1905-06 Galápagos Expedition Fieldbook and Specimen Digitization Project

As a participant in "Connecting Content" the California Academy of Sciences is undertaking a pilot project to digitize the fieldbooks and a representative sample of finch specimens from the 1905-1906 Galápagos exhibition.  Approximately 1000 finches will be photographed, with six images per specimen.


The Galápagos Islands have captured the scientific imagination since at least 1859, when the world  enthusiastically received Charles Darwin's On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection. Informed by observations Darwin made in the Galápagos during his time on the H.M.S. Beagle, it is unsurprising that many individuals and scientists wished to explore the archipelago after reading his influential book. Several scientific expeditions visited the islands in the years after Darwin, including the Hassler Expedition of 1873, led by Louis Agassiz, the 1897 Webster-Harris Expedition, and the 1901 voyage of the Mary Sachs.


On June 28, 1905 the California Academy of Sciences launched the most ambitious scientific expedition since the institution's founding in 1853. Eleven men set out on a retrofitted 85-foot schooner, purchased from the United States Navy and rechristened the Academy. Their mission, as charged by Leverett Mills Loomis, Director of the California Academy of Sciences, was to visit the Galápagos Islands and undertake a comprehensive survey of the islands, take copious specimens, and to collect and study the land tortoises of the archipelago.


This crew spent one year and one day in the archipelago and packed their vessel with the most extensive collections of plants, birds, mammals, reptiles, and insects that had ever been collected from these islands to date. They departed for home on September 26, 1906, bound for San Francisco. Whilst engaged in their comprehensive survey of the islands, San Francisco was struck by the devastating earthquake of April 18, 1906. The earthquake struck at 5:12 AM, and before noon, fire had raced through much of downtown San Francisco, already reaching and seriously damaging the Academy's home on Market Street. Within the next several hours, the vast majority of the scientific, archival, and bibliographic holdings of the California Academy of Sciences were consumed by the fire. Unbeknownst to the crew of the Academy they now possessed what was, in effect, the entire biological specimen collection of the Academy. When the schooner Academy docked safely in San Francisco on the night of November 29, 1906 she signified the rebirth of California Academy of Sciences, and its reestablishment as a leading scientific research facility and museum.


The California Academy of Sciences retains and treasures most of the specimens from this expedition, the ornithological specimens are among the most consulted and requested in the research collections, while the Academy Archives houses the field books of seven members of the Academy. Due to rarity and fragility, the Academy is unable to loan materials related to the 1905-06 expedition, and proposes to meet the demands for access through a project to digitize the field notebooks and a statistically significant portion of the finches collected throughout the archipelago during the 1905-06 expedition. This collection consists of 5608 specimens and nearly 3,000 pages of manuscript material. There is extensive published material as well, much of it already accessible via the Biodiversity Heritage Library (BHL).


After the materials are scanned, databased, and cataloged, page level metadata will be enhanced by adding tags that will include personal names, names, dates, localities, and other contextual information, and exported to BHL where the data can link to published material, and to specimen data via the Encyclopedia of Life (EOL). A collection description record will be created for the Smithsonian Registry using the NCD framework. This effort will also strongly inform the California Academy of Science's developing Research Portal, and online tool devoted to publicizing and contextualizing the current and historic research efforts of the Academy. There is considerable enthusiasm for this project throughout the Academy. Because of our small size (a Research Division of fewer than 100 employees divided between twelve departments), we have a steep learning curve, but feel this makes us an excellent test case for the feasibility of Connecting Content projects in other small institutions.