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From the Stacks 

August 27, 2012

An August Illustration Smackdown

The Lobster by Douglas Florian
See the hard-shelled leggy lobster
Like an underwater mobster
With two claws to catch and crush
Worms and mollusks into mush
And antennae strong and thick
Used for striking like a stick
So beware when on vacation
Not to step on this crustacean

Spiny lobsters have two noticeable anatomical differences from the more well known Maine lobster. First are the thickened spiny antennae (hence the common name). Secondly, the first set of walking legs do not end in enlarged chelipeds (or claws). The Japanese spiny lobster, Panulirus japonicus, lives off the coast of Japan, Korea and China. Many restaurants will have it labeled Ise Ebi. It is similar in appearance to the California spiny lobster, Panulirus interruptus.

Asaeda, Toshio. Panulirus Japonicus, Thai Lagoon, Malaita. May 31, 1933. ©California Academy of Sciences Archives, San Francisco, CA.

Asaeda, Toshio. Panulirus Japonicus, Thai Lagoon, Malaita. May 31, 1933. ©California Academy of Sciences Archives, San Francisco, CA.

This image is a part of Toshio Aseada’s collection housed here at the California Academy of Sciences Archives. Gifted in the arts of painting, photography, and taxidermy, and educated in geology, zoology, botany, and geography,  Mr. Aseada found work at the California Academy of Sciences beginning in 1927 as an artist for the Academy’s ichthyology department. Asaeda accompanied Templeton Crocker and Academy scientists on several scientific expeditions, including a 1933 trip to the Solomon Islands. Because specimens lose their pigmentation quickly when preserved in formalin and other aqueous solutions, Asaeda was tasked with painting the specimens when they were collected in order to capture their brilliant colors. This specimen was captured in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of the island of Malaita and drawn from life. Reproductions of some of Aseada’s  specimen illustrations are on display on the California Academy of Sciences’ main floor in the Islands of Evolution exhibit.

Asaeda, Toshio. 1933. ©California Academy of Sciences Archives, San Francisco, CA

Asaeda, Toshio. 1933. ©California Academy of Sciences Archives, San Francisco, CA

For me, this species was more difficult to research. Not only was I unable to get hold of a live lobster, but the literature was either highly specialized (Spiking induced by cooling the myocardium of the lobster, Panulirus japonicus) or very broad (Marine Lobsters of the World, QL444.M33 H658 1991 Main). 

(c) 2012 Diane T Sands

Paniluris japonica (c) 2012 Diane T Sands

I wound up using an older illustration technique for this image. Carbon dust was introduced in 1911 by Max Brödel, the first director of the Department of Art as Applied to Medicine at Johns Hopkins University. It is one of those methods that produces amazing results, but has become lost due, I believe, to the complexity factor. Most illustration manuals devote two pages to setting up the supplies and preparing the board, followed by one paragraph on application, and another page on keeping everything clean. Computer illustration programs can now produce similar effects for publication with much less mess and without the storage issues carbon-dust involves.

Nonetheless, I readied my piles of dust scraped from various carbon pencils using fine sandpaper. I used good quality paint brushes that have never touched water, their bristles flecked with black dust. I measured the illustration board, lifted all blemishes from the surface with a kneaded eraser, and rubbed the whole thing with a chamois. Bilateral symmetry allowed me to render both the ventral and dorsal surfaces of the lobster in a compact illustration without losing detail.

December 23, 2011

Philip Tompkins photographs

I just finished importing 312 Philip Tompkins images into our internal digital asset management system and I thought I would share a few of my favorites here.
South Central Utah - Lower Goblin Valley, 1950.

South Central Utah – Lower Goblin Valley, 1950.

Philip Tompkins was born in San Anselmo, California. He graduated from the University of California in 1894. An analytical chemist and chemical engineer, he was a founder of the San Francisco chemical firm of Curtis and Tompkins where he continued to work until two years before his death (on 6 December 1972 in San Anselmo, California.)

An avid photographer, he explored Utah, Colorado, and Arizona. Tompkins aided in discovering and recording the “Lost Valley of the Goblins” in Utah (1949). His article, “Goblin Valley, Recent History and Need for Protection” accompanied by many of his photographs of the area appeared in National Parks Magazine (October-December 1954).

As an expression of appreciation to the Botany Department of the California Academy of Sciences, and a memorial to Alice Eastwood, he funded the Tompkins, Tehipite Botanical Expedition of the Sierra Nevada, California. An account of this journey was published in Leaflets of Western Botany by John Thomas Howell (1958). Tompkins also assisted in the publication of A Flora of Lassen Volcanic National Park, California (1961).

Tompkins was a California Academy of Sciences member (1930) and Academy lecturer (1953 “Sections of South-Central Utah”, 1955 “Southern Utah Scenes”). His extensive collection of slides, photographs, and negatives were donated to the Academy Library (1957, 1963). (Biography by Sharon Landwehr, Archives Volunteer)

Hoover Dam Construction - 5th trip, May 1935.

Hoover Dam Construction – 5th trip, May 1935.

Utah - Arizona trip.  Rainbow Bridge & vicinity, 1933.

Utah – Arizona trip. Rainbow Bridge & vicinity, 1933.

Yellowstone National Park, July 1904.
Yellowstone National Park, July 1904.

Mt. Baker - Washington, August 1928.

Mt. Baker – Washington, August 1928.

First Death Valley trip. Tram from tunnel, March 1929.
First Death Valley trip. Tram from tunnel, March 1929.

- Danielle Castronovo
Archives & Digital Collections Librarian

Filed under: Academy History,Archives,Photography — Archives & Special Collections @ 12:33 pm

May 12, 2011

Galapagos Islands 1905-1906 Digitization Project Update: Imaging Finch Specimens

I am almost at the end of my 16-week internship at the Academy Library, and I am excited to have started imaging finch specimens. This is part of the Connecting Content project, which has been made possible with grant funding from the Institute of Museum and Library Services. This project involves digitizing and providing access to expedition field notes and avian specimens from a 1905-1906 expedition to the Galapagos Islands. At the end of the project the finch specimen images will be available through the Encyclopedia of Life.

During the first few months of the project I worked on digitizing the expedition field notes while we prepared for imaging the finches. A lot of planning and experimenting had to be done before we could begin, and I learned a lot along the way.

The finch collection from this expedition consists of over 4,000 specimens; this includes numerous species collected from many of the islands in the Galapagos Archipelago. Before beginning this project, the project staff had to figure out how we would select the 1,000 specimens that will be imaged as our sample from this collection.

Through our selection process we want to provide researchers and users with a balanced and deep collection, so we are imaging a proportional sample of each species, including an equal sampling of male and female specimens, from every island where they were collected.

One of the goals of this project is to provide researchers with the ability to view these images online and conduct research remotely, so it was important that we considered image quality, camera angles, and image uniformity. After discussions with staff scientists and researchers we are taking six images of each specimen, from different points of view. This includes shots of the ventral (belly), dorsal (back), lateral (side), and head/beak of the finches, as well as the front and back sides of the collection tags. The collection tags are important as they contain information such as the genus, species, collection date, specimen number, and the island where they were collected.

The bird specimens must be handled carefully. Although they are quite rigid, some parts of them may break or come off with rough or excessive handling, particularly their feathers and legs. Each specimen is gently placed on a uniform background with a ruler and a color bar before the photograph is taken. The color bar allows us, as well as the user, to gauge color representation and accuracy.

The camera that we are using for this part of the project is a Canon E05 5D with a 50mm lens. It creates highly detailed and crisp images. One can zoom in and view incredible detail, including individual strands of feathers, and even dandruff particles. The camera is attached to a custom-built mount, and is affectionately known as “the Big Kahuna.” This equipment was provided by Academy curator of Herpetology Bob Drewes. You can read about his ongoing work teaching about and studying the incredible biodiversity of Sao Tome and Principe on his blog.

It has been fun and a great learning experience to work on this project. Although my internship is coming to an end in a couple of weeks, I am certain you will be hearing more about the progress of this exciting project from the staff and other interns over the next couple of years.

Josh Roselle

Filed under: Academy History,Archives,Connecting Content — Archives & Special Collections @ 4:52 pm

March 24, 2011

Connecting Content: Galapagos Islands 1905-1906 Expedition Field Notes Digitization, Project Update

Since my last blog post I have finished scanning the field notes of Alban Stewart, the expedition botanist, and I have moved on to Washington Ochsner’s geology field notes. The pages are unbound and very brittle, so I have to be quite gentle with them and handle them as little as possible.

During the year the expedition was in the Galapagos, the scientists went to several islands multiple times. It seems that after the expedition these notes were reordered by island, so I check closely while scanning to make sure that the pages are not out of place.

Ochsner’s geology journal is divided into four sections:

The first, and largest section, is comprised of notes and general observations. It describes geological formations, strata, and rock composition. In this section he often describes a formation or an island’s origin, and explains how it may relate to other islands in the Galapagos chain. This section also contains interesting figures and maps to help visualize the descriptions. The maps and figures show rock strata and geological formations— such as lakes, cliffs, craters, and volcanic formations—with numbers or alpha-notations connecting features to the notes. These have been some of my favorite parts of the notes. I enjoy cartography, particularly old maps, and it is fascinating to read through Ochsner’s notes and connect them to his drawings.

Ochsner called the second section “occasional ideas.” These seem to be general thoughts that did not fit in with the notes on specific islands. It also contains citations for literature related to his observations.

The third section is a rock specimen catalog. This section contains a list of rock specimens Ochsner, and other members of the expedition, collected on the various islands. He assigned the specimens a unique catalog number and also a number relating to where they were found.

The final section consists of photograph metadata. This is descriptive information that corresponds to images taken during the expedition.

I am almost finished digitizing Ochsner’s field notes, and, after receiving further training with the imaging hardware and software, I will probably begin taking high resolution digital images of finch specimens. It should be lots of fun!

Josh Roselle

Filed under: Academy History,Archives,Connecting Content — Archives & Special Collections @ 12:05 pm

March 11, 2011

Connecting Content: 1905-1906 Galapagos Expedition Field Notes

The California Academy of Sciences was recently awarded a National Leadership Grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services for a project called Connecting Content. This pilot project involves digitizing and providing access to expedition field notes and avian specimens from a 1905-1906 expedition to the Galapagos Islands, and I get to create the digital images! At the end of the project we will make the field notes available through the Biodiversity Heritage Library and specimen images available through the Encyclopedia of Life.

Besides the scientific and research value of this collection, it is also one of the Academy’s oldest collections. While the expedition was in the Galapagos the 1906 Earthquake devastated San Francisco and destroyed the old Academy building along with many collections. The Galapagos expedition’s field notes and specimens became part of the foundation materials for the new Academy.

I have begun scanning the field notes of Alban Stewart, the expedition botanist. The notes are divided into three sections. In the first section Stewart tracked plant species he encountered and recorded them using a numbering system, and he provided brief notes about them.

The second section is composed of his journal. In the journal Stewart describes in greater detail the various species and locations of plants found on the many islands of the Galapagos Archipelago. Stewart would survey an area and describe species he found and note any particulars of their surroundings, including if they were abundant or scarce. Stewart’s journal traces the biodiversity of the flora in relation to other islands and continental regions. In his notes he often mentions other regions where these plants grow, and whether or not a species can be found on other islands in the chain.

The final section is a chart of air and water temperature readings. I was surprised to find that the water and air temperature readings were often very similar.

I am working in the project lab on the first floor, across from the rainforest dome. It is a high-tech lab where visitors can walk by and view ongoing projects and research being conducted live. It has been kind of fun to scan, view, and process the images on three large computer screens while visitors can peer in through the glass. We set up a display with some related artifacts from the expedition—such as a pith helmet, some of the field notes, an old camera, and an expedition group photograph—for visitors to view as well so that they can get an idea of what we are doing. A few special tours have come through the lab and it has been great to interact with them and explain the project, why it is important, and what we hope to accomplish. It is quite rare in the archive world to have this much engagement with the public, so I am hopeful we can help demystify archives a little and show people what we are doing to make important primary materials more accessible.

Filed under: Academy History,Archives,Connecting Content — Archives & Special Collections @ 10:45 am

January 3, 2011

1906 Academy Building

The Archives recently received a reference question that required some of my favorite kind of investigative work.  A researcher had viewed a 60 Minutes’ segment on a 1906 film shot in San Francisco.  The film was digitally restored by the Prelinger Archives and California Archivist, David Kiehn was able to identify the date of the film as being just days before the devastating April 18, 1906 earthquake and fire.  Our researcher wanted to know if the California Academy of Sciences building was visible in the video.

The Academy has had many homes in its 157 year history.  James Lick donated the Market Street property to the Academy in 1873 and after several legal battles, the Academy moved into the new building in 1891.  So according to the timeline, the Academy should be visible in the film. The building was built on the south side of Market and as the film is shot going east on Market, the Academy should be on the right hand side, near 4th Street.

The film begins on Market and 8th Street so I initially tried to count the blocks down to 4th Street.  This proved difficult as the film cuts in and out at times.  So I decided to try a different, more deductive approach.  The Call Building (sometimes referred to the Spreckles Building) stands out in the film.  If I could simply find out where the Academy was in relation to the Call Building, it would be easier to pinpoint.  The Call Building was located on Market and 3rd St.  So the Academy was certainly nearby.  I pulled up the Academy Library Image Gallery and found a photo of the Academy Building next to the Emporium Building.

The Academy is on the left and the Emporium is on the right (with the flag). N2369 - California Academy of Sciences

I then went to Calisphere’s 1906 collection and did a search on the Emporium Building hoping to find a photograph looking east down Market.  I found the perfect image.  I found the Academy next to the Emporium building with the Call building pictured down the street.  Now I could view the film again and recognize major landmarks to identify the Academy.

BANC PIC 19xx.112:095 - Courtesy of The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley.

The Call building is in view from the beginning of the film but by using the Bancroft photograph, I could better gage where to find the large Emporium building and subsequently, the smaller Academy building.  The Emporium building comes into full view at the three minute mark.  You can make out its roman column entrance on the right hand side of the screen.  The Academy is directly east of the Emporium.  If you pause the video at the 3:34 minute mark, you can see the Academy’s triangular entrance on the immediate right.  And just as quickly as it comes into view, it is gone.  A search on Calisphere will yield numerous pictures during the fire, some showing the Academy and some after the building had collapsed.

BANC PIC 2002.065:24--ALB - Courtesy of The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley.

It is interesting to note that in 1884, J.C. Flood offered the Academy $200,000 cash for the Market Street property but this offer was declined in committee.   The Flood building was completed in 1904 and was very close to the Academy building.  It survived the 1906 earthquake and fire.

Christina V. Fidler – Digital Projects Manager


Leviton, A. E., & Aldrch, M. L. (1997). Theodore Henry Hittell’s The California Academy of Sciences. A Narrative History: 1853-1906. Memoirs of the California Academy of Sciences.

Filed under: Academy History,Archives — Archives & Special Collections @ 2:45 pm

December 17, 2010

Check out our New “Science in Action” Television Show Web page!

In the spring of 1950, “Science in Action” began as a fifteen minute segment on a popular Bay Area television program called “The Del Courtney Show.” Academy staffer Tom Groody made a guest appearance on the program during which time he discussed scientific topics and brought in animals from the Academy’s Steinhart Aquarium. The segment was wildly popular and Groody was invited to return and further discuss contemporary science issues. Eventually, Groody’s Science in Action segment became a regular thirteen week feature in the program.

"Science in Action" # 26 - "How Television Works"

“Science in Action” # 26 – “How Television Works”

Shortly thereafter, a half-hour weekly evening television series was developed to discuss timely and significant scientific subjects with guest scientists, demonstrations, and an animal of the week exhibition. By fall of 1950, the “Science in Action” television show was the first live science program on television in the country and forged the path for science programs as we know them today.

"Science in Action". Animal of the Week - Earl Herald, Anita Fiala and snakes.

“Science in Action”. Animal of the Week – Earl Herald, Anita Fiala and snakes.

In 1952, Academy superintendent Dr. Earl Herald took over the role as host of Science in Action. Herald’s spontaneity and charm quickly put guests at ease and made the topics easily understandable for the audience at large. The program raised public awareness and increased traffic to the Aquarium, especially the animal of the week exhibition, which featured wild animals on live television. In one reported incident, newly born water snakes had escaped from the set of Science in Action into the television studio during a live broadcast. Because of this publicity, over five thousand people stopped in to the Aquarium the following week asking to see the baby snakes. Additionally, it was not uncommon to see a handler get bit or an animal defecate and without missing a beat, Herald would offer the clever banter that endeared him to home audiences. In June of 1966, due to rising costs of production, Dr. Herald hosted the 626th and final episode of “Science in Action”.
Herald and Frey demonstrate Fiberglass Rockets
We are pleased to announce the newest addition to our library collections website: The Science in Action Television show archives. There you can learn about the items that the Academy holds in its Science in Action collection, which includes over a thousand reels of 16mm film, hundreds of scripts, and hundreds of photographs. Owing to preservation concerns and a lack of on site resources only digitally preserved versions of the television show can be viewed, and currently, very few of the films exist in this form. However, the films are available to be digitized for a fee, and we’re hopeful that the website will draw attention to the collection and generate contributions to the digitization effort.

Filed under: Academy History,Archives,Science in Action — Intern @ 3:02 pm

October 15, 2010

Farallon Islands items at Nightlife

I have been working with a researcher named Eva Chrysanthe who is writing and illustrating a graphic novel called The Farallon Egg War. Her graphic novel is almost done and we are both excited to have a table at the October 21 Farallon Nightlife at the Academy. She will have some of her original paintings and drafts of the graphic novel while I will feature some of the Library and Archive materials that she consulted as reference materials.

In the Archives, we have two collections that have striking historic images from the Farallones. The Arthur L. Bolton family papers contains fifty Farallon images from 1896 and 1897 including a lighthouse, a shipwreck, an egger’s shoes, and men collecting bird eggs. In addition, there are images of Arthur Bolton and Leverett Mills Loomis preparing bird specimens in the Academy’s Monterey workshop. These are some of the earliest Farallon images that Eva found while conducting research.

"Fisherman's Bay' and 'North Landing' South Farallon Island July '96."

“Fisherman’s Bay’ and ‘North Landing’ South Farallon Island July ’96.” Arthur L. Bolton family papers.

"A weeks egg gathering South Farallon Islands". Eight men around a pile of eggs.

“A weeks egg gathering South Farallon Islands”. Eight men around a pile of eggs. Arthur L. Bolton family papers.

"Mr. Loomis and A.L. Bolton in workshop of California Academy of Sciences Expedition, Monterey, California. June 1897."

“Mr. Loomis and A.L. Bolton in workshop of California Academy of Sciences Expedition, Monterey, California. June 1897.” Arthur L. Bolton family papers.

"Eggers trolley to Sea Island Islet." South Farallon Island, July '96. Man sitting on trolley off side of rock.

“Eggers trolley to Sea Island Islet.” South Farallon Island, July ’96. Man sitting on trolley off side of rock. Arthur L. Bolton family papers.

"Scottie 'the Egger', South Farallon Islands, July '96." Man holding basket on his shoulder.

“Scottie ‘the Egger’, South Farallon Islands, July ’96.” Man holding basket on his shoulder. Arthur L. Bolton family papers.

The O.J. Heinemann collection contains approximately 700 glass plate negatives.  One of the rare books that Becky pulled for Eva contained several of the Heinemann Farallon images that we have in the archive. Please join us at the Academy on Thursday October 21st to see some of these items.

- Danielle Castronovo

Archives and Digital Collections Librarian

Filed under: Academy History,Archives — Archives & Special Collections @ 12:15 pm

January 19, 2010

The Great Sea Bears

San Francisco’s famous Steller’s Sea Lions (and their recent disappearance) have been in the news a lot recently. Did you know that the famous explorer and taxonomist Georg Steller not only gave the Sea Lions their leonine name, but also dubbed one of their close cousins the “Sea Bears”?

Northern Fur Seal

The name never caught on, but it’s what he intended to call the Northern Fur Seal. Both Sea Lions and Fur Seals are species of the Otariidae family (seals with external ears). Fur Seals do range as far south as the Farallon Islands, but their real numbers are found far north in the Bering Sea. In the 19th and early 20th century, the port of San Francisco was one of the major hubs of trade in fur seal skins, and the Academy has a large collection of archival items related to that era of maritime commerce, scientific research, and the conservation efforts that ultimately lead to the protection of the valuable “Sea Bear”.

The story begins on June 25, 1786, far out in the Bering Sea. Under a typically thick summer fog, the Russian navigator Gavriil Pribylov piloted his two-masted sloop St. George the Victorious by the sounds of barking seals. When the fog briefly lifted he found a wind-swept, treeless island, unpopulated by humans, but teeming with other creatures great and small. Most importantly, the island was densely populated by the Callorhinus ursinus, Steller’s “Sea Bear”. This was Pribylov’s goal, the fabled breeding grounds of fur seals as spoken of in Aleut tradition. A second island, which was close enough to see under a clear sky, remained undiscovered for another year due to the perpetually gray and rainy state of the Bering Sea. These two volcanic islands, named St. George and St. Paul (and several scattered smaller counterparts) make up the chain now called the Pribilof Islands. Crown-approved Russian furriers claimed these islands and began hunting the fur seals for their valuable coats. Native Aleutians were forcibly moved to camps on the Pribilof Islands to carry out the profitable work.

In 1867, when Secretary of State William Seward negotiated the purchase of the Alaskan Territory from the Tsars, the Pribilofs were included in the sale. The Russian furriers left, but the Aleut workers remained, and in 1870, the United States government leased the sealing rights on the Pribilof Islands to a newly-formed private San Francisco investment firm, the Alaska Commercial Company. In 1890 the Alaska Commercial Company was outbid for continued rights by another San Francisco agency, the North American Commercial Company, organized by Irving Liebes, a Prussian Jewish merchant whose brother Herman had founded a wholesale and retail fur market in downtown San Francisco (later called the H. Liebes Department Store, which continued to operate near Union Square until 1970). To give you a sense of the importance of the Fur Seal trade, under the terms of these two leases the United States government netted ten times the cost of the entire Alaska purchase.

The Academy’s Research Library Reading Room, open to Academy staff and visiting researchers, is currently hosting a display of items from our manuscript collections relating to the history of the Fur Seal trade. Many of the display items are culled from our extensive collection pertaining to former Academy Director Dr. Barton W. Evermann.

Evermann’s interest in Alaska started in 1892. He had received his Ph.D. from Indiana University in 1891 and through his connections to the influential Dr. David Starr Jordan, then the Chancellor at Indiana, he was appointed as a research scientist aboard the USS Albatross, the first commissioned governmental research vessel in the world. The Albatross was assigned to explore the Alaskan coast, the Aleutian Islands, and in particular the fur seal rookeries of the Pribilof Islands. Thus a midwestern schoolteacher and ichthyologist traveled to the remote Bering Sea, where he would go on to become one of the world’s foremost experts on the Northern Fur Seal. The artifacts of his research — photographs of the islands and seal hunting, his painstaking field notes, and a letter from the US Government issuing research instructions to the commander of the Albatross — are all part of the Reading Room exhibit. These are placed alongside advertising circulars from the Liebes Fur Company and a period San Francisco Chronicle article detailing the “romance of the fur trade”.

Fur Seal Reading Room Exhibit

Evermann would go on to be Commissioner of Alaska Fisheries from 1910-1914. He moved from Alaska to San Francisco in 1914 as the new Director of the California Academy of Sciences. His tenure had a profound influence, including his oversight of the Academy’s move to Golden Gate Park in 1916 and the construction of the Steinhart Aquarium in 1923. His interest in Alaska and the Pribilof Islands went undiminished during his time with the Academy — in fact, four fur seals from the Pribilofs occupied the fountain in front of the Steinhart on the day it opened.

Evermann’s discoveries established the threats of pelagic (at-sea) hunting to the survival of fur seals as a species. This in turn led to a 1911 multi-national treaty that banned pelagic hunting of fur seals in international waters — the first known treaty in history written expressly to save a threatened species from extinction.

In addition to the manuscript items on display in the Library Reading Room, the Academy has a large collection of related photographs, letters and materials. Our holdings also include circulating copies of The Alaska Fur-Seal Islands, written by Academy scientist G Dallas Hanna, who lived on both St. George and St. Paul’s Islands, first working as a teacher and shopkeeper in 1913 and then serving in 1914 as a fur-seal herd custodian. This book is one of the most substantive accounts of this era of discovery, commerce and Alaskan history written by an eyewitness. The call number is QH105.A4 H36 2008.

Please inquire with library staff if you are interested in exploring this period of history further. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA) also produced and hosts an excellent website on the historical legacy of the Fur-Seal islands here.

Daniel Ransom – Archives and Digital Production Assistant

Filed under: Academy History,Archives,Exhibits,Special Collections — Archives & Special Collections @ 4:55 pm

September 10, 2009

Back to School

Back-to-School has arrived on the calendar for the children of San Francisco and one of the men they – and I am sure their parents – can thank for that privilege was one of the seven founding fathers of the California Academy of Sciences. He was Colonel Thomas J. Nevins, the first Superintendent of Schools for San Francisco.

Thomas Nevins arrived during the Gold Rush in 1850 from New Hampshire and, as a lawyer, he drafted the first public school law for the growing city of San Francisco.
In 1851 he was hired to serve as the first Superintendent of the Free Common [public] Schools. In that year, the city had levied taxes to maintain seven school districts.

After their first meeting in April of 1853, the then California Academy of Natural Sciences members met in the office of Colonel Nevins at 622 Clay Street. Here they kept their library and their expanding ‘cabinet of specimens’. Every Monday evening by the light of tallow candles, the members read and discussed their scientific papers.

Dedicated to this infant organization, Nevins took on the role of Treasurer, the Second Vice Presidency, and the Librarian, as well as being a member of the Publication and Proceedings Committees. He was also on the committee that drafted our constitution. Later he would be made the Recording Secretary and be honored as a life member.

At the time of these first meetings of the Academy, Nevins was also actively advocating for the addition of a high school into the common school’s system. After three years, he convinced the city to establish this school. [This first high school west of the Mississippi was originally located on Powell Street and is the predecessor of today’s Lowell High School.]

While planning the new Academy after its destruction in the Earthquake of 1906, the Director, Barton W. Evermann, also actively advocated for a place for youth education in the planning for the new museum. In the revised Constitution of 1930, high school students could become active members of the Academy. [Membership at that time was an elected privilege.] The Student Section was very active in the 1940’s when teachers were hired and field trips were taken. They had their own meeting room where they could hear lectures and participate in discussions. And as scientist-in-training, they also published their own research in a newsletter.

Each Education Department program since the years of the Student Section, every Bay Area classroom field trip to our museum, and today’s Naturalist Center programs, all continue these early commitments to education by Nevins and Evermann.

Karren Elsbernd – Library Assistant for Archives and Digital Collections

Filed under: Academy History,Photography,Special Collections — Archives & Special Collections @ 3:32 pm
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