The Library Receives a Major Grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation main content.

The Library Receives a Major Grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation

by Barbara Mathé on

Library News

Period photo of nine men in field clothes, seated in semicircle on folding chairs outside a tent, on sandy soil, some with pipes, with a Victrola and a speaker perched on crates.
Expedition group seated, enjoying Victrola, Third Asiatic Expedition, Gobi Desert, Mongolia. (AMNH image no. LS3-07)

The Research Library of the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH) is pleased to announce that it was awarded $320,400 from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, through a program administered by the Council on Library and Information Resources’ (CLIR) Cataloging Hidden Collections. The AMNH Archive Project will produce in-depth descriptions, called finding aids, for major archival collections relating to Museum expeditions. The project will also result in brief histories of these expeditions and biographies of those who participated in them.

Scientific expeditions and field work are the foundation for resource gathering by natural science museums worldwide. The artifacts and specimens collected by AMNH researchers in the field form the core of American Museum of Natural History's scientific research collections. The Lumholtz Expeditions to Mexico, 1890-98; the Jesup North Pacific Expedition, 1897-1902; the Vernay Hopwood Chindwin Expedition to Burma, 1934-35; the Whitney South Sea, 1921-37; the Archbold New Guinea, 1933-64; and the Central Asiatic Expeditions, 1921-30, are a few of the most prominent.

The notes, sketches, diaries, journals, specimen books, photographs, recorded sound, and moving images, made by scientists, artists and assistants collecting in the field, are held in each of the AMNH science departments and record their observations about the biology, cultural traditions and ecological conditions of the specimens and artifacts in their natural environments. Describing these archival records will enrich the experiences of all who use the AMNH scientific collections for research in the disciplines of systematic biology, ecology, cultural anthropology, and the history of science, as well as those who prepare exhibitions and educational programs for the millions of visitors to the Museum and its websites.

The project will result in the creation of an institutional cyber-infrastructure with an eye toward the long term integration of information about the archival collections and the objects and specimens in the scientific collections in the AMNH, and ultimately, with related collections in other institutions using linked open data. These records will form the structure where digitized images of the collections, whether of a bat skeleton, a field sketch of a bird, a frog call, a film of a ceremony, or a photo of a paleontological dig may someday be accessed virtually. But on a more basic level it requires working in the archives held in the Research Library as well as in each of the Scientific Departments to organize and describe the physical collections.  “The core of the project is in the links we will make between the documentary records of the scientists in the field and materials they collected,” says Barbara Mathé, Project Director.  “It will allow researchers to locate materials that, up until this point, would not have been found to relate to their research.” 

Libraries, archives, and cultural institutions hold millions of items that have never been adequately described. This represents a staggering volume of items of potentially substantive intellectual value, unknown and inaccessible to scholars. The Council on Library and Information Resources administers a national effort with the generous support of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to address this problem by awarding grants for supporting innovative, efficient description of large volumes of material of high value to scholars. Since the program began in 2008, eighty-seven grants totaling nearly $20M have been made to a variety of institutions nationwide. This is the second award from CLIR to support the AMNH Archive Project.

See the project blog at: