Jackson Pope’s #DHPS2016 Presentation on Collecting the Sounds of Nature

Jackson Pope, an MA student in History of Science at the University of Oklahoma, gave the second presentation at #DHPS2016. Entitled “Collecting the Sounds of Nature: Building an Archive of Bird Song Records,” Jackson’s presentation related his attempts to build a digital repository of bird songs as a historical parallel for the public science led by Cornell University’s Lab of Ornithology.

Cornell’s Lab, established by Arthur A. Allen, was the first graduate level ornithology program. They originally recorded birdsongs themselves, but as the lab grew, they also received / collected bird song recordings from a broad array of amateur birders. This public science or “citizen science” project has remained an integral part of the Lab’s down to today.

Like the Cornell Lab, Jackson started by drawing on the Lab’s recordings, but has now started collecting / receiving recordings from South American, European, and African sources.

Jackson’s work is really interesting from the meta level. As a DH project it both reproduces the original physico-auditory collections of the Cornell Lab, and now, it has grown into a public science project. The ability to collect and share bird song publicly is an obvious affordance of the web. The ability to schematically catalogue and map these songs, both potentially in terms of where they were recorded and where they were later sourced for the project, is also a fascinating dimension.

Jackson’s project is also a fantastic example of a history of science project not only available to but actually intended for a much broader audience. As Jackson noted, the birding population is measured in the millions, while historians of science and digital humanists can be counted in the thousands. Jackson is using DH to transform a traditional history of science graduate student project into something much more meaningful.

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