The Age of Reptiles

The Age of Reptiles
The Age of Reptiles, a mural by Rudolph F. Zallinger. Copyright 1966, 1975, 1985, 1989 Peabody Museum of Natural History, Yale University. All rights reserved.

Friday, September 9, 2011

A different kind of masters

I’ve been working my way through the map cases in the Anthropology archives, beginning with Ben Rouse’s drawers and now moving into Mike Coe’s. I quickly learned that maps are only a small part of what is stored in these cases. Rouse has plenty of maps, including atlases from the dispute between the United States of Venezuela and British Guiana over their border, but also calendars with Japanese artwork and original figures from many of his publications. One of the more interesting things I found in Rouse’s drawers had to do with a reprint of an essay he wrote.

Now, reprints are not a terribly exciting thing to find in a museum archives but what I discovered was much more interesting. It was in an unopened package labeled “Archaeology Masters”. I expected to find some plates from Rouse’s master’s thesis but instead found the master plates for the lithograph of a reprint. The entire contents of the package were what appeared to be full size photo negatives of the pages of an article taped onto a grid layout, the full, uncut pages printed on cardstock, and the pages printed out on thin sheets of aluminum. These looked like printing plates but I was confused by the fact that I could read the printing on the aluminum instead of it being reversed for printing. With a little help from Barbara, we figured out that they were for offset printing. Before this I had seen drafts of papers and the final reprints and now I know what a few of the steps between look like; at least how it was done in the 60’s.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Human Parasite?

This story is the sort of gem I come across every now and then while sorting through the Invertebrate Zoology archives. A Dr. C. Ritter from Brooklyn, New York sent Addison Verrill a letter dated 16 Nov 1887, informing him he is sending a segment of tape worm removed from a “customer.” This isn’t as shocking as it sounds, as Verrill was one time the Connecticut state parisitologist. A note written on the letter by Verrill expressed doubt that it was a human parasite.

A subsequent letter from Carl Gissler, an invertebrate zoologist and acquaintance of Verrill’s, dated 22 Sep 1888, vouches for the authenticity of the specimen. He says he was present when the tapeworm proglottids were removed from the unfortunate man. I’ll leave it to the reader to look up how a person usually finds out they are infected by tapeworms. Gissler suggests it is either a Taenia, a common human tapeworm or Ligula, a genus of tapeworm found infecting fish. Unfortunately, I can find no specimen in the collection that relates to these letters. It is possible it was returned, but it would have been even more interesting to know the true identity of the parasite.

In today’s instant communication age, it’s interesting to read the conversations people such as Verrill were having through hand written correspondence. Answers could sometimes take months, if not years. Many of Verrill’s correspondence are requests for papers or specimens and the researchers could have to wait months to get the required information. Today we just send an email or go to the web.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Who gets credit?

As we begin to catalog our archives here at the Peabody Museum, those working on the project will occasionally post items of interest as they come across them. We are starting the cataloging process in the three divisions with the largest archive collections. So if Anthropology, Vertebrate Paleontology and Invertebrate Zoology interest you, check back often as we hope to post on a regular basis.

To start things off, I’ll be working through the Division of Invertebrate Zoology’s collections. I have worked in the division for the last 7 years and am looking forward to be able to put some order to the Division’s archives. Hopefully, going through the archives will add value to our more traditional collections and even answer some questions we have in regards to them.

Last week, I sorted some correspondence from Theodore Lyman to Addison Verrill. In one of those letters, Lyman was commenting on the then “American” way of attributing authors to taxonomic nomenclature. Verrill believed anyone could describe a species, but classifying that species correctly was more important. He would then attribute his name as author. This of course led to species being incorrectly attributed to Verrill, something we are still sorting out 130 years later. Lyman happened to agree with Verrill’s reasoning, and stated the “American” way would become dominant over the more traditional European method. The European method, which Lyman referred to as the “Scandinavian” method, retained the original author, even after the species was correctly classified; they simply made the author parenthetical. Thankfully the traditional method was retained, making taxonomists lives much easier than what Verrill was proposing.

I realize the preceding may not interest all of you, but as a zoologist, I enjoyed the insight it gave me into the evolving field of taxonomy in the mid-nineteenth century. It also gave me a more information on Addison Verrill, a very influential zoologist of the late 19th and early 20th century, someone who I’ll be writing more about in the future.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Peabody Receives “Hidden Collections” Grant

News Release
For immediate release:  April 26, 2011
Contact:  Melanie Brigockas, 203-432-5099,

The Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History is about to undertake a major electronic cataloguing project thanks to a $409,000 award from the Council for Library and Information Resources (CLIR) and the A.W. Mellon Foundation. The grant will enable the Museum to catalogue the archives and special collections of the Museum archives and its 11 curatorial divisions using its enterprise collections management system, KE EMu, which is an important goal for scientific and historical research.
Tim White, Peabody assistant director for collections who will oversee the project, noted that a variety of collections would be affected, including such items as paintings, sculptures, photographs, field notes and maps.  “Regardless of size or scope,” White said, “they individually and collectively tell an interesting story that we believe will benefit historians, biographers and scientists through access to all these materials.”
Called the “Hidden Collections” grant, the three-year project started in January and involves the hiring of additional staff to support it. Each division will initially survey its own archives and special collections. That information will be analyzed by a four-person committee headed by White “to draft a best practice for organizing, housing, cataloguing and mobilizing information for the Internet,” he said.
Peabody staff serving on the committee with White are Catherine Sease, senior conservator, who will work with the divisions on how the material will be restored and housed; Lawrence Gall, head of computer systems, who will work in developing online catalogues as materials from divisions are processed; and Annette Van Aken, project registrar, who will supervise the two hired museum assistants, Dan Drew and Nate Utrup, working with the divisions.
The committee will also receive input from Manuscripts and Archives at Sterling Library to determine the best practice for arrangement, housing and modes of access. White said the committee will begin with two or three collections and then rotate around to the other divisions.  Another aspect to be included in the project is oral histories. “Each division has a rich history, and much of the knowledge about our collections and institutions is tied to  our senior curators and staff,” White said.
White noted that Peabody was one of 17 institutions around the nation to receive a grant from CLIR and the Mellon Foundation, adding that with grant distribution ranging from $50,000 to $500,000, the museum received one of the larger ones.
“It was appealing to CLIR and the foundation that we’ve found a way to manage the information through library and archive standards. We will use both the ‘Darwin Core’ and ‘Dublin Core’   data structures that scientists and historians will be familiar with,” White said. “When completed, historians and scientists will be able to access information over a variety of different search engines. It’s a good way to bridge the gap between scientists and historians.”