On Expedition with Waldo Schmitt

They say a picture is worth a thousand words. If that’s true, some of Dr. Waldo LaSalle Schmitts field books are worth tens of thousands of words.
Caribee stern, Schmitt on port side, 1959. Image SIA2018-109433.

Dr. Waldo LaSalle Schmitt traveled extensively in his work as a biologist with the Smithsonian’s United States National Museum. Over five decades of field work in marine invertebrate biology included a host of voyages on both coasts of the Americas and a trip to Antarctica. In his collection of personal papers, the Archives has his journals, handwritten field books, photographs, and slides documenting his work. This week, we begin a campaign to transcribe the slides of his field work with the help of Smithsonian Transcription Center #volunpeers.

Dominica, 1959. Image SIA2018-109532.

Sometimes a steamship like the USS Albatross served as his transport on expeditions, however for the 1959 Smithsonian-Bredin Caribbean Expedition, it was the sailing ship Caribee (above) that carried Schmitt and his team to the islands of the Lesser Antilles. Mr. and Mrs. Bruce Bredin were the benefactors that underwrote three Smithsonian expeditions to the Caribbean in 1956, 1958, and 1959. Led by Dr. Schmitt, each expedition involved other scientists. The Bredins accompanied the team on the last two voyages.

Every expedition had its share of equipment issues. Getting to dive sites depended on dinghys like the one above. This note from Schmitt reveals how important they were to his work:

April 10, 1959 entry from Smithsonian-Bredin Caribbean Expedition. Image SIA2017-028597

Nonetheless, these obstacles couldn’t keep them from their goal of documenting marine life. The underwater images can be stunning even 60 years after they were taken, such as this anemone Homostichanthus duerdeni Carlgren below.

Anemone Homostichanthus duerdeni Carlgren, 1959

Making connections easier

Two important parts of good research are finding good primary sources and identifying the relationships they have to each other. Transcribing the annotations on the slide frames makes it easier to link these images to specific events and locales documented in the handwritten field journals and reports. These connections between images and diaries and even subsequent publications affords us, researchers and public alike, to the opportunity to delve into this broader range of content and discover trends and behaviors at a macro level.

Why not contribute to the effort? It can be your way of joining the expedition and others like it, just like the Bredin family did in 1959. Hint: if the first set are already complete, go here to find more.

Little Tobago Island, Bruce Bredin family, Nicholson, Nelson, 1959. Image SIA2018-109056.

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