Field Book Project


Color graphic with collaged photos of images from a scientific fieldbook.

Torn sheet of notebook paper with notes and a drawing of a gull. Scientific and scholarly pursuit are hindered when primary sources are un-cataloged or accessible only by visiting cultural heritage institutions. In 2010, the Archives embarked on a joint initiative, the Field Book Project, to expose hidden collections of scientific field books documenting natural history. Together with the National Museum of Natural History, the project’s objective was to develop an online catalog in order for current and future researchers to more easily examine these rich primary sources, and inspire new ways of using them in the creation of knowledge.

Led by co-investigators Anne Van Camp and Rusty Russell, the project was initially funded by the Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR) Digitizing Hidden Collections Program, and the catalog was published online in 2012. The work to catalog these materials revealed additional needs; the condition of some material required immediate conservation intervention. In other cases, newfound awareness generated a level of interest best met by digitizing the field books.

Additional partnerships and grants have enabled the Field Book Project to expand its objectives to meet these demands. Partnerships with the Smithsonian Libraries and the Biodiversity Heritage Library and funding from Save America’s Treasures, the Smithsonian Women’s Committee, the Arcadia Foundation and a CLIR digitization grant, have made it possible to accomplish the following as of January 31, 2017:

  • 8,900 items cataloged (633 collections)
  • 995 items digitized
  • 308 items (23,690 pages) transcribed in the Smithsonian Transcription Center by volunteers online

Sepia-toned group portrait.

We are thankful for the other organizations that have helped with  this effort:

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