By Rebecca Wilson, Project Manager and Metadata Specialist for Exploring Minnesota's Natural History, a project of the University Archives.
Since May 2013, I've seen hundreds of warblers, woodpeckers, wrens, vireos, robins, thrashers, chickadees, gulls, ducks, and a variety of other avian species. No, I'm not competing for a "big year" - the informal contest in which birders strive to identify the largest number of species of birds in a distinct geographical area within a single calendar year. My ornithological observations, however, are all related to a distinct location, and are part of a very big year for the University Archives.
The University Archives was recently awarded a Legacy grant to implement Exploring Minnesota's Natural History, a 12-month project that proposes to digitize over 150,000 materials that relate to the geological, botanical, and zoological history of the state of Minnesota.
Since the project launched in May 2013, I have been inundated with images of birds (approximately 3,000 thus far and counting) produced from scans of glass plate negatives from the collection of the Bell Museum of Natural History. These negatives document the early field observations and bird studies made by Thomas Sadler Roberts, a prominent Minneapolis physician who retired from medical practice in 1915 to pursue his avocation of ornithology and serve as the Associate Curator of the Zoological Museum at the University. Along with acquiring the expertise of a nationally recognized ornithologist, the University also acquired Roberts's private collection of several thousand glass plate negatives that depict hundreds of species of birds photographed within Minnesota from the 1890s to the 1940s.