Emergency Procedures

In our previous post, we mentioned that Miller’s memo was found in a folder of emergency procedures. We didn’t appreciate immediately how fascinating those procedures were. They were put together in 1942 and they describe the types of gas attacks Americans were expecting and preparing for during the Second World War. Sometimes these administrative documents serve as an unexpected snapshot in time.

Air raid plan

Air raid plan

I think the takeaway is to “remember that in an emergency one fair plan carried out is better than two excellent ones not carried out!”

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MVZ Lunch beginnings

The MVZ brown bag lunch is a must for MVZ students and personnel. It is a graduate level seminar and it is mostly focused on current or recent vertebrate research. In addition to being a seminar, it is a chance for the museum to get together on a weekly basis. Numerous alum have said that it was their favorite activity while working in the MVZ.

MVZ_lunch_beginningsI have been asked by a few MVZers if I know the origins of the lunch but I’ve had to rely on the myths and folklore of others (all very reputable sources!). At long last, we have found an answer. Filed with historic emergency procedures, is a memo from then museum director, Dr. Alden Miller, dated January 29, 1943. Miller circulated the memo to all museum staff including Susan Chattin, the museum secretary, and Mary Tappe, the museum stenographer. It is brief but it is unquestionably the origin of this MVZ tradition.

MVZ personnel, October 6, 1943

MVZ personnel, October 6, 1943

You can read more about the MVZ lunch on the MVZ website.

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Positively Resourceful

Written by John Hickman, MVZ Archives volunteer and graduate student at the San Jose State University’s School of Library and Information Science.

Photographs are a valuable part of the MVZ story. But unless they are carefully stored and managed, they are treasures that can easily disappear, taking with them irreplaceable visual information that give a rare glimpse into the past of rare species, long ago landscapes and former MVZ faculty. The images come in different formats; glass slides, prints, old nitrate negatives and 35mm slides, and each presents it’s own challenges for preservation.  At the MVZ archives we work to move images to digital formats so that users can view the images, while the originals are safely stored for long-term preservation.

I recently began a new photo research project to organize, process and scan a box of images taken by O. P. Pearson. Part of the process is determining if the particular photo is already a part of our online image collection. Sometimes there’s metadata available with the physical photograph that narrows the search, but often there is little to go on other than the photographer’s name, and the research process turns to detective work using previously cataloged images for clues. It can be a fun challenge when there are one or two images to identify, but imagine working through a stack of fifty or a hundred! Patience is a necessary quality for an archivist.

In working through this project I found myself faced with identifying various black and white negatives. We’ve all experienced how hard it can be to make sense of a negative. Sure you can tell there are people, for example, but it’s usually impossible to tell who is actually in the photo. So, I found myself wondering is there such a thing as a negative viewer that would allow me to quickly flip the image from negative to positive for easier identification? Turns out I had one in my pocket! The Accessibility settings on my iPhone offers an Invert Colors function, which when used with the viewer on the built-in camera turns a mystery negative into a normal looking black and white image. A very cool and useful addition to my archival tool belt.


Using the accessibility settings in the iPhone to invert colors turning a negative image to a positive

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Ward C. Russell papers finding aid now available

Here at the MVZ Archives, I’ve just uploaded the finding aid to the Ward C. Russell papers onto the Online Archive of California (OAC). Russell began his employment with the MVZ in 1929 as a temporary fill-in. He would go on to stay for roughly 40 years as a preparator and collector. He is credited as being responsible for bringing the Dermestid beetle approach to cleaning specimen bones to the Museum, a practice that continues to this day. Indeed, this site notes: “One of the first references to the use of Dermestid beetles in the preparation of skeletons for scientific study was by Ward Russell in the Journal of Mammalogy, Vol. 28, pp. 284-87, 1947.”

You can access the finding aid to the Ward C. Russell papers here. We now have 25 finding aids that you can access on OAC’s site to aid you with your research.

Ward Russell's tool cabinet, recently discovered in MVZ's prep lab

Ward C. Russell’s tool cabinet, recently discovered in MVZ’s prep lab

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Working with the Notebooks of Dr. Robert Stebbins

Written by Sharleen Lee, first-year, Applied Mathematics and Classics majors.

When you were a child, did you watch countless hours of nature programs on National Geographic, Animal Planet, and Discovery? Well, I did. And I often wondered how these scientists know so much about nature. Through working at the Museum of Vertebrate Zoology, I have found the answer to my question.

As an undergraduate research apprentice at the Museum of Vertebrate Zoology at UC Berkeley, I have spent the past few months digitizing the field notes of Dr. Robert C. Stebbins. He was a museum curator and a professor in Zoology at UC Berkeley. Some of the field notes in his collection date back to the 1940s. Through scanning these field notes, I have discovered that Dr. Stebbins was also an artist. His illustrations are so detailed and vivid, and he often incorporated them into his field notes.

Robert C. Stebbins field notes, 1950

Robert C. Stebbins field notes, 1950

In his field notebooks, he often included letters of correspondence with other field biologists. They worked together diligently by sharing new discoveries and correcting one another’s mistakes. After stumbling upon a letter that begins with the words “a friend took this photo of a skink,” in which a scientist enthusiastically asks Dr. Stebbins to identify the species of a skink, I have come to realize that Dr. Stebbins and other zoologists have devoted their whole lives to the study of nature, to the study of something they are passionate about. Upon this conclusion, I decided to do some research on Dr. Stebbins. I found out that he made significant contributions to nature conservation, especially in the establishment of nature reserves which is something I aspire to do in my future years.  Dr. Stebbins has become a model for me to follow as I work toward my ultimate goal of founding a nature conservation fund.

As he said in his book, Connecting with Nature, “[field] studies are absolutely essential to understanding nature and of increasing importance as human impacts escalate.” His field notes prove that he dedicated his life to the preservation of nature. Although Dr. Stebbins passed away in September 2013 at the age of 98, his legacy will always be preserved in his field notes. It has been an honor for me to work as a field note digitization URAP, and Dr. Stebbins has inspired me in many, many ways.

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MVZ Veterans

As is often the case, we came upon a historical document quite by accident. Originally searching for an obituary of Elmer C. Aldrich, we found in his papers, an old MVZ Christmas newsletter from 1943. It contains a list acknowledging former MVZ personnel who were serving in WWII; both in the military and in civilian war work. It is an impressive list which reads like a who’s who of the MVZ. Notably, it recognizes the deaths of Kenneth Kretsinger of the U.S. Army, and James Moffitt of the U.S.N.R. earlier that same year.

Elmer Aldrich was in service with the U.S. Navy at the time. He kept this newsletter with other personal notes and cards.

We’d like to share this document in honor of Veterans Day and express our gratitude to those who have served our country.

Please click here to view the newsletter: MVZ WWII veterans

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Robert C. Stebbins (1915-2013)

Stebbins bookmarkAs the Museum Archivist at the MVZ, I have come across Robert Stebbins in many forms. Early on in the CLIR grant, we accessioned his personal papers. This was my introduction to Bob and I was surprised by the breadth of his work and his talent as an artist so much so that we used one of his drawings in our first outreach materials. And so it was with great sadness that we learned of the passing of Bob Stebbins. Robert C. Stebbins, Professor Emeritus of Zoology and Curator Emeritus in Herpetology, at the Museum of Vertebrate Zoology, at the University of California at Berkeley, died September 23, 2013, at the age of 98. MVZ Director Emeritus, David Wake, wrote the following memoriam of his longtime colleague and friend:

Robert C. Stebbins, Professor Emeritus of’ Zoology and Curator Emeritus in Herpetology, Museum of Vertebrate Zoology, University of’ California at Berkeley, died peacefully at his home in Eugene, OR, on September 23, 2013, at the age of’98 years and 6 months. Stebbins was the preeminent scholar studying amphibians and reptiles in North America, and was actively professionally until his last year of life. From his first amphibian book in 1951 to his last book on Amphibians and Reptiles of California (2012, Univ. California Press) he was a productive and influential force. He was also a superb artist, both of scientific illustrations and of portraits and landscapes. Throughout his career Bob Stebbins was a strong force in conservation biology and was very influential in the establishment of parks and reserves, particularly in the Mojave Desert. He was an educator who contributed importantly to elementary and middle school science instruction, stressing involvement, and was an effective and influential university professor. It was his strong belief that the principal problem facing humans on this planet was over population and all that flows from it. Above all, Bob Stebbins was a wonderful human being, a true naturalist, and a compassionate and involved citizen. We celebrate the life of a very special friend and colleague.

Robert C. Stebbins, taken at his home studio by Charles Brown, 2004.

Robert C. Stebbins, taken at his home studio by Charles Brown, 2004.

In our first year of working on the CLIR grant, we have had several undergraduates, volunteers, and interns work on the Robert C. Stebbins collection. They have collectively helped to organize, describe, catalog, and preserve his life’s work and each individual has come to list him as one of his or her favorite researchers. Perhaps it’s his charming smile or his uncanny ability to illustrate his scientific observations, or his dedication to conservation, all of which point to a man who dedicated his life to his passions.

Many biographies have been written of Robert Stebbins, perhaps most notably, Historical Perspectives: Robert Cyril Stebbins published in Copeia 2006 (3) which was written by two MVZ graduates and collaborators of Bob’s. We especially like Matthew Bettelheim’s writings on Stebbins, posted on the (Bio) Accumulation blog. And finally IB Major Amy Moulthrop’s post on Robert Stebbins. These posts are good examples of how Stebbins was able to impress upon a wide range of individuals, from seasoned biologists to an undergraduate research apprentice. Amy, who had never heard of Stebbins, developed a strong connection by working solely with his field notes. His art and research continue to educate and inspire students and this is his legacy.

Nancy Rink, an intern from the San Jose State School of Library and Information Sciences has been working on the finding aid for the Robert C. Stebbins collection. It is expected to be completed by the end of October.

We hope you enjoy this unedited clip from an interview with Stebbins conducted by Karen Klitz and filmed by Alison Chubb in 2005.

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