Monday, July 24, 2017

Cats & Dogs: Nineteenth and Early Twentieth Century Perspectives

This blog post incorporates research conducted for the digital exhibition, "Wild Mouser to Household Pet: A History of Cats in Science and Society, 1858 to 1922." Click here to check out the exhibition and book collection!

Dielman, Frederick. “Uncle Tobey and the widow.” Library of Congress Prints & Photographs.

In the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries in the United States and Europe, cats were just beginning to be seen as household pets. Previously, they were viewed as biological specimens for medical study, muses for literature, and mousers that roamed around killing rodents. The way that people saw cats often involved a comparison with dogs. But how different are these two species? How did people perceive of those differences and similarities in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries?


Gos., De Voogt. Our Domestic Animals: Their Habits, Intelligence, and Usefulness (1907). Digitized by the Library of Congress.

Authors compared cats and dogs in order to claim their favorite as superior. For example, in Domesticated Animals, Their Relation to Man and His Advancement in Civilization (1895), Nathaniel Southgate Shaler wrote:

Cats deserve some mention for the reason, that, while they are the least essential, and on the whole the least interesting, of domesticated animals, they have had a certain place in civilization. They afford, moreover, a capital foil by which to set off the virtues of the dog [1]. 

Clearly, Shaler is fond of dogs. He highlights one of the starkest differences between cats and dogs: their usefulness. While dogs were domesticated by humans to perform a variety of tasks such as hunting, cats never had much of a purpose beyond “mousing” (catching rodents, especially on farms with grain storages). This limited purpose led to less variation in cat breeding. However, cat enthusiasts still did breed and exhibit purebred cats.

Huidekoper, Rush Shippen. The Cat: A Guide to the Classification and Varieties of Cats and a Short Treatise Upon Their Care, Diseases, and Treatment (1895). Digitized by the Library of Congress.

Mrs. A. McAllister and Smoke Persian Cat, Bain news Service Publisher, ca.1910-1915.


Another point of dissention between cat and dog fans was which was more intelligent. Most believed that dogs were smarter. Author Dorothy Champion sums up the common beliefs and her take:

How often one hears the remark, ‘How stupid cats are!’ or, ‘Cats cannot compare with dogs for cleverness.’ This is a point on which many people make a great mistake… I have come to the conclusion that an uneducated cat has far more brains than an uneducated dog. Doubtless the dog is easier to teach, as he can be made to do things, whereas the cat is of an independent disposition [2].  

Those trying to counter the belief that dogs were smarter had to fiercely defend the intellect of the cat and provide examples to bolster their claim. A common way to do so was to cite their ability to remember how to get from one location to another, even across long distances. However this ability was also turned into a fault, with some authors claiming that cats are more attached to locations than they are to people.

Biggle, Jacob. Biggle Pet Book: A Collection of Information for Old and Young Whose Natural Instincts Teach Them to be Kind to All Living Creatures (1900). Digitized by the Library of Congress.


Another element of comparison between cats and dogs was the extent of their domestication. There are a few ways to approach this topic. One way is to go back and study their original shift from wild to domesticate. New scientific studies using ancient DNA are uncovering clues about the origins of this shift [3]. While the exact details are debated, everyone agrees that cats were domesticated more recently than dogs. In fact, twentieth century authors questioned whether or not cats really have been domesticated at all:

He never was but half-domesticated at best, and while he is a universal favorite with children because of his furry coat and look of seeming intelligence, he is yet essentially a wild animal, almost incapable of true domestication. He has lost little of his innate savagery, and as a relentless foe of birds he has really become an enemy to our civilization[4]. 

While this account is definitely one of the more severe critiques of cats, the sentiment that cats remained wild and were posing a threat to wildlife was gaining popularity in the beginning of the 1900s.

Another way to approach the topic of domestication has to do with nineteenth century conceptions of domesticity. Cats were believed to have a particular affinity for the home, and became associated with the household, and by extension, women. Conversely, dogs were known to travel outside with their owners, tagging along for masculine activities like hunting.

Gos., De Voogt. Our Domestic Animals: Their Habits, Intelligence, and Usefulness (1907). Digitized by the Library of Congress. (Look carefully to see the small kitten curled up beside the large dog).

By comparing their usefulness, intelligence, and domestication, nineteenth and early twentieth century authors debated the merits of cats and dogs in very similar ways that we do today.

Click the links below to access fully digitized volumes of the books mentioned in this post:

Frees, Harry Whittier. “A joy-ride” (1914). Library of Congress Prints & Photographs Division.

*For more information about domestic cats in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, see the digital exhibition “Wild Mouser to Household Pet: A History of Cats in Science and Society, 1858 to 1922.”

[1] Nathaniel Southgate Shaler. Domesticated Animals, Their Relation to Man and His Advancement in Civilization (1895). Page 50. Emphasis added.
[2] Champion, Dorothy Bevill. Everybody’s Cat Book (1909). Page 13. Emphasis added.
[3] See for example, Ottoni, C. et al. The palaeogenetics of cat dispersal in the ancient world. Nat. Ecol. Evol. 1, 0139 (2017).
[4] Davenport, Eugene. Domesticated Animals and Plants: A Brief Treatise (1910). Page 235. Emphasis added.

By: Madison Arnold-Scerbo 
Junior Fellow Intern - Science, Technology, & Business Division 
Library of Congress, Washington DC

Friday, July 21, 2017

BHL activities at the 2017 American Libraries Association Annual Conference

BHL Program Director, Martin R. Kalfatovic, attended the 2017 American Libraries Association Annual Conference in Chicago, IL during the week of 22-26 June 2017. In this post, he provides an update on BHL activities at the conference.

BHL activities at the 2017 American Libraries Association Annual Conference
By: Martin R. Kalfatovic

I met with staff at the Field Museum Library, Christine Giannoni and Diana Duncan. We had a chance to catch up on the latest activities of the Field on behalf of the Biodiversity Heritage Library (of which the Field is a founding member). I also had a chance to catch up with Rusty Russell, ‎Director, Gantz Family Collections Center. Rusty, previously Head of Collections, U.S. National Herbarium (Smithsonian Institution), has been a long-time supporter of the BHL and one of the main drivers behind the Smithsonian's Field Book Project. Rusty also gave a personal tour of the Field's spectacular new exhibition, "Specimens: Unlocking the Secrets of Life", which provides wonderful context to the importance of natural history collections.

Russel (left) & Kalfatovic (right)

Diana Duncan

Esquivel (left) & Rehbein (right)
A highlight of the Conference was visiting the ALA Poster Sessions and talking with the BHL National Digital Stewardship Residents who presented a poster on 25 June entitled "Improving Access to the Biodiversity Heritage Library: Halfway Remarks by National Digital Stewardship Residents". Ariadne Rehbein (based at the Missouri Botanical Garden) and Alicia Esquivel (Chicago Botanic Garden) presented the poster on behalf of their fellow NDSR residents (Marissa Kings, Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County; Pamela McClanahan, Smithsonian Libraries; and Katie Mika, Ernst Mayr Library at Harvard University’s Museum of Comparative Zoology). NDSR mentor, Leora Siegel (Senior Director, Lenhardt Library at the Chicago Botanic Garden) also dropped by the poster session. Read more about the Residents in Chicago in BHL NDSR at ALA.

OCLC 50th Anniversary Celebration
Attending the OCLC 50th Anniversary Celebration in the spectacular setting of the Adler Planetarium provided an excellent opportunity to speak with colleagues from around the country as well as senior OCLC staff.

Internet Archive at ALA
I also attended a session organized by the Internet Archive to hear the team discuss OpenLibraries -- a project that will enable every US library to become a more digital library. The goal is to work with library partners and organizations to bring 4 million books online, through purchase or digitization, starting with the century of books missing from our digital shelves. The plan includes at-scale circulation of these e-books, enabling libraries owning the physical works to lend digital copies to their patrons. This will enable thousands of libraries to unlock their analog collections for a new generation of learners, enabling free, long-term, public access to knowledge. I also had a chance after the session to catch up with long-time BHL supporter Brewster Kahle and Wendy Hanamura (Director of Partnerships at the Internet Archive and lead for the Internet Archives' partnership as a BHL Affiliate).

Hanamura (left) & Kahle (right)

Thursday, July 20, 2017

CBHL 2017: Expanding Access visits the Twin Cities

The Council on Botanical and Horticultural Libraries met for its annual conference in Chaska, Minnesota this year.  The conference, which took place June 5th through June 9th, was attended by three Expanding Access to Biodiversity Literature team members: Susan Fraser, Susan Lynch, and Mariah Lewis.  

Tuesday the team hosted a pre-conference workshop titled “Contributing to a National Digital Infrastructure, with Help Every Step of the Way.”  The workshop was attended by both members of CBHL and those outside CBHL who were interested in the Expanding Access project.  The training covered a variety of topics including collection development, the Digital Public Library of America, metadata, imaging standards, BHL related tools and defining articles within BHL. The three-hour session was well attended and some attendees are expected to contribute to BHL in the upcoming months while others have already added content through Expanding Access.  Check out the Lloyd Library and Museum’s contributions here!


Tuesday evening, after a day of committee meetings, the opening reception kicked off the annual CBHL meeting.  A wonderful evening of hors d'oeuvres allowed members to reconnect and meet the ten first time attendees.  

The next day was spent at the University of Minnesota Landscape Arboretum, a quick drive past Prince’s Paisley Park.  Kathy Allen, this year’s host and the Librarian at the Andersen Horticultural Library, welcomed CBHL members and introduced the Arboretum Director, Peter C. Moe, who gave a thorough, informative and interesting introduction to the Arboretum.  This was followed by a presentation about the Arboretum’s education programs by the Director of the Education Department, Tim Kenny.  

The next presentation of the day followed David Bedford’s experiences with apple breeding at the University of Minnesota.  A Senior Research Fellow at the Horticultural Research Center, Bedford took the audience through a history of apple migration and how exactly we get those delicious apple varieties we see in the grocery store.  Notably, the University of Minnesota has developed such apple varieties as Honeycrisp, Regent, and SweeTango.       
Wednesday afternoon was spent touring the garden and the Andersen Horticultural Library. Following this was a tram ride around 3-Mile Drive and a stop in at the newly constructed Tashjian Bee and Pollinator Discovery Center, which has been open less than a year.  The Center was created to be both an educational and outreach project in association with the University of Minnesota’s world-renowned bee research.
Thursday the attendees ventured to the University of Minnesota in the Twin Cities.  The morning kicked off in the Wangensteen Library of Biology & Medicine, where tours of the stacks and a rare book showing were given.  Later, members were able to tour the Weisman Art Museum and spend time in the Dear Darwin exhibit.  The crew then walked across the Mississippi on their way to the Elmer L. Andersen Library.  

The early afternoon was spent between two activities.  The first was a presentation on the University of Minnesota’s Children’s Literature Research Collection which included a viewing of original artwork by Anne Ophelia Dowden, Betsy Bowen, and Phyllis Root.  The second activity was a tour through the Minnesota Library Access Center- the cavernous storage facility that can hold up to 1.4 million volumes.  With shelves standing 17 feet tall, items are shelved by size and retrieved by forklift.  Later that afternoon there was a panel discussion of Collection Stewardship.
After the group’s time at the University of Minnesota, they traveled to the Minneapolis Institute of Art, taking advantage of the range of art and artifacts in the wonderfully-curated exhibits.  Also nearby was “Eat Street.”  Covering seventeen blocks, Eat Street incorporates a number of different culinary styles, flavors and atmospheres.


On Friday, the annual meeting returned to the Andersen Arboretum.  After a morning of business meetings, a joint CBHL/Friends of the Andersen Horticultural Library Luncheon was held.  CBHL members were able to enjoy the company of the Friends of the Library, who had graciously helped secure the luncheon speaker, and furniture designer legacy Mira Nakashima.  Reflecting on the life and career of her father, master furniture designer George Nakashima, and the current pieces the company is now working to create, Mira Nakashima’s presentation allowed the audience to travel with her into her memories.  After lunch Mira Nakashima led small group tours of the Andersen Library’s Nakashima furniture collection.  

That afternoon, there was an Arboretum Behind-the-Scene bus tour where participants were able to see more than just the main area.  This included seeing the apple orchards referenced in an earlier presentation and the home of the osprey family that stars in the University of Minnesota Osprey Cam.  

The conference concluded after the Annual Literature Award Ceremony and Banquet.  Each year, after the presentation of the awards and during the banquet, the members enjoy a final speaker and the book raffle.  

This year’s banquet speaker was Dr. David Zlesak.  An Associate Professor of Horticulture at the University of Wisconsin, the presentation focused on the plant introduction pipeline.  This follows the life of new varieties from planning and breeding to marketing and selling.

Eight member presentations were given throughout the week.  A chance to share institutional projects with other members, the topics included plant information, children’s literature diversity, film crews in archives, Wikipedia edit-a-thons, bookplates, book reviews, lost gardens, and a new collection management system at the Morton Arboretum.  

To read more about the Council on Botanical and Horticultural Libraries Annual Conference, check out the September issue of the CBHL Newsletter.  

By Mariah Lewis
Metadata Specialist
Expanding Access to Biodiversity Literature
The New York Botanical Garden

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

2016 BHL Annual Report

The 2016 BHL Annual Report is now available!

Find out how our collections grew and audiences engaged with our library in 2016, learn more about some exciting new projects, and explore impact stories from users across the globe. Read the report now!

You can also get the latest updates from BHL in our newsletters. Explore past newsletters here and subscribe to our mailing list here.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

NDSR Residents Mid-Year Update

We officially passed the halfway point in our residencies in June and have begun to work on compiling our research into a final report. We are excited to bring you some project updates and report on our conference presentations. 

Bon Jovi GIF - WereHalfwayThere WereLivinOnAPrayer BonJovi GIFs

Pam’s individual user survey is now live and collecting responses to help BHL improve the user experience. Her last update describes the characteristics that make up the different BHL user groups:(1) Consortium Users; (2) System Users; and (3) Individual Users.

1. Consortium Users:  A contributor to BHL including Members, Affiliates, Partners, staff, and volunteers

2. System Users:  Organizations or individuals who interact with BHL for the purpose of enriching another system via APIs (Application Programming Interface) or manually

3. Individual Users:  Anyone visiting the BHL website to search for information to answer their research needs such as, scientists, collection managers, librarians, etc.
For her NDSR project at Smithsonian Libraries, Pam will be gathering feedback from the users of BHL to help inform the next version of the digital library. She’s had the opportunity to meet with several partners of BHL and sit in on BHL Member, Collection, and Tech Team meetings. Through these interactions, she has been able to learn more about the BHL users and will be developing surveys and interviews to gather feedback directly from the users. Moving forward, BHL looks to enhance current features and implement new features that will enrich the user experience, providing additional insight into the world’s knowledge of biodiversity. Investigating user needs with BHL may also prove useful in identifying user behaviors and preferences that would be applicable for other digital libraries as well.

CoderGirl Program Director, Crystal Martin, welcomes Summer 2017 students on the first night of the program! About 100 students total are participating on various tracks.

Last week, Ariadne joined the CoderGirl UX (User Experience) Summer 2017 Cohort. CoderGirl is a technology training program and community for women in St. Louis that is part of the LaunchCode Education initiative. Participation is free; mentors working in the field offer their time to teach on a volunteer basis. The UX track is a 6 month program designed to grow skills in UX research and design in a supportive, creative, and diverse environment. The track centers around the development of a project that will serve as a UX portfolio.

Beyond this, Ariadne is focusing on interviewing BHL Flickr taggers and Science Gossip members to understand the successes and challenges of these programs and the motivations and backgrounds of participants. Most importantly, Ariadne hopes to convey their  perspectives as she makes recommendations for improving access to natural history illustrations and BHL’s future crowdsourcing/citizen science initiatives.

Marissa has been working with several summer interns at NHMLAC to create and edit metadata for the museum’s publication Contributions in Science. This process has involved much fine-tuning, but establishing a clear workflow is important as the museum hopes to contribute more of its in-house publications to BHL in the future!

This project is also timely as the museum’s invertebrate paleontology department is in the process of digitizing some of their thousands of specimens and specimen records, and Marissa has been in contact with them to see how we can possibly connect the digitized specimen information with their occurrences in biodiversity literature.

Contributions in Science articles in their natural habitat
In May, Katie participated in WikiCite 2017, a conference, summit, and hackathon event organized for members of the Wikimedia community to discuss ideas and projects surrounding the concept of adding structured bibliographic metadata to Wikidata to improve the quality of references in the Wikimedia universe. Generating Linked Open Data citations has the potential to connect objects and concepts with information resources to create context for more accurate and interesting digital representations of knowledge and cultural heritage. And more complete and complex graphs are better at supporting deeper investigations, queries, and visualizations of these data across repositories, collections, and knowledge bases.

One way that GLAMs can begin to integrate their catalog records with Wikidata (and therefore across Wikimedia projects and other repositories across the web that are connected to Wikidata), is by using its power for reconciling messy data. One of the biggest problems with BHL bibliographic metadata is that it comes from lots of different libraries and museums and is often as old and outdated as the content it describes.

For example: BHL attaches Creator IDs to Author names, which is useful for identification and connecting titles and items to their Authors, but they are assigned automatically according to the character strings imported from specific fields in a library catalog’s MARC record. Despite (and perhaps because of) the use of authority files to control Author name strings in catalog records, different libraries have contributed items by the same author whose names are are spelled, punctuated, and identified differently. The process of finding all of the different spellings of author names and colocating them under a single unique identifier is called “reconciling”, and BHL does not do it, choosing instead to focus on improving access to items based on content rather than metadata. Fortunately, there are several different ways to go about reconciling data, and one of them is crowdsourcing.

BHL can use Wikidata to tell its users that “Packard, Alpheus S” (Creator ID: 82636), “Packard, A” (Creator ID: 59850), “Packard, A S” (Creator ID: 48286), “Packard, A. S. (Alpheus Spring), 1839-1905” (Creator ID: 1592), and “Packard, Alpheus Spring” (Creator ID: 56087) are all the same person without editing spellings or legacy metadata from the catalog record. While some of the reconciling can be done computationally using (still more) authority files like VIAF, it often misidentifies strings and isn’t very helpful when an author is not in that particular database. These errors are best caught by humans, who Wikidata invites to directly edit mistakes and add identifiers.

BHL can use Wikidata by adding a property for a BHL Creator ID in Wikidata (P4081) and adding a table in BHL for Wikidata IDs that can be associated with those same Creator IDs. By adding BHL IDs to Wikidata, it becomes a more robust knowledge base that will improve the discoverability of BHL’s content by enriching its metadata externally and solving some metadata problems internally.
Subscribe to the BHL NDSR blog for an upcoming post that will describe this process in more detail.

Alicia attended the Inaugural Digital Data in Biodiversity Research Conference sponsored by iDigBio, the University of Michigan Museum of Zoology, the University of Michigan Herbarium, and the University of Michigan Museum of Paleontology in June. The conference brought together biodiversity researchers, data providers, data aggregators, collection managers, and librarians to talk about creating digital biodiversity data, sharing this data, and using it in research.


The presentations, posters, and workshops highlighted research trends in biodiversity and projects that have open access missions similar to BHL’s. She was able to give a talk about using statistical analysis to calculate the size of biodiversity literature (using capture-mark-recapture) and present a poster about visually representing the collection at BHL.

And in June, we represented BHL and NDSR at the ALA Annual Conference in Chicago. The conference, hosted by the American Library Association, was held to discuss, learn, and exchange ideas about libraries on the theme “Transforming Our Libraries, Ourselves.” With 25,000 attendees, masses of sessions and talks, and a mountain of freebies, ALA can be an overwhelming experience — we managed to find our way and learned about different library projects and trends from around the country.

One of our main goals was to present our “Halfway Remarks” poster on behalf of all of the BHL NDSR Residents. Alicia Esquivel of the Chicago Botanic Garden and Ariadne Rehbein of the Missouri Botanical Garden attended and presented.


All of us Residents are thankful for the opportunities we have had to attend and present at conferences during the first half of our residencies. Our next professional meeting will be the BHL tech meeting in September where all of the Residents and Mentors will join the BHL Technical Team in St. Louis to discuss our findings of best practices and recommendations for BHL.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Take Our Survey and Share Your Feedback About BHL!

The Biodiversity Heritage Library (BHL) needs your feedback!

Take our survey and tell us what improvements and new features you'd like to see in BHL.

We will be updating the BHL website to improve and enhance the researcher experience. As members of the BHL community, your feedback is valuable. Your input will help us identify which improvements and features to focus on in the design process.

Click here to take the survey:

We appreciate any thoughts or suggestions you may be able to provide. If you have any questions or comments, please submit them via our feedback form.

This survey is being conducted as part of the BHL NDSR Foundations to Actions project, which is helping to plan the future of BHL. Learn more.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Unearthing Precambrian Protistan Taxonomy with BHL

Amoebozoans are believed to have existed for hundreds of millions of years. These ancient protists are characterized by the presence of pseudopodia, cytoplasm-filled projections that are used for locomotion and feeding.

Today, over 2,000 species of Amoebozoa are recognized. The phylum itself was first scientifically described by Max Lühe, a professor at the University of Königsberg (Germany), in 1913.

Dr. Leigh Anne Riedman, a NASA Astrobiology Postdoctoral Fellow at Harvard University (Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences), specializes in Precambrian paleontology. Her research involves fossils similar to the testate amoebae described and illustrated by Lühe in 1913. However, Riedman quickly discovered that tracking down the reference for Lühe’s paper to support her studies was more challenging than anticipated.

“Many authors working on Amoebozoa would mention Lühe’s name, but I never found a single full reference for this paper,” recalls Riedman.

Testate amoebae described and illustrated by Max Lühe. Handbuch der Morphologie der wirbellosen Tiere. Bd. 1 (1913). Digitized by the American Museum of Natural History.

Fortunately, with help of the Biodiversity Heritage Library, Riedman was able to unearth this crucial publication.

“Armed with only an author name and year, Lühe, 1913, and the keyword ‘amoeboa,’ I found it!” exclaims Riedman. “BHL was the only place I was able to track down this reference.”

Riedman cites this reference in her upcoming paper, “Vase-Shaped Microfossil Biostratigraphy with New Data from Tasmania, Svalbard, Greenland, Sweden and the Yukon”, which will be published in Precambrian Research later this year.

Dr. Riedman on a sampling trip to King Island, Tasmania in 2010. She and her colleagues collected materials for study of acritarchs from the Sturtian glaciation and the interglacial interval of the Neoproterozoic Snowball Earth as well as older fossils called vase-shaped microfossils that are thought to be fossil testate amoebae.

Riedman has been studying Precambrian paleontology for nearly two decades. Her work deals with a group of fossils called the acritarchs, organic microfossils that first appeared approximately 1,400 to 3,200 million years ago. Since first discovering BHL while searching for early taxonomic works on this group, the Library has become a vital part of Riedman’s research process.

“BHL is fantastic!” lauds Riedman. “It has made a huge difference in my work- sometimes providing access to texts I wouldn’t otherwise be able to get, sometimes by giving me the gift of my own time, as I don’t have to spend hours or days tracking down a resource, waiting on interlibrary loan, and then either scanning it for text recognition and translation or typing it into a translator piece-meal.”

Vase-shaped microfossils from Tasmania. Likely about 760 million years old.

Using BHL several times per month, Riedman downloads PDFs of articles or books for use in fossil identification and synonymy lists. The ability to view the whole journal volume within BHL not only gives Riedman context for the article she is seeking, but also helps her find additional relevant articles in the process, thereby increasing the quality and efficiency of her research.

“There have been several times that I’ve used BHL to track down references listed in taxonomic synonymy sections that weren’t available anywhere else,” shares Riedman. “I am paranoid about citing a reference I’ve never read, so without getting access to those texts through BHL, I might have had to cut sections from research papers or sell my soul and cite a paper sight unseen *gasp*!”

Dr. Riedman sampling drillcore in Alice Springs, Australia. These shale samples were placed into hydrofluoric acid to dissolve the rock- this process leaves the organic-walled fossils intact. Those are then studied by transmitted light microscope and scanning electron microscope.

In Riedman’s opinion, BHL is important not only for supporting modern scientific research, but also for ensuring that the work of past scientists is not forgotten.

“Many of the articles I’ve been able to access through BHL were written by pioneers in this field, like Tadas Jankauskas and Boris Timofeev, and their work deserves recognition (even if it is in a language other than English!),” emphasizes Riedman. “Our field is too young to be forgetting its past already. I am so glad to be able to gain access to more and more of these publications online.”

Dr. Riedman sampling drillcore in Darwin, Australia.

Through its worldwide consortium of natural history and botanical libraries, the Biodiversity Heritage Library is working to ensure that the published record of biodiversity knowledge is freely available to researchers across the globe. By making this content globally accessible to anyone with an Internet connection, BHL is helping to advance scientific research and inspire discovery of the natural world.

You can help support global research through a tax-deductible donation to BHL. With your help, we can continue to democratize access to information about biodiversity and empower scientific research on a global scale.

By Grace Costantino 
Outreach and Communication Manager 
Biodiversity Heritage Library

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Using the materials at hand: Richard Archbold and the 2nd Archbold Expedition to New Guinea

By Kendra Meyer 
Field Book Project Archivist, American Museum of Natural History

The American Museum of Natural History selected two unique sets of material to digitize for the CLIR BHL Field Notes Project: field books from the Whitney South Sea Expedition and the Archbold Expeditions. These were two long-running undertakings to systematically explore and collect the flora and fauna of Oceania. Both contributed invaluable specimens to the scientific research and exhibition collections at AMNH. We recently completed digitization of the Whitney South Sea Expedition field notes and are thrilled to have commenced work on the Archbold material. Arguably, the most rewarding aspect of participating in this project is raising awareness of some rather remarkable individuals and expeditions. One example is the 2nd Archbold Expedition to New Guinea. We recently digitized leader Richard Archbold’s journal from that journey, which helps shine a light on this particularly fascinating story.

Archbold Expeditions is a corporation originally founded and led by Richard Archbold. It funded a research collection and staff at the AMNH Department of Mammalogy and sponsored a series of scientific collecting journeys to New Guinea and northern Australia. Heir to a substantial fortune, Archbold was a collector, explorer, ecologist, photographer, mountaineer, and pilot. As a youth he developed a love of nature and technology which carried over into all his future endeavors. He was a Research Associate at AMNH since his participation as photographer and mammalogist in the Mission zoologique franco-anglo-américaine à Madagascar, an experience which would directly inspire him to continue exploration work. He led the first three of the Archbold New Guinea Expeditions himself, and in 1940 founded the Archbold Biological Station in Florida. This research station and Archbold Expeditions were associated with AMNH until the 1980s. The Archbold Biological Station is still vitally active today.

Archbold excelled at organization and planning, recognizing needs and filling them. He regularly made use of and adapted the most current technology and also sought after the best scientists and personnel for his expeditions.

Some of the 2nd Archbold Expedition participants, including scientific party Austin Rand, G. H. H. Tate and Leonard Brass. All three participated in multiple Archbold Expeditions.
“WH2; Papua, Oroville Camp; Juhlstedt, Rand, Tate, Archbold, Burke, Healy, Brass.” Archbold Expeditions Collection, Department of Mammalogy, AMNH.

This ability to recognize needs and adapt is never more evident than in the 2nd Archbold Expedition, which took place between 1936 and 1937. There were seven ‘numbered’ Archbold Expeditions to New Guinea, reaching all areas of the region. The focus for this journey was the largely uncharted area of the Western Province of Papua New Guinea from Daru up the Fly River. After the success of the first expedition to New Guinea between 1933 and 1934, Richard Archbold hoped to continue the systematic exploration of Papua New Guinea, but he recognized that one of the main challenges to exploration in this region was in the effective provision and transportation of supplies overland in this mountainous terrain. Describing it as “the biggest bugbear of former travel in New Guinea,” (1) the lack of local food availability resulted in a need for a continuously moving food relay transport system manned with native assistants.

Demonstrating the above-mentioned practical planning and technological skills, Archbold and crew proposed and designed an innovative system of communication, transportation and delivery using aircraft, radio, and parachutes to utilize in the next trek. In addition to Archbold, the scientific party included ornithologist and assistant leader Austin Rand, botanist Leonard Brass, and mammalogist G. H. H. Tate.

Archbold is walking toward the front of the craft. Note the triangular Archbold Expeditions insignia on the plane.
“90-43; Papua, W.D., Daru: Kono on ramp after return from Lake Marguerita.” Archbold Expeditions Collection, Department of Mammalogy, AMNH.

Archbold purchased a Fairchild Amphibian seaplane which he named the Kono, to be used to deliver supplies to the remote areas by parachute. The combination of air transport, along with a system of radio communications proved to be highly successful in practice. The use of the radios allowed the various divisions of the expedition (advance land party, collecting group and plane) to keep in contact and coordinate supply drops and pickups from remote areas, communication on which they were dependent.

Besides collecting mammals, Tate acted as a radio operator.
“210-18; Papua, Western Division, Fly River, 528 mi. camp: Willis, Rogers, Tate & Healy” Archbold Expeditions Collection, Department of Mammalogy, AMNH. 

Besides transportation, the aircraft was also used for a series of reconnaissance flights to determine mountain camp sites and possible landing areas. In Archbold’s journal we see multiple lists of observations from these flights. They note the time, the participant making the observation, and even where they were seated, an evident effort to fully survey the viewed areas.

Reconnaissance flight observations.
Richard Archbold’s journal : Second Archbold Expedition to New Guinea, p. [19]; 

Initial plans called for the group to travel up to high elevations in the mountains but in July of 1936, only a few months into their endeavor, the Kono was tragically capsized in a sudden storm. Although no one was harmed, the devastation of this loss is clearly conveyed in a series of radio messages: “Our plane sunk.” In Tate’s expedition journal, which will soon be digitized for this project, he relates receiving the message, stating “What a calamity for Archbold!”(2)

Messages to Tate and Rand announcing the wreck of the Kono.
Richard Archbold’s journal : Second Archbold Expedition to New Guinea, p. [101]; 

Besides the obvious financial setback of this loss, the team was forced to quickly adapt their plans, arranging for alternate means to transport the collections. The scientific staff and the carriers built a flotilla of rafts to move the specimens and supplies down the Fly River. According to Rand, "Tate had his rats on his rafts, Brass his plants on his, and I had my birds on mine.” (3) Not to be deterred, they simply moved forward and continued collecting in the lowlands, a resilience I find enviable. This is not to say that the irony of the situation was lost on the participants. In an article for Natural History magazine, Rand and Archbold noted that during the expedition both the most current and the most primitive methods of transportation were used: planes, ships, homemade rafts, and foot. (4)

After having to abandon plans to continue to higher altitudes, the team crafted a series of rafts to float material down the Fly River.
“258-20; Papua, W.D., Fly R., No. 2 base: Rafts being loaded—close up. Photo by Brass” Archbold Expeditions Collection, Department of Mammalogy, AMNH. 

It is important to note the very practical advantage and benefit of their radio system at this juncture. It not only allowed easy communication, remote organization and project direction across the region, but also contact with New York. A copy of a radiogram received at AMNH on July 16, 1936 from Archbold at Daru reassures the safety of all parties. “Absolutely no cause for alarm stop Rogers dropped more food advance party in Guinea Airways plane stop in constant radio communication advance party stop they advise absolutely no danger.” (5)

Archbold immediately began planning for the next expedition, even looking to purchase a replacement plane. A copy of a radio message from his mother shows her practical opposition to such an expense so soon. Archbold remained single-minded, however. “Though we had failed to reach the mountains our large collections from the Upper Fly were extremely valuable and our new methods of transport had proved so feasible that we plan to use the same system in collecting at the highest altitudes in the little known Snow Mountains of Dutch New Guinea early next year.” (6) That expedition also used the combination of seaplane delivery and radio with great success, incidentally also managing to set world aeronautic records! Amusingly, Archbold named this next plane the ‘Guba,’ which is the local dialectic term for the type of storm that downed the Kono.

A page from Archbold's journal. Note the message from his mother.
Richard Archbold’s journal : Second Archbold Expedition to New Guinea, p. [113]; 

For context, it is interesting to place these expeditions in the overarching history of biodiversity exploration and collection in the region. In 2015, AMNH scientists participated in a collaborative Explore21 expedition to Papua New Guinea. Department of Ornithology Collections Manager Paul Sweet noted their place in the legacy of exploration in New Guinea, notably with the use of now modern technology: “Papua New Guinea is well known as a biodiversity hotspot, but it’s still not fully explored. The Museum has a long history of making expeditions to the island of New Guinea [the eastern half is part of the nation of Papua New Guinea; the western half is governed by Indonesia], so we were following in the tradition of naturalist explorers like Ernst Mayr, Richard Archbold, and E. Thomas Gilliard. And that’s really the thrust of these Explore21 expeditions. It’s a great way to continue the tradition of scientific collecting expeditions alongside cutting edge 21-century methods like genomics.” (7)

Hmm, cutting-edge technology and expeditions…sound familiar?


(1) Archbold, Richard and Rand, A.L., “With plane and radio in stone age New Guinea,” Natural History 40, no. 3 (1937): 568.
(2) Tate, G. H. H., Field journal : Archbold 1936 New Guinea Exp. February 27, 1936 to July 8, 1937. AMNH Department of Mammalogy Archive.
(3) Morse, Roger A., Richard Archbold and the Archbold Biological Station. (Gainesville, FL: University Press of Florida, 2000), 18.
(4) Archbold, Richard and Rand, A.L., “With plane and radio in stone age New Guinea,” Natural History 40, no. 3 (1937)
(5) Radiogram transcript, 1936, Archbold Expeditions Collection, AMNH Department of Mammalogy Archive.
(6) Archbold and Rand, 576.
(7) AMNH, “SciCafe Goes to Papua New Guinea [blog post], (2/27/15), accessed at

The BHL Field Notes Project is funded by the Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR).