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Spatial History Lab: History 401a; Submitted 2 December 2008
A Spatial Approach to California Botanists
Benjamin Hoy 1 & Sarah Murray 2 & Courtney Ann Roby 3 & Nicholas Viles 4
1. Stanford University, History Department
2. Stanford University, Classics Department
3. Stanford University, Classics Department
4. Stanford University, History Department
From the earliest geological surveys to modern academic studies, California's botanical landscape has been carefully mapped for over two centuries. Amateurs and professionals from many backgrounds, including botanists, ecologists, and surveyors, have applied a wide range of strategies to the task of understanding the distribution of California plant life. Here we track the careers of four prominent figures from the early 20th century to the present, in order to visualize changing methodologies of collection, collaboration, and publication.
How has the rise of California's university system enhanced collaboration between large groups of academic professionals? How have this academic world and the professional journals it fosters changed the publication habits of these collectors — does an increase in publications imply a decrease in time spent in the field? How has the changing nature of botany affected the daily practice habits of individual botanists?
A spatial approach to questions like these is especially appropriate to botanical work. The collectors themselves are highly conscious of space in their work; early botany often went hand in hand with the work of surveying, and even today collectors choose and map out spaces to study the plants that live there. By mapping out their work both in the field and in the academy, we can see their work at ground level, as it were, without losing sight of the field as a whole.
This map of California gives a synoptic look at the collection activities of our figures of interest over the course of their careers, along with the institutions where they based their activities. From the earliest days, this fieldwork varied in scope; some botanists ranged widely throughout the state in search of specimens, while some collected primarily closer to home.
Figure 1. Select California Botanists' Collection Activities
Networks of Collaboration
The two-level network of colleagues shown below for each of our figures (at the center, coded in the appropriate color) consists of first-order colleagues who collaborated with them in making collections (medium) and second-order colleagues (small) who collected with those first-order colleagues. The line width indicates the percentage of the zeroth-order collector's work done with the first-order colleague connected by the line. The changing patterns over time show a shift to a more densely connected discipline; whereas earlier scientists worked primarily in stable pairs or alone, modern collectors work extensively with a wide range of colleagues. Note that Ertter (orange) shows up twice in Dedecker's network. This is an artifact of the database, showing two different values entered for Ertter's name. This flaw in the database is highly visible, demonstrating how visualizations can be used to study not only the collected data, but the collection methodology as well.
Figure 2. Colleague Networks
Reporting the Finds: Publications
Visualizations of publication statistics, below, show the shift from solo collectors to a community of academic professionals who prioritize keeping one another informed about their activities through publication. Modern academic botanists tend to publish more frequently than their early predecessors. This is probably due partly to an increase in journals, since article-length publications are shorter than books, and partly to a shift toward academic priorities that make frequent publication a responsibility.
Figure 3. Botanist Publication Frequency
Density of Collections
The timeline shown below demonstrates the percentage of total career collections made by each figure during five-year intervals. Some collected steadily over the course of their whole careers, while the collections of others are concentrated in relatively brief periods.
Figure 4. Botanist Collection Density
Fieldwork, Close Up
The changes in collection habits that we see over time in the series of small maps below are a product of the paths taken by collectors and the number of collections they make at any location. Early botanists tended to travel on walking paths. Collections done in this period were somewhat opportunistic, resulting in collections of one or a few plants at locations spaced along a trail. By the late 20th century, the trend is toward collection over spaces less bounded by features like trails; instead, later collectors obtain large numbers of specimens at a single location, and may then travel far away to another location to make another large collection.
Figure 5. California Botanist Fieldwork
The early, trail-based collection system persists today. Mary DeDecker was an environmental enthusiast unaffiliated with any academic institution, although she corresponded and shared her collections with an extensive network of people at those institutions. Her collection paths resembled those of the collectors of earlier periods more than modern patterns.
End Notes

SourceData provided by the participants of the Consortium of California Herbaria This group has, for the last five years, been developing a database of almost a million Californian vascular plant specimens, representing the collections of sixteen institutions.

Acknowledgements I would like to thank the following people for their contributions: Zephyr Frank (Spatial History Project Associate Director and Principal Investigator on the Terrain of History project), Mithu Datta (Spatial History Lab GIS Specialist), Whitney Berry (Spatial History Lab GIS Research Assistant), and Spatial History Lab Research Assistants: Hannah Gilula, Lucas Manfield, and David Sabeti.

Author Information Correspondence and requests for materials should be addressed to Jon Christensen

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