Tag Archives: research

Interning at the Research Library

UMASS Amherst Emily Esten has just completed her internship in the Research Library. Below are her reflections on the experience:

The New Bedford Whaling Museum has always been a fascinating place inside – you’ve got the Lagoda, the forecastle, and the whale skeletons hanging over you. The exhibits detail answers to every question about whales and whaling that could ever be asked. But there is so much research and materials that the Museum can’t possibly display and discuss them all – for those stories, you have to visit the library.

I interned in the Research Library over the summer, looking for an experience that would allow me to further my interests in New Bedford whaling as well as teach me some new skills, like library management. I enjoyed my experience, and I certainly learned a lot in just a few months.

  • Organization: My tasks primarily focused on organizing Manuscript (Mss) collections. These collections can have all sorts of items – correspondence was common, but there could also be business records, newspaper clippings, scrapbooks, pictures, or various mementos. Many of these collections had been accessioned by the Museum (purchased or donated) but not processed (organized with a complete finding aid). This is where I came in – to process the collections. First, I would take a thorough inventory of what was initially in the boxes, taking notes on the content I came across. Next, I’d review my notes and attempt to think of a series arrangement in which to sort the content – whether that was by type of content, time period, or individual associated with the materials. Once running my organizational ideas by Mark, I’d typically start arranging the materials and folders in chronological order. When all the folders were organized, I’d have to officially process them, writing descriptions on each folder. Finally, I’d write the finding aid, have it checked by Mark, and code it for the website. It wasn’t always easy to do, especially as the collections became larger and less organized. It required attention to detail, focus, and great organizational skills – all of which I was able to perfect.
  • New Bedford (Whaling): Working with unprocessed manuscripts was like a crash course in Old Dartmouth history, jumping from century to subject in a matter of pages. And unlike most history courses, which provide overviews of a topic or period, I was able to use primary sources of a particular individual or family to begin to understand what life might have been like. In regards to the whaling industry, the Mss collections covered more than just the experience at sea. I read about whalers writing home to their wives and children explaining day-to-day activities on board; I analyzed records of businessmen managing their vessels and crew; I saw the cards and drawings from children and wives detailing their lives as they waited for fathers and husbands to return. These primary sources served as guides to the stories of whaling I already knew. Through the Delano Family Papers (Mss 134), I saw the beginnings of whaling as various young businessmen traded ships amongst themselves. I saw a wife in the Eliza Russell Papers (Mss 136) writing to her husband on voyage in the North Pacific. I saw as the Matthew Howland family triumphed in the business and then failed disastrously in the Arctic disasters of the 1870s in Mss 135.
  • New Bedford (Outside of Whaling): I also got to view New Bedford as a city of its own – sometimes in its heyday, sometimes long after. Within the Akin Family Papers (Mss 140), I saw the success of industrial businesses, such as the Howland Mills or F.T. Akin & Company, come into power. And from a social perspective, I was able to some of the work of the Old Dartmouth Historical Society through the papers of Charles Gardner Akin, Jr., as well as the sales and exhibitions of Winfred W. Bennett and his Old Colonial Antiques Shop (Mss 138). I even read things entirely different from whaling, like Walter Teller’s research of Joshua Slocum (Mss 131) and Walter Rounsevell’s quest for gold in California (Mss 126). In general, though, I learned a lot about the people that made New Bedford and the surrounding community important.
  • The Library: Other than New Bedford history, I discovered what it takes to work in a library. It’s nowhere near as impersonal as people make it out be – with all the activity, every day was a different experience. While I’d often be in my own little corner working on the project of the week, I’d see all sorts of people looking at all sorts of materials and for all sorts of reasons. Unlike the way people portray or talk about libraries, it’s not this still or stationary place. A library is a haven and a home, ever-growing and shaped by the needs of the researchers. A librarian or an archivist has to be able to think about information differently – not necessarily on linear terms, but in a form that allows you to link ideas and people together. You have to know where to find things off the top of your head, and how to help people find exactly what they are looking for. It’s not an easy job, but it certainly seems like an interesting one.

I’d like to thank the New Bedford Whaling Museum for the opportunity to work in the Research Library, especially Mark Procknik as my supervisor, and Michael Dyer and Michael Lapides for support.

Satellite Tags Help Researchers Study Whales

This article in the Daily Astorian,  from Oregon, features Bruce Mate answering a variety of questions about whales and some of what’s been learned from tagging them. This is a good story for those of you looking for good tidbits of info without going into too much detail.

Learning from Whales and Whalers on Top of the World

Much like the buffalo were an integral part of the lives of Plains Indians, bowhead whales are inseparable from the lives of the Inupiat of the North Slope of Alaska.   An older resident of Barrow once told me that approximately 75% of their activity over the course of a year is related to whaling.  Whether it’s prepping seal skins for umiaks, cooking, cleaning, hunting, readying gear for camping on the ice or feeding family or neighbors, their lives are connected to the bowhead.  They believe that these animals offer themselves to the people to ensure their survival.

One of the transplants to Barrow, research biologist Craig George, has spent 30 years learning from the Inupiat and from the bowhead.  Craig and his colleague, Leslie Pierce, are contributors the NBWM’s new The Hunt for Knowledge exhibit. More importantly, they’ve helped legitimize the centuries of traditional Inupiat knowledge that was typically ignored or demeaned by academics and agency scientists.

It’s my pleasure to link you to Ned Rozell’s quick-read article about Craig and Leslie, Learning from Whales and Whalers on Top of the World .  You’ll be impressed by the amount of research he’s done, and stunned by the bowhead facts listed in the story.

Craig George, left, and Leslie Pierce look for bowhead whales north of Barrow.

How to Tag a Whale

Museum colleague, Rui Prieto, who works in the Departamento de Oceanografia e Pescas (DOP) at the University of the Azores in Horta, Faial, has been tracking big baleen whales.  He and others in the DOP do so by attaching satellite tags to the backs of these animals.  Here’s a video clip of Rui shooting a tag into a whale.

For more about The Great Whales Satellite Telemetry Program, the whales that are currently tagged or those that had been tagged, visit their site at Great Whales Satellite Telemetry Program.

New Exhibit Opens, “The Hunt for Knowledge”

The Whaling Museum’s new “The Hunt for Knowledge” exhibition was unveiled to the public during a ribbon cutting event held on Friday, May 28, after the Museum’s annual meeting.  Museum President James Russell,  Museum Trustee, and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution biologist, Michael Moore, WM VP for Collections and Exhibitions, Greg Galer and WM Science Programs Manager, Robert Rocha, who developed the exhibit, all participated in the ceremony.

This exhibit focuses on a variety of cetacean conservation and research issues, and features many objects donated by a variety of sources.  The information on the exhibit panels addresses many of the questions asked by the visiting public.   The Museum is proud to expand its role  in supporting the understanding of and conservation of whales, dolphins and porpoises.

Moore, Rocha, Galer and Russell cut the ribbon for the new exhibit.

Logbooks, a historic underpinning for Ocean Research

In the Environmental Journal section of the 11/29  Providence Journal, Peter B. Lord writes about a massive research project, an ocean census undertaken by 2,000 scientists from 62 countries to answer three huge questions about the world’s oceans.

  • What once lived in the oceans?
  • What is living in them now?
  • What will be living in them in the future?

A book new about the census, “World Ocean Census: A Global Survey of Maritime Life”, was written by three  Rhode Island based writers:  Darlene Trew Crist, Gail Scrowcroft, and James Harding. The book is published by Firefly Books .

One valuable resource for scientists as they try to gain a historic view of oceans are whaler’s logbooks.  The New Bedford Whaling Museum  Research Library has an unparalleled collection of 2,300 of these.  A database of logbooks is available through the museum website.

[type] Faces of New Bedford

The following blog post was submitted by Laura Franz, Chair, Design Department College of Visual and Performing Arts, University of Massachusetts Dartmouth.  Professor Franz brought her typography students to the New Bedford Whaling Museum Research Library in 2007 to get a sampling of historic materials to use as source material for their design projects. They were hosted by Maritime Curator Mike Dyer and Museum Librarian Laura Pereira.


Typography is the art of designing the written word. Type is ubiquitous. It is in the books, magazines, and websites we read, the street signs we use to find our way, the fonts we choose in our MS Word documents. Letters are everywhere. In the landscape, letters reflect the culture of a time and place. As a typographer I am interested in how letters and type “live” in society, and how they change as life around them changes.

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