In the course of our work
we've always aspired to the standards of
natural history record-keeping
established by the Grinnell tradition,
forged in the settlement
of the western USA,
of preserving records and specimens
that will allow future tests of
plausible hypotheses
about ecological change.

(Steven G. Herman. 1986. "The Naturalist's Field Journal: A manual of instruction based on a system
established by Joseph Grinnell"

Buteo Books, Vermillion, South Dakota. 200 pp.).

We have not, however, adhered strictly to the
classic Grinnell format,
but have each developed our own
record-keeping systems,
which this page records.

Frederick W. Schueler & Aleta Karstad
Bishops Mills Natural History Centre

Contact us by phone at (613)258-3107
or e-mail bckcdb@istar.ca

Aspects of the 30-years-later project:

origins of 30-Years-Later
historic field work
journal formats

this month 30 years ago
30-Years-Later publications

planned route for 2010
projects for 2010
field methods for 2010
teaching revisit methods

planned events
suggest a revisit
sponsors of the 30 Years project

30 Years Later home page

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About us

Bishops Mills
Natural History

Thirty Years Later:

Evolution of journal and field notebook styles

Frederick W. Schueler & Aleta Karstad - Bishops Mills Natural History Centre

Historically, every naturalist kept some kind of records. Some of these, such as Darwin's journals of the Voyage of the Beagle and Thoreau's records of conditions in Concord, Massachusetts, were thorough and detailed, though for others the labels on collected specimens were thought to be a sufficient record of where they'd been and what they'd found.

[Schueler bookshelf]

We've each been keeping natural history journals since we were teenagers: Fred beginning on his own and then learning the Grinnell system at Cornell University as an undergraduate, while Aleta was taught a narrative style of journal in bound books by Frank Ross during her art school years in Toronto. Aleta's journals integrate design, illustration, observation, and data (Karstad, Aleta. 2000. "Drawing from Life" Trail and Landscape 34(3):110-116).

[Long Lake, south of Cochrane, Ontario]

Fred, on the other, has adapted the Grinnell system of precisely geo-temporally referenced, hypothesis-testing, observations to computer and GPS technologies (Schueler, Frederick W. 2000. "Navigating as Naturalists with the Global Positioning System" Trail and Landscape 34(1):35-40; and 2001, "Interest is paid on deposits in your provincial databank" The Boreal Dipnet 5(2):1-3).

Our goal, since 1993, has been to have all this electronically available in a database formatted to contain both records of individual species and phenomena encountered and a coherent narrative of our observational activities. This database currently contains 83,790 records (12h19, 20 July 2009), and grows by about 3-5K records in most years. Since 1996 locations have been mostly based on the GPS (see Schueler, Frederick W. 2000. "Navigating as Naturalists with the Global Positioning System" Trail and Landscape 34(1):35-40.).

We employed these methods (geo-referencing with maps, before we had GPS) in our exploration of the Lake Ontario Waterfront (Karstad, Schueler, & LeeAnn Locker. 1995. "A place to walk: A naturalist's journal of theLake Ontario Waterfront Trail" Natural Heritage/Natural History,Toronto. 159 pp.), where Aleta's text from her illustrated pages was entered in the database with Fred & Lee Ann Locker's field notes, and the text was edited down from the narrative output of these combined writings.

Now, as data entry for each year is completed, we bind narrative output as archival quality volumes. Copies of the database are deposited in interested public institutions (currently the Ontario Natural Heritage Information Centre, Canadian Museum of Nature, and New Brunswick Museum).

In 2004 we introduced theNatureJournal a system of equipment, pages, and instruction intended for the use and training of record-keeping naturalists of all ages and levels of experience, derived from our system of field note-keeping, and informed by our experience of describing a wide range of natural phenomena since 1969.

Historically, our formats for field notes have been:

1969-1984: illustrated narrative in pre-bound volumes (AKS)
1969-1972: Grinnell-style field notes, specimen catalogue & journal (FWS)
1973-1984: Specimen catalogue and 8.5x11 inch journal pages & NMNS herpetology & ichthyology datasheets (FWS)
1985-present: illustrated narrative on watercolour paper looseleaf (AKS)
1985-1989: Specimen catalogue and 8.5x?11 inch journal pages & NMNS datasheets, with contemporary text entry of non-specimen observations and narrative (FWS).
1990: Specimen catalogue and 8.5x?11 inch datasheets in a variety of formats, contemporary entry of herpetological observations into database (FWS).
1999-present: 'day-planner' database records entered on handheld computer (AKS).
1991-present: 5.5x8.5 inch journal pages & datasheets derived from NMNS format, with ongoing entry into database (FWS).
2004-present: use of theNatureJournal pages.