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Finding aid to the Joseph Grinnell papers MVZA.MSS.0005
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Collection Details
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  • Descriptive Summary
  • Administrative Information
  • Biographical/historical note
  • Scope and contents note
  • Related archival materials
  • Arrangement note

  • Descriptive Summary

    Title: Joseph Grinnell papers
    Identifier/Call Number: MVZA.MSS.0005
    Contributing Institution: Museum of Vertebrate Zoology Archives
    Language of Material: English
    Physical Description: 4.7 Linear feet
    Date (inclusive): 1894-1944
    Abstract: The Joseph Grinnell papers include field notes, miscellaneous notes, publications, biographical materials, correspondence, Thomomys manuscripts and research, and graphic materials. These materials provide insight into the work done by Grinnell and his peers between 1894-1944.
    Creator: Grinnell, Joseph, 1877-1939

    Administrative Information

    Conditions governing access

    The collection is open for research.

    Conditions governing use

    Copyright restrictions may apply. All requests to publish, quote, or reproduce must be submitted to the Museum of Vertebrate Zoology Archives in writing for approval. Please contact the Museum Archivist for further information.

    Preferred citation

    [Identification of item], Joseph Grinnell papers, MVZA.MSS.0005, Museum of Vertebrate Zoology Archives, University of California, Berkeley.

    Biographical/historical note

    Joseph Grinnell was born on February 27, 1877 at an Indian Territory near old Fort Sill, Oklahoma. Grinnell’s interest in zoology started very early on. When Grinnell was just a preteen, his first specimen for his collection was a “cotton-stuffed toad,” from his middle school time spent in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. In 1893, Grinnell enrolled in the college division of Throop Polytechnic Institute, known today as California Institute of Technology or “Caltech.” There the young Grinnell received careful scientific training from the botanist Alfred James McClatchie. Almost all of his Saturdays and holidays were spent “in the field, as his old notebooks—[all 18 of them then]—testify” He carefully recorded each field experience he spent by himself, with his friends, or with his professors. Even then, Grinnell realized that “the record had a definite historical value.” He said, “[this] I realize is assuming a very difficult and tedious task… but even if I cannot bring such a thing to publication myself, I shall keep the bibliography and citation symmetrically arranged, so that anyone else can take up the work where I leave off.” This belief would eventually give rise to the famed “Grinnell Method.” In 1895, Grinnell’s name was cited in Dr. Hiram A. Reid’s 700-pages published work “History of Pasadena”: “[young] Joseph Grinnell…has won the reputation of having captured, preserved, labeled and classified more specimens of our native birds than any other person. He seems to have a specimen of every species and variety of avian fauna ever found here, all nicely preserved, and nearly labeled with both its common and its scientific name.”
    Grinnell attended Stanford University and received his Masters in 1901. He later received his Doctorate in Zoology there in 1913.
    Grinnell stands as “one of the most prominent zoologist in the history of western North America.” “Most of his work was in western North America, particularly in California, where he led many extensive expeditions.” Grinnell became the third editor of The Condor in 1906 until his death in 1939; The Condor “is an international journal [by the Cooper Ornithological Club] that publishes original research reports, review articles, and commentary pertaining to the biology of wild bird species.”
    In 1908, the founder of MVZ Annie Montague Alexander appointed Grinnell the first museum director. He served as the first Director of the MVZ until his death in 1939. There, he finalized the “Grinnell Method” which is “the most widely used [method of note-taking] by vertebrate ecologists” today. This method brought clarity to the study of the vertebrate fauna. “Grinnell developed and implemented a detailed protocol for recording field observations” with the belief that “organisms should be studied in relationship to their natural environment.” This became the founding philosophy of the MVZ. He found the value in keeping a detailed journal in addition to a catalogue of captured specimens.
    Grinnell showed great foresight. By keeping detailed accounts of the species behaviors and their habitat, incorporating annotated topographic maps to indicate specific localities, time of the day, collecting sites, weather conditions, vegetation types, taped record vocalization, habitat photographs, and specimen photographs – Grinnell hoped to enhance the value of the field records to future researchers. It is important to record as much of the observation as possible because he said, “[you] can’t tell in advance which observations will prove valuable” in the future. Due to his tenacity, the MVZ now housed a large collection of birds, mammals, reptiles, and amphibian specimens, which are thoughtfully supplemented by detailed records of the distribution, life history, economic status, photographs, and field journals.
    Sources Consulted:
    Balda, Russel P. Walsberg Glenn E. "Historical Perspective." The Condor, 95, 3 (1993): 748-757. Accessed May 5, 2013. http://sora.unm.edu/sites/default/files/journals/condor/v095n03/p0748-p0757.pdf 
    "The Condor." Searchable Ornithological Research Archive. Accessed May 5, 2013. http://sora.unm.edu/node/194 
    "General Monitoring Procedures." Pacific Southwest Research Station. 1993. Accessed May 5, 2013. http://www.fs.fed.us/psw/publications/documents/gtr-144/03-general.html 
    "The "Grinnell" Method." Museum of Vertebrate Zoology. Accessed May 5, 2013. http://mvz.berkeley.edu/Grinnell_Method.html 
    Grinnell, Hilda W. "Joseph Grinnell: 1877-1939." The Condor, 42, 1 (1940): 3-32. Accessed May 5, 2013. http://sora.unm.edu/sites/default/files/journals/condor/v042n01/p0003-p0034.pdf 
    "What We Do, And Why." Museum of Vertebrate Zoology. Accessed May 5, 2013. http://mvz.berkeley.edu/General_Information.html .

    Scope and contents note

    The Joseph Grinnell papers include twenty-one standard-bound volumes of fieldnotes containing habitat and specimen sketches, as well as summaries of interviews with residents of areas he worked in and those more involved with biology. In addition, there are seventeen volumes of non-standard bound fieldnotes. Besides the fieldnotes series, there are five more series within the collection: Miscellaneous notes; Publications; Biographical materials; Correspondence; Thomomys manuscripts and research; and Graphic materials. The Miscellaneous notes series holds lecture notes, expedition expenses, daily rainfall, addresses, and personalias written by Grinnell. Biographical materials is mostly made up of writings about Grinnell. The Publications series contains writings by Grinnell, including a 1901 copy of his book Gold Hunting in Alaska, as well as a journal written by a member of the Alaska expedition that the book documents. Correspondence is composed of transcribed letters between Grinnell and his wife Hilda Grinnell, miscellaneous transcribed family letters, and the history and behavior of English Sparrows in California. There are twenty-one folders within the Thomomys manuscripts and research series that are arranged primarily by species. Lastly, within the Graphic materials series are a collection of glass plates documenting specimen skulls. Overall, the collection spans the years 1894-1944.

    Related archival materials

    Materials relating to this collection within the Museum of Vertebrate Zoology Archives include: Hilda W. Grinnell papers (MVZA.MSS.0324) and the Museum of Vertebrate Zoology historical correspondence 1908-1930 collection  (MVZA.MSS.0117). Materials relating to this collection within UC Berkeley's Bancroft Library include the Grinnell (Joseph) Papers , the Grinnell (Joseph and Hilda W.) Papers , and the Portraits of Joseph Grinnell's family and his colleagues .

    Arrangement note

    The collection has been arranged in the following series: Field notes, Miscellaneous notes, Publications, Biographical materials, Correspondence, Thomomys manuscripts and research, and Graphic materials. Within Field notes, there are two subseries: MVZ standard binding and MVZ non-standard binding. And within Publications, there is one subseries: Alaska expedition.

    Subjects and Indexing Terms

    Biological specimens--Collection and preservation.
    Biological specimens--Identification
    Biology Fieldwork
    Field notes
    Scientific expeditions--Alaska
    Scientific expeditions--Arizona
    Scientific expeditions--California
    Scientific expeditions--Mexico
    Scientific expeditions--Oregon
    University of California (1868-1952). Museum of Vertebrate Zoology