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Transcript of Internship poster
National Museum of Natural History
Department of Botany
US National Herbarium
Presented by: Kendra A Hay
The United States Exploring Expedition
Scientific Field Journals
Levels of Certainty
A level of confidence describing the likelihood that a collecting event resulted in the procurement of the specific botanical specimen. This level of confidence is expressed as probable, possible, or uncertain.
The collecting event is likely to have resulted in the procurement of the specific botanical specimen
The collecting event may have resulted in the procurement of the specific botanical specimen
Whether the collecting event resulted in the procurement of the specific botanical specimen is inconclusive
How can we link a specific collecting event to a specimen in the collection with any level of certainty?
At the Museum
William Brackenridge was one of nine "scientifics" to accompany Captain Charles Wilkes on the the US Exploring Expedition (US Ex Ex) of 1838. Over the course of the four year expedition, Wilkes and his crew collected over 40 tons of specimen and artifacts from around the world, including the the 7,400 botanical specimen housed at the US National Herbarium today.
Brackenridge, a botanist, kept at least two field journals and almost certainly a third. Unlike contemporary field journals, Brackenridge's field notes read like a narrative, and include information not only on the specimens he collected, but also reflections on his travels, the people he met, the markets he visited, and other noteworthy events (see right panel).
Brackenridge only infrequently notes specimen by its binomial name; he usually only notes the genus, and sometime the family or common name. The collecting location may be as broad as a country or archipelago or described more precisely in terms of its proximity to a city, mountain, river, or other landmark. So the problem is...
In an attempt to identify a meaningful relationship between journal entry and specimen, I was charged with developing a series of 'logic strings' or 'cases' that can be consistently employed to establish this relationship (see image on right). By looking at classification (family, genus, and species), locality, the number of journal entries for a given genus/species and the KE EMu records available for the US Ex Ex, I proposed a method of assigning a level of certainty--either probable, possible, or uncertain--that a specific collecting event in Brackenridge's journal is linked to a specific specimen in the collection.
In this case, the genus is specifically stated, the species is specifically stated, and a general locality (country, state, archipelago, island) is provided; it is therefore 'probable' or likely that this particular journal entry is referring to this particular specimen.
In this case, the genus is specifically stated, the species is specifically stated, and a general locality (country, state, archipelago, island) is provided; however, there are multiple collecting references made to this one specimen; it is therefore 'possible' that each of these journal entries is referring to this particular specimen.
In this case, the family is specifically stated, the genus and species are not stated, and a locality is described in terms of its proximity to a city; it is therefore 'uncertain' or inconclusive whether this particular journal entry is referring to a particular specimen. Locality is very important in this case, as the classification is so broad. Luckily, the descriptive locality helps limit the potential matches to relatively few. Each match is designated as 'uncertain.'
As Smithsonian interns, we were provided with numerous opportunities to attend guided, behind-the-scenes tours of various NMNH departments.
Collected in the Washington territory by William Brackenridge (1838-1842)
The specimen are stored in archival folders. The cabinets are located in a temperature and humidity controlled space.
Specimen label for Mahonia aquifolium
Deterioration caused by mercuric chloride
KE EMu record for Mahonia aquifolium
William Brackenridge's first journal entry from Madeira, 1838
Today, field book entries establish a clear link to the specimen collected. This 1902 journal written by Gorman on his Alaska expedition uses a unique identifier to establish that relationship.
We believe that by adding collection specimen from other herbaria to our database and by referencing other primary sources, such as the journal of midshipmen Henry Eld (above), we will be able to adjust these levels of certainty. Expert knowledge, such as that which could be obtained through crowdsourcing as users gain access to this information, could also aid in strengthening our levels of certainty.
Connecting Content is a grant-funded project involving the California Academy of Sciences, Missouri Botanical Garden, Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia, Harvard University Botany Libraries, Harvard Museum of Comparative Zoology Library, the New York Botanical Garden and the National Museum of Natural History. Six of the partnering institutions are piloting digitization projects of their field journals and natural history collections. The participants aim to eventually link these collections to one another and to the published literature of the Biodiversity Heritage Library.
John Kirk Townsend's Vertebrates Collected on the Wyeth Expedition and Beyond, Philadelphoa [sic] to Hawaii 1834-1837
"Gatekeeper for all scientists going into the Wilderness." Archives and Plant Specimens of the George Engelmann Collection
Archives and Specimens from the Boston Metropolitan Park Flora
Archives and Specimens from the Birds of the Cambridge Region
Archives and Specimens from the John Torrey Collection
The Field Book Project
Academy of Natural Sciences
Missouri Botanical Garden
Harvard University Herbaria
Harvard Museum of Comparative Zoology
New York Botanical Garden
Smithsonian Institution, National Museum of Natural History
The work I completed this summer was inspired by this idea of exploring the inherent relationships between field book, specimen, and published literature.
For more on Connecting Content, visit http://research.calacademy.org/library/fieldnotes
Some case examples: