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Transcribing the Field Notes of William Brewster

William Brewster (1851-1919) was a renowned American amateur ornithologist, first president of the Massachusetts Audubon Society, and a president of the American Ornithologists’ Union. He was an avid collector of birds and their nests and eggs, and collected over forty thousand specimens from 1861 until his death in 1919. His collection, bequeathed to the Museum of Comparative Zoology at Harvard University, is considered one of the finest private collections of North American birds ever assembled. Though Brewster collected throughout North America, his collection is especially comprehensive in its coverage of the birds of New England. Brewster thoroughly documented his collecting trips. His journals and diaries are a gold mine of scientific observations and a delightful account of years spent exploring the woods, fields, lakes, and rivers of New England.

The Ernst Mary Library of the Museum of Comparative Zoology is in the process of digitizing its collection of Brewster’s field notes and observations, and making these available worldwide via the Biodiversity Heritage Library (BHL). As part of a project led by the Missouri Botanical Garden, and funded by the Institute of Museum and Library Services, we have begun efforts to transcribe Brewster’s voluminous field notes with the ultimate goal of making the full text of his observations searchable and available for any number of uses. As an initial trial project, we have placed ten digitized volumes of field notes on two crowdsourcing websites, and we invite anyone interested to help us accomplish our goal of transcribing at least 2000 pages of Brewster’s journals. The crowdsourcing websites chosen for this project are the Biodiversity Volunteer Portal (BVP), a collaboration between the Australian Museum and the Atlas of Living Australia; and a BHL installation of FromThePage, a transcription tool developed by Ben Brumfield.

Please feel free to visit one or both of these transcription sites, create an account, and enjoy Brewster’s idyllic writing style while helping to unlock his valuable observations for the benefit of all. We also invite you to browse Brewster’s diaries and journals on the BHL portal.

Ivory-billed woodpecker from 1890 journal

Ivory-billed woodpecker from 1890 journal


  1. Sally Robertson

    December 10, 2014 @ 5:54 am


    I would love to help with this transcription project

  2. jdeveer

    December 10, 2014 @ 1:52 pm


    Hi Sally,
    Thanks so much for your interest in our project – we can certainly use your help. To get started, please visit one or both of the transcription sites (your choice):


    On each site you will need to create a free account, which takes only a couple of minutes. At FromThePage, follow the “create an account” link. At DigiVol, click on the “How can I volunteer?” link and follow the instructions. Upon registering with FromThePage, click on the “Dashboard” link on the upper right-hand corner of the page. There you will see a list of the ten Brewster works being transcribed. You are welcome to work on any of the Diaries or Journals that have not been completed. On FromThePage, the items most in need of work are the Journals of William Brewster (1891 and 1892), and the Diaries (vols. 4 and 5).

    On the DigiVol site, the best way to get started (after login) is to click on the “Expeditions” link and do a search for “ornithological journals of william brewster” or “ornithological diaries of william brewster.” Here too, feel free to work on any item not yet completed. The works most in need of help are the 1891 Journal and the 1865 Diary.

    For help in learning a few basic transcription conventions, please follow the tutorial links found on the Dashboard at FromThePage, and on each Journal or Diary page at DigiVol.

    Thanks once again for your interest in our project! Please don’t hesitate to contact me with any questions.

    Best regards,
    Joe deVeer

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