to gather information on marine resources. One branch of the organization, entitled the Division of Inquiry (later referred to as the Division of Scientific or Biological Inquiry), operated out of aquatic laboratories throughout the US. Their mission, as stated in a 1907 report, was “The study of the habits, migrations, spawning, diseases, etc., of the aquatic animals sought by man, and the almost equally important study of creatures that serve as food, or act as enemies to those of economic value, is conducted year to year as a fundamental branch of the work in behalf of the fisheries.”
At the beginning of my research I wondered: how did the Division of Inquiry (DI) hope to address such a wide range of questions? The annual reports shed little light on the day-to-day operations. However, in the Bureau of Fisheries Records found at the Archives, I found the logbook of three scientists at the Beaufort, North Carolina laboratory which offered a glimpse of daily events during the summer of 1912.
Opened to researchers in 1902, the laboratory at Beaufort was inhabited by a mixture of scientists and students on leave from universities, laboratory workers, and collectors. The scientific work performed at Beaufort was as varied as its residents. The logbook of fishes kept jointly by City College of New York graduate students Lewis Radcliffe, William J. Crozier, and Selig Hecht working throughout the summer for Bureau, recorded how the Division of Inquiry was able to focus on multiple levels of analysis in the study of the wide range of subjects they enumerated in their mission statement.
The study of the habits, migrations, and spawning of fishes required the catch of large amounts of fishes off the North Carolina coast. Daily, large research vessels left the Beaufort laboratory to fish the surrounding waters. The biologists on board took stock of the amount of each species caught, as well as their maturity level, in order to ascertain when the fishes migrated and spawned. Seeing the graphs of these hauls in the logbooks demonstrates how scientists were synthesizing these large catches of fishes into usable data.
The individual specimen was as important as the aggregate group. Thousands of fishes were hauled in the nets, only to be picked through by scientists looking for specimens to describe and preserve for future work. Each specimen was weighed and measured; the sex, as well as any noticeable characteristics, were noted; and a necropsy (an autopsy performed on an animal) was performed to ascertain what the fish had eaten. While everyday specimens were examined to get a general understanding of the habits of the area fishes, the new or unusual species was especially coveted. Lewis Radcliffe was so excited to see a Cobia (Rachycentron canadum) in the shallower waters near the laboratory dock (they usually live in the open ocean), he hurriedly caught the oversized fish with the only collecting tool he had on hand—his hat! Through analyzing these entries, I could see what information was important for the scientists to catalog so that the life history of each species was built during succeeding years of research at Beaufort.
Living specimens were brought to the laboratory aquariums for further observation, illustration, and experimental study. The drawing of the fish that appears to the right was made after observing a peculiar behavior of predation between the much larger mummichog (Fundulus heteroclitus heteroclitus) and a group of small pupfish (Cyprinodon) that were attacking it. The logbooks show a particular interest in transferring living animals from the larger marine environment into the laboratory so that they could be viewed for extended periods of time, suggesting that viewing living specimens and understanding behavior were also important to biologists.
While the mission of the Division of Inquiry at first seemed overly broad, by studying the logbooks I was able to see that scientists at these stations utilized different tools and methods for building a vision of the marine environment from the description of individual specimens to the analysis of migration patterns and animal behavior of whole species.
- Beautiful frosty photos from The National Library of Wales on the Flickr Commons [via indicommons].
- The new “Flash!” feature on Field Book Project blog highlights photo gems from the Smithsonian’s field book collections.
- Interesting potential: museums using Pinterest and Instagram to highlight photos of and from their collections [via @cjceglio].
- In time for MLK Day week: thousands of never-before-seen documents from Dr. King and other key figures are now available for viewing on the The King Center Imaging Project , and Temple University has a new online civil rights archive: Civil Rights in a Northern City: Philadelphia [via INFOdocket].
- A big week for Wikipedia: they celebrated their eleventh birthday and joined many all over the web in blacking out its website for 24 hours to protest potential internet piracy legislation.
- Introducing Ask Smithsonian—a new Smithsonian magazine feature that will answer a handful of reader-submitted questions in each issue:
The holidays are just around the corner, so we wanted to take the time here at the Archives to say warmest wishes to you! To celebrate the season, here is a card to share with friends or family, featuring a photo of some very cute penguins in Antarctica found in the Archives’ collections in the field books of former Curator of Invertebrate Zoology at the National Museum of Natural History, Waldo LaSalle Schmitt (1887-1977). Some of Schmitt’s photos were recently added to the Flickr Commons by the Smithsonian’s Field Book Project team. The Field Book Project, as you’ll remember is a joint initiative between the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History and the Archives to create one online location for scholars and others to visit when searching for field books and other field research materials.
Simply click here, or on the image below, to download a PDF file of the card, easily printed at home on letter-sized paper.
And again, happy researching and Happy Holidays to you and yours from all of us here at the Archives!
- Thanksgiving is a great time of year to both make and preserve memories. Check out our guides to creating family oral histories and organizing family scrapbooks as you prepare to gather with loved ones next week.
- The Smithsonian Library blog starts a new series called Library Hacks, which features library and online resources we think you will find useful, interesting, or just plain cool. The first in the series?: the hidden gems of the Library’s trade literature collections, which features information from over 30,000 US companies and is a great source of information about products that were “made in America.”
- Gotta love the Muppets! Dwight Blocker Bowers, curator of Entertainment History Collections at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History talks about the Smithsonian’s collections of Muppet history.
- Is it the end of the CD? Major music labels say they’ll abandon the medium by the end of 2012. Electronic archivists—prepare explanations of the shiny discs for children of the future! [via Phil Bradley’s weblog]
- Visualizing China: a beautiful new virtual archive of Chinese life, that gives users the opportunity to explore more than 8,000 digitized photographs of China taken between 1850 and 1950 [via British photographic history].
- Deb Schiff, archivist and blogger, blogs about her recent visit to the Smithsonian Institution Archives, including a behind-the-scenes tour of the Archives’ treasures with Tammy Peters, our Supervisory Archivist [via Carolyn Sheffield, the Smithsonian’s Field Book Project].
- Team Digital Preservation has done it again! Check out the newest episode of this awesome cartoon, in which DigiMan goes to the Arctic on a quest to understand preservation planning: