We are migrating!

Find us at mvzarchives.berkeley.edu!

We will continue to share stories and news from the MVZ Archives at our new address.

Our principal website at MVZ and Ecoreader for field notebook access remains the same, too.




Posted in Dearly Departed, Field notes, Finding Aids, From the Field, Joseph Grinnell, MVZ collections, Stories from the Archives, The Hidden Collections Project, URAPs, Women in Science | Tagged

History wrapped in history

While rehousing the Benjamin Hoag papers, I came across some field notes wrapped in a piece of paper. The Hoag papers date from 1878-1916. The wrapping paper looks to have notes written by Milton Ray, an ornithologist and oologist whose papers also reside at the MVZ. I assume that the Hoag egg collection was bought by Ray and then later donated to the MVZ.

What’s interesting is that on the back of Ray’s notes is a schedule of sessions dated September 11-12, 1942.  It is titled, “San Francisco Plant and Building Protection School, Sponsored by the San Francisco Civilian Defense council, Assisted by the San Francisco Bay Region Metropolitan Defense Council.” The series of talks took place at the Fairmont Hotel. The field notes wrapped inside date back to 1889.

This little piece of San Francisco WWII history is a gem within a gem. The sessions listed are humbling to think about (e.g. “Effect of Aerial Bombardment”). Ray’s scratch paper is a snap shot of some of the defense efforts organized in San Francisco and who would of thought something like this would be in the MVZ Archives?!!!

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Cool Camp Site

Written by URAP Sierra Abasolo, a third-year history major participating in the IMLS, “Strategic Stewardship for Sustaining the Archives of the Museum of Vertebrate Zoology” project. Spring semester 2018.

This photo (MVZ 11158) was captured by Otto Emerson near the base of Mount Diablo in Pine Canyon. The photo shows the camp of Walter E. Bryant and Otto W Emerson in March of 1887. Emerson was known for collecting environmental samples as a sort of hobby of his, so these men may have been out to expand their research.

This photo stood out to me as I was sorting through hundreds of photos because of the extravagant looking tent in the background that caught my attention. The tall stripped tent that comes to a point at the top reminded me of a circus tent. Another aspect I found striking about this photo is how old it is. Most of the photos I have seen are around 1913 or later, but this one was taken in 1887. I was surprised that a photo could have survived over 130 years, and considering photography was not used in the United States until late in the Antebellum period (1812 – 1860).

Another reason I was drawn to this photo was because it was taken at the base of Mount Diablo which is my favorite mountain because I could see it every time I looked out my window. My dad and I also hiked around the base of the mountain several years ago, so I thought it was cool to see such an old photo of one of my favorite places. Also, I plan on climbing to the top with my dad in the next few years.

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MVZ and Stanford

I just finished listening to the podcast, “Who Killed Jane Stanford,” which was produced last year by a history course at Stanford University. It is a fascinating investigation of the events surrounding the death of Jane Stanford, early Stanford culture, and the power struggles between Jane Stanford and David Starr Jordan. David Starr Jordan, Stanford’s first president, plays a leading role. Knowing that Jordan was influential to Joseph Grinnell’s formal education, it got me thinking about the connections between the MVZ, Stanford University, and David Starr Jordan. And for fans of the podcasts – Joseph Grinnell was earning his Master’s degree at Stanford during the time of the Gilbert affair. Coincidentally, Grinnell was a Ph.D. student of Charles Gilbert several years later. The connections are boundless!

In the early planning of the MVZ, Joseph Grinnell and Annie M. Alexander had differing ideas as to where their West Coast zoology museum should be. On October 29, 1907, Grinnell writes to Alexander detailing a trip he made to Stanford. He makes a strong case to build the museum in Palo Alto, concluding, “You see, I now feel strongly in favor of Stanford, from the work’s standpoint, tho I will admit also that I like the men at Stanford and the surroundings best.”  Alexander rejects this idea outright and firmly stays with the University of California in Berkeley as the home for her new museum.

Given that Grinnell received his Master’s degree from Stanford and Jordan was his major professor, his preference for Stanford isn’t surprising. But their relationship is somewhat of a mystery. We have a modest folder of correspondence between them. The Bancroft Library has 14 letters between the two. And their correspondence is not of the “Dear Joe,” style. They are formal and to the point as expected for the time period and their status. Interestingly, the earliest letter the MVZ has from Jordan is dated January 16, 1911. It contains only two sentences:

Please accept my thanks for your sympathetic letter. Some the things I said, sadly need saying.

From the date, I suspect he is referring to his letter to Science, “The Making of a Darwin.” which was published December 30th, 1910. Make of this what you will. Their correspondence goes on for two decades with the last letter written by Jordan in April of 1930.

There are so many questions I have about what Joseph Grinnell and Annie Alexander thought about David Starr Jordan and Jane Stanford. What did Grinnell think of Jordan’s, The Blood of the Nation? And what did Alexander think about Jane Stanford’s working relationship with Jordan? What did she think of the scandalous headlines surrounding Jane Stanford’s death? Surely, she must have read them. What did Alexander think of the other philanthropic women of UC (e.g. Jane Sather and Phoebe Hearst)? I have a feeling these were all just distractions from the work at hand. And yet, I expect that Alexander must have been interested in these philanthropic exercises. How does a woman in 1907 plan a museum, maintain control and influence, and dispense significant sums of money while developing respectful and productive relationships with male administrations? While Alexander’s efforts were on a smaller scale than Jane Stanford’s, their efforts can be studied in parallel. Sadly for Jane Stanford, her efforts had a much more tragic outcome.

Written by Christina Velazquez Fidler, MVZ Archivist

Posted in Joseph Grinnell, Stories from the Archives | 1 Comment

Raccoons in California

Written by URAP Lorena Zeferino, a third year MCB Neurobiology student participating in the IMLS, “Strategic Stewardship for Sustaining the Archives of the Museum of Vertebrate Zoology” project.

Photo taken by L.V. Compton, Point Lobos, Monterey County, California, 1934, MVZ 7238

Ever since I was a young child, I always had a love for animals and while looking through the MVZ archive, I was delighted by L.V Compton’s photographs of California’s adorable little thief; the raccoon. Raccoons are a species that is found commonly throughout Northern California and usually can live in farmlands, urban cities and suburban towns. I am from southern California where the raccoon population is particularly abundant since raccoons are attracted to urban cities such as Los Angeles and suburban areas such as Orange County. L.V Compton’s photographs are extraordinary visual captures of raccoons, since these creatures are nocturnal, they use their distinct black masks as a way to reduce glare that helps them visualize better in the dark therefore photographs of raccoons in daylight is a rare chance. Raccoons are also fiercely independent and are known to depart from their mother just after one year of age and due to their highly adaptive nature, it is very common to find a single raccoon burrowing through the trashcans of someone’s home looking for any meal to fulfil their omnivore diet.

Photo taken by L.V. Compton, Point Lobos, Monterey County, California, 1934, MVZ 7238.

L.V Compton’s photographs show a raccoon concentrating on the water which is a usual behavior for this creature. Although raccoons are known to dig into trash in order to find leftovers to feed on, raccoons use water to wash their found meal to reduce bacteria. It can be inferred that these photographs display this common behavior. Raccoons are a unique species but they are not to be considered to be potential pets since they will exhibit wild nature as well as being a heavy carrier of diseases that can be fatal to humans. These creatures will continue to express their wild nature even after being “tamed” therefore raccoons are to remain the nocturnal animals of the wild however L.V Compton’s photograph can be a slight glance into  raccoon’s behavior towards their environment.

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Dearly Departed: Richard M. Eakin

Written by Helen Yang, a fourth year student participating in the IMLS, “Strategic Stewardship for Sustaining the Archives of the Museum of Vertebrate Zoology” project.

Richard “Dick” Marshall Eakin was a professor in the zoology department at UC Berkeley. He became an instructor in 1936 after having received his PhD at UC Berkeley as well. In 1970, concerned with the decreasing attendance levels in his class, he came up with the idea of giving lectures dressed as historical scientists. His first impersonation was of William Harvey – the scientist who discovered the circulatory system – and involved a cow’s heart and tomato juice to simulate blood. He was dedicated to making his performances realistic and engaging, investing in drama classes, makeup artists, wigs and props. A typical course’s lineup would include William Harvey, William Beaumont, Hans Spemann, Gregor Mendel, Louis Pasteur, and Charles Darwin.

Richard M. Eakin, dressed as Charles Darwin. Photo by O. P. Pearson, 1971.

Needless to say, Eakin’s performances generated much attention throughout the years. His impersonation lectures were extraordinarily well-attended; even faculty and students who were not in the course would attend, filling the room so that people had to stand in the aisles. He was featured in publications internationally and guest lectured in universities nationwide. Photos and text from his lectures were compiled into a book called Great Scientists Speak Again. In his own words, “If I, acting as the professor, tell them the facts, I can impart knowledge. But when the people of science come before them and use the same words, they have more meaning.”

He wasn’t just known for being a character (or several) – he was a well-respected researcher who published many studies on reptiles and amphibians, with a particular interest in embryology, photoreceptors, and the parietal eye. Over the years he received a whole host of awards and recognition, including the Berkeley Citation, one of the highest awards given to Berkeley faculty. He helped tremendously in building up Berkeley’s zoology department, including serving as department chair for over 10 years, helping to establish field stations and research laboratories, and publishing an account called History of Zoology at Berkeley. As such, he had a healthy correspondence with the MVZ, spanning from 1934 to 1981 and concerning all manner of zoology-related business. He died in 1999, but his legacy lives on in his publications, his correspondences, and the impact he had on the lives of his students.


“Richard Marshall Eakin.” SF Gate, http://www.sfgate.com/news/article/Richard-Marshall-Eakin-2892225.php (accessed 17 April 2017).

Sanders, Robert. “Richard M. Eakin, a zoology professor who enthralled UC Berkeley students with costumed lectures, is dead at 89.” University of California, Berkeley, http://www.berkeley.edu/news/media/releases/99legacy/12-01-1999b.html (accessed 17 April 2017).

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Dearly Departed: George Gaylord Simpson

Written by Salaam Sbini, a fourth year history student participating in the IMLS, “Strategic Stewardship for Sustaining the Archives of the Museum of Vertebrate Zoology” project.

One can imagine having an interest in something that tends to move, breathe, and live. Maybe an organism of some sort, or an interest in something possibly more abstract, but nonetheless in existence. George G. Simpson’s interest was in both. Considered the most influential paleontologist of the twentieth century, Simpson’s area of study was not only restricted to the study of fossils and mammals which roamed the earth thousands of years ago, but also in evolutionary biology.

George G. Simpson combined paleontology into the modern Synthetic Theory of Evolution. Attempting to utilize fossil records “as a sampling of ancient breeding populations,” thus creating an exciting reemergence of the paleontology field, and adding a component of evolutionary biology. Simpson was president of the Society for the Study of Evolution, and communicated with Alden H. Miller (director of the Museum of Vertebrate Zoology at the time) through one of the correspondence letters, to create and establish a journal for the field of evolution. The letter was dated the same year as the organization itself was just established. The journal was quickly established the following year. A man of many talents, scientific rigor, and obvious accomplishments in different respected fields, George Simpson was a trailblazer. No biography of himself or his work could better attest except that of Eugene Raymond Hall’s (curator and at times acting director of MVZ) letter to Simpson in 1942 that simply included, “as always, your productivity is a stimulus to those of us who do not get quite so much done as yourself.”


McFadden, Robert D. “George G. Simpson, 82, Dies; A Vertebrate Paleontoglogist.” The New York Times. 1984. http://www.nytimes.com/1984/10/08/obituaries/george-g-simpson-82-dies-a-vertebrate-paleontologist.html

Stephen Jay Gould Archive. “S.J.G. Archive: People: G.G. Simpson.” Biography Sketch. http://www.stephenjaygould.org/people/george_simpson.html


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