At Two Universities, Students Work to Preserve Entomological History
By Jacqueline Maille
Editor’s Note: This post is part of a series contributed by the ESA Student Affairs Committee. See other posts by and for entomology students here at Entomology Today.
Students and student clubs fill an important role in entomology departments. They are a social outlet for graduate students and undergrads alike, and many clubs engage in public outreach, professional development for their members, and more. A few clubs go the extra mile to leave a lasting impact on the field.
One such impact is preserving natural and entomological history. Two current projects by entomology student clubs at Kansas State University and the University of Wisconsin are paving the way for student-led initiatives to ensure historical works of entomology are preserved for future generations. At KSU, students are raising money to ensure the preservation of a set silken teaching aids used by famed entomologist C.V. Riley at KSU in the late 1800s. Meanwhile, at UW, entomology students are working to preserve zoological teaching wall charts from the early 1900s. Recently I spoke with Cameron Osborne, a Ph.D. student at KSU and president of the Popenoe Entomology Club (of which I am vice president), and Jacki Whisenant, a masters’ student in entomology at UW, to get their thoughts on these works, the effort they’ve put in to preserve them, how it has impacted them, and some general advice in preserving history.
C.V. Riley Teaching Aids
Entomology students at Kansas State University (KSU) lovingly talk about how the Waters Hall basement (or “dungeon”) holds secrets, mysteries, and if lucky, treasures. Several years ago, Sonny Ramaswamy, Ph.D., Entomology Department head at the time, uncovered 69 silken teaching aids used during Charles Valentine (C.V.) Riley’s guest lecturing time at KSU from 1868–1877. The discovery prompted the need to house and conserve these treasurers in the University Archives and Special Collections at the KSU Library.
The Popenoe Entomology Club was given access to the digitized versions of Riley’s pieces in 2018 and began selling reprints for fundraising. This money started a fund for the club’s C.V. Riley Special Collection preservation needs, in addition to supporting the club. In the summer of 2021, the club was amid its centennial year, and club president Cameron Osborne asked officers, “How should we, the club officers, want to celebrate and honor our history?” I recounted the story of the Riley prints and proposed that we could start a restoration project in collaboration with the library.
During national archive month in October, we had established a collaboration with Cliff Hight, the KSU Archives and Special Collections Department head, whose team invited a restoration expert, Kenneth Bé, to visit and methodically evaluate the Riley collection. Bé documented the condition of each piece and the attention needed for proper restoration and preservation. At least 20 had critical needs, and the club began fundraising toward a goal of $10,000 to begin the conservation process.
To inspire and engage the club in this overwhelming restoration commitment, a private viewing of the works was arranged for club members to experience and appreciate the endeavor. A club committee was formed and established a University Foundation account for donations, which received over $1,000 toward the project in the first week alone! However, donations have slowed, and the club is looking for ways to energize this endeavor. The club has been exploring external funding opportunities and support and will be introducing a coloring book at the 2022 Joint Annual Meeting of the Entomological Societies of America, Canada, and British Columbia, which will feature some of Riley’s work. Sales from this coloring book will benefit the restoration fund.
Zoological Teaching Wall Charts
At the University of Wisconsin, Jacki Whisenant has worked at the UW Zoological Museum, where zoological teaching wall charts from the early 1900s are housed in the historical materials collection. A campus working group, “Friends of the University of Wisconsin Libraries,” is dedicated to the preservation of special collections, and it has a small pot of funds to provide grants for special projects.
Whisenant and museum colleagues assembled a grant proposal in collaboration with a preservation lab on campus, which specializes in maintaining paper special collections. Over the course of about six months, group wrote and received the grant and then assessed the damage of the teaching charts, conducted experimental cleaning of three charts, and further stabilized the works.
However, a long-term storage solution for the charts, which were stabilized as flat preparations rather than rolled charts, now need a better flat file that can accommodate them due to the temporary flat file being too small for one of the charts. Thus, the work continues to ensure the works are well preserved.
What Historical Preservation Means for Students Involved
How have students felt about being part of an entomological preservation effort, and how it has impacted them?
“Sometimes I fall into the mindset of ‘what’s new, what’s next?'” says Osborne. “Working with these historical pieces gave me a new perspective and appreciation for history. I was inspired to dive into our university archives to find more about the founding of our club, which turned 100 years old last year. It sounds cliché, but I really do feel honored to be a part of something with deep historical ties that’s also so relevant to our field [entomology]. Being able to interact with the C.V. Riley prints in person was on a whole different level. We had to opportunity to see the colors and feel the material. That’s one of those moments you’ll never forget.”
I agree with Cameron; I will never forget this experience. I hope these efforts encourage others to become inspired and immersed in entomological history. I feel passionate about preserving historical items, so it is not erased. Works like Riley’s teaching aids let me peek into the historical and culturally different expectation of an entomological educator.
Whisenant concurs. “Passion for natural sciences and careful work involved in maintaining collections of entomological and zoological museums allowed me an opportunity to experience writing a small grant and track the preservation progress for reporting results,” she says.
I also asked Osborne and Whisenant about how this preservation effort has impacted their university entomology clubs.
“While researching these works, I started to wonder what will happen to my work in the next 10, 20, or 100 years,” says Osborne. “It was an interesting question about my professional contribution to the historical record. I don’t think a group of students will be examining my notes 100 years from now, but nonetheless I’m interested in being more purposeful with curating my work. It’s great to have the club running this preservation and restoration effort. I’m excited to see students take the lead on this project with the support of our department. It’s also great to see our club gain some notoriety for this effort.”
From my perspective, this preservation effort has pushed me out of my comfort zone and led me to network in ways that I never imagined I would be able to. For the Popenoe Entomology Club, I have seen members’ enthusiasm grow, especially by donating their time and art for the new coloring book. We are fortunate to have such remarkable members in our club!
Whisenant says it best, though: “This experience was a fun initial step toward preserving a collection.”
Ideas and Advice
For fellow entomology students interested in preserving entomological work, some advice would be to identify a work worth preserving, recruit others who want to preserve it, collaborate with experts who know how to preserve historic work properly, and—of course—find funding.
Is there a work or piece already known to have historical significance or relation to someone, an entomologist, of importance at your institution? If not, October is American Archives Month, a great time to visit a library or museum archive and rediscover or identify pieces in need for restoration or preservation with entomological significance. The passion and drive to facilitate a preservation or restoration project could be enhanced by talking with experts like librarians, museum curators, or historical societies. Preservation requires the generation of funds, which may sound challenging, but fortunately avenues for support can come from the university, state grants, national grants, society grants, or private donations.
I hope you find inspiration from these students’ endeavors and are encouraged to join in preservation of entomological history for the enjoyment and education of generations to come.
Jacqueline Maille is a Ph.D. candidate in entomology at Kansas State University, current vice president of the KSU Popenoe Entomology Club, and the North Central Branch representative to the Entomological Society of America Student Affairs Committee. Email Jacqueline at email@example.com, or for info about the Popenoe Entomology Club, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Maille portrait photo by David Mayes Photography