Imagine you’re an agronomist. Fair enough — I had no idea what an agronomist was before I started working on the Thomas W. Barrett papers either! An agronomist is an expert in the science of soil management and crop production. Barrett, who was a professor at Arizona State University, was a well-known agronomist who worked for the university, but also did a lot of paid side projects, all while publishing several papers per year.
Part of Barrett’s job was to visit sites and look at the soil, and the plants residing in that soil, so that he could write up notes on the area. This was all being done in the 1950s-1970s long before anyone in the field could pull up Google on their phone. So when Barrett was in the field he carried a hand-fashioned ‘backpack’ of all of the plant specimens he’d collected for reference. And this large, oddly shaped backpack was donated to Special Collections alongside his papers.
As you can see, the backpack above is held together by two steel rods, some wood, and a lot of jeans material. At the time, this was state of the art and was a great way to check samples out in the field. However… you can see the materials are bending, making it hard to handle them, and making it even harder to preserve them.
To preserve the materials inside the backpack, I took on the lengthy task of taking the pack apart. Trust me–whoever designed this never wanted it to come part in the field–and it took over an hour to adjust and cut the rods, carefully remove the wood, cut away the jeans material, and then carefully slide the papers and folders away from the remaining steel rods.
These are all of the different folders and plant specimens that are found throughout the pack. They were all carefully removed and re-housed so that they don’t get further bent or crushed in the pack. The folder sheets include information about each sheet and then there are also plant samples (pasted down with thick tape-like paper sheets) in each section. While some of the folders remain bent, and we’re working to flatten them, this move will preserve these materials for the next century and will make them more accessible to visitors that may want to see these awesome samples.
It isn’t every day that a hand-constructed field pack comes into the archive. But when they do, it leads to lots of questions, decisions on how to best house materials, and begins a craft project like no other!