The art of notebooks & metadata: A powerful catalyst

Post by Ellen Keaveny

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Field note inspiration from Leonardo da Vinci’s notebooks
Prior to the start of this class, I considered only notebooks filled with text and data tables in the Grinnellian style as proper field notebooks. While those carry structure and data, the attractiveness of a more casual account of thoughts, illustrations, and helpful text is undeniable. 

Erik Greene describes the power of a field notes well in Field Notes in Science & Nature, when he writes: “by jotting down interesting observations, questions, and miscellaneous ideas, your field notebook can serve as a powerful catalyst for new experiments and projects” (Canfield 2011).

I have, since this class, incorporated more drawings into my lab notebook — for example, illustrating the anatomy of a dissected bumblebee to reinforce technique and information and further encourage a visually engaging notebook.

I now feel comfortable incorporating thoughts, ideas, and illustrations into my lab notebook which feels like a more truthful representation of my thought processes. To maintain organization, digitizing data tables and work flow will be maintained and accessible in the summer months to the multiple users who will be involved future projects.

One of my favorite components that I’ve taken from this class is that there are no rules in a field notebook. Aside from including as much detail as possible, field notebooks can stylistically range widely.  Leonardo da Vinci’s illustration of a water system (see image above) is a gorgeous example of conveying a message with detail through drawing and supplementary text.

​Field notebooks are one way to approach science in an honest and candid form. This approach can be engaging to a non-expert audience by directing observations, descriptions, and thoughts to a page and filling it with curiosity. The unedited form welcomes a general audience to connect with science and the author and delve into the shared inherent awe of nature scribbled on the pages.

Reference:
Canfield, M. R. (2011). Field notes on science & nature. Harvard University Press.

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