David Fairchild's Images in the Archive

Preserving a Valuable Historic Record:

Dr. David Fairchild's Images in the Bertram Zuckerman Garden Archive

by Janet Mosely

Canary Island Scrapbook page
A page from Dr. Fairchild's scrapbook of his 1926 trip to the Canary Islands.
Dracaena draco
Dr. Fairchild's photo #14787. The number corresponds to page 14787 in a pocket notebook which reads, "The Old Dragon Tree at Icod de los Viños, Teneriffe, Drachena draco [sic]. Possibly more than a thousand years. old. Compare with palm to judge size." These are the trees Francisco-Ortega identified as still being in existence.
David Fairchild's pocket notebooks
A sampling of Dr. David Fairchild's pocket notebooks.
Volunteer Mary Jo Robertson
Farichild Archive volunteer Mary Jo Robertson scans an image and enters the corresponding information from Dr. Fairchild's pocket notebook into the database.

Approximately 25 years ago, Bert Zuckerman, volunteer historian for Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden, made a list of 2,764 of David Fairchild’s images. This was just a tiny part of what is housed in Fairchild's Archives but it was a start. He enlisted the help of Mike Kambour, a photographer, cycad enthusiast and Fairchild volunteer until he passed away in 2005. Mike reproduced approximately 1,000 photos from the negatives or prints included in Bert's list. The list and the photos are the genesis of an ongoing project to index and scan all of Dr. Fairchild’s images housed in the Fairchild Archives.

Eight years ago, when Nancy Korber, Fairchild's librarian/archivist, first arrived at the Garden, she set upon the herculean task of properly cataloging these images according to archival standards. She and a small group of dedicated volunteers began indexing Mike's photos. with the later addition of a scanner, they were able to process the already indexed images. They then began indexing and scanning all of Dr. Fairchild's images. Nancy does not yet know the exact number in the collection, although she estimates it to be in the neighborhood of 20,000. There are boxes and boxes of lantern slides, negatives and photos along with scrapbooks and miscellaneous images stored in file cabinets. 

Among Dr. Fairchild’s many talents was that of organization and meticulous record keeping.  For all of his working life, he kept small red pocket  notebooks.  On the first page he always wrote his name, address and the start date and end date.  There are 478 pocket notebooks in the archives, dating from 1892 to 1953.  Wherever he went, he took photos and made notes in his notebooks.  Each page in the notebook has a number on it which corresponds to a number on a negative. There are also numbers which refer to pages in his scrapbooks and numbers which are tracking numbers for the USDA Section of Plant Introduction.  It is necessary to be constantly cross referencing all these numbers to ensure all the information available for each particular image is recorded.  By now, Nancy and her volunteers have become familiar with the sequencing of the numbers and can work relatively quickly

The results of Dr. Fairchild’s system, which he encouraged other explorers to use, make it possible to match each image with the information Dr. Fairchild recorded.  As of this printing, approximately 6,000 images have been scanned and indexed.  Two thousand of these served to augment this past year’s blog of Ned Beckwith’s journal of the Cheng Ho voyage. According to Nancy, the Cheng Ho voyage is done unless they come across random images mixed in with the remainder.  Now they are focusing on David Fairchild's trips to the Canary Islands.  

The images, and the information so carefully recorded to accompany them, are a testament ot Dr. Fairchild's hard work and thoroughness. What Nancy and her volunteers are creating from his legacy is a uniquely valuable, researchable collection of primary resources concerning our country's history of plant exploration and introduction. An added benefit for conservationists, as Nancy point out, is "David Fairchild was meticulous about leaving us a written and pictorial record. With the ecology of the world changing we can go back and see what it looked like 70-100 years ago.”  Eventually, the goal is to have the images available through Fairchild's web site.

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Unless otherwise stated, all photographs on this page property of Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden.
Please contact the Archivist for permission to use or reproduce photographs.

Please contact:
Nancy Korber
Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden Center for Tropical Plant Conservation
11935 Old Cutler Road
Miami, Florida 33156 USA
tel. 305/667-1651, ext. 3424
fax 305/665-8032