Field Book Project

Field books or notes (and field diaries) are documents written during field research about specimens collected and observations pertaining to those collections. For type collections in particular, they are invaluable as a primary source for understanding distinguishing characteristics, habitat and type locations. They serve a check to verify a herbarium specimen's provenance. 
A published field book by Kingdon Ward
Sometimes these books have been published, but unfortunately these documents are often hidden away in institutional libraries and archives and require special permission for access. As these documents are hand written, they can not be scanned and then interpreted automatically by using optical character recognition (OCR), rather, the interpretation must be done manually.

The good news is that there is a Field Book Project initiative under the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History to increase access to these types of documents in digital format. Recently they have teamed up with the Biodiversity Heritage Library to provide central access.

Two field books that have been digitized are of interest to Primula researchers, both by Joseph Rock.
Field book entry by Joseph Rock
The first is Joseph Rock's field book for collections No. 16001-18850 from NW Yunnan and SW Szechuan Multi and Konka in 1928-1929. The transcription of the book can be found here. In this book we can find the entry for the type collection of Primula rockii, No. 16451, which was named for Joseph Rock and was collected in the mountains of Kulu, Muli. Other collections of Primula rockii are Nos. 17401 and 17402, and No. 17885.
Primula rockii
The type entry for Primula cerina, No. 17702, found on the Djesi La (29°49'39.42"N 101°46'26.31"E) south of Kangding is also found in this book as is the type entry for Primula chlorodryas (now Primula dryadifolia subsp. chlorodryas), No. 17027, found on the Mekong-Salween divide and the type entry for Primula stenocalyx var. lueofarinosa (now considered a synonym of P. stenocalyx), No. 17520, found on the Minya Konka range and additional collection No. 17549.

Many other Primula entries can be found in the second of Joseph Rock's field book for collections No. 8035 - 9999 from NW Yunnan and SE Tibet in 1923. Other field books of Joseph rock exist but have not been digitized.

I certainly hope that other institutions start their own Field Book projects to bring these valuable sources of information to light.


  1. That's very interesting, I had just assumed that field diaries would have generally have become scattered, forgotten about or lost by those who inherited the personal effects of by the explorers. Good to hear that they've been preserved by institutions and are increasingly becoming digitised.

  2. This content is written very well. Your use of formatting when making your points makes your observations very clear and easy to understand. Thank you.

    1. Thanks Jordan! It great to know my points came across.