The Digital Imaging Studio at Princeton University Library just completed a collaboration with the Department of Ecology & Evolutionary Biology at Princeton University. Over 10,000 pages of the personal journals of ornithologist Charles H. Rogers (1888-1977) were digitized and are now being transcribed to generate invaluable data for climate change, conservation, and biodiversity studies. To mark the finalization of this digitization project, a curated exhibition depicting bird imagery scattered throughout Digitized Collections at Princeton University Library is presented here.

Lists from avid bird watchers are being digitized not only as a way to preserve these vulnerable records but also to give access to crucial data. Bird logs of the past provide evidence of bird population decline. These records highlight the importance of birds as an indicator species, as they are one of nature’s primordial messengers of climate change.

...when the little boy discovered, at four, the same thing Mr. Smith had learned earlier -- that only birds and planes could fly -- he lost all interest in himself.

Toni Morrison, Song of Solomon

Detail of Charles H. Rogers' personal album depicting a blue jay bathing, a handwritten journal page with bird entries from September 26th, 1950 and, description of witnessing a sunspot: " * Sun at start lookt [sic] white (or faintly bluish?), sharp-edged, brilliant but not - by very little - too bright to look at with eyes unshielded. A little later it lookt [sic], definitely, pale, blue, bluer when seen thru field glasses, & the color was also intensified as seen reflected in the biology ponds; less brilliant by now. Still later, as pinkish shade was noticeable, so the sun lookt [sic] lavender, still less brilliant but still sharp-edged. A very small sunspot visible thru field-glasses, just above center. Long before sunset, the sun disappeared. It was a dark afternoon. I've often seen the sun obscured by smoke from forest fires, but I believe I've never seen it look blue or lavender."

Charles H. Rogers, undated. Historical Photograph Collection, Faculty Photographs Series (AC067), Box FAC81. Princeton University Archives, Department of Special Collections, Princeton University Library.

Charles H. Rogers graduated from Princeton University in 1909. After working for the Museum of Natural History in New York City, he became the curator of Princeton University's ornithological collection, a position he held from 1920 until his death in 1977. He shared the bird collection with students by handing around study of skins, lecturing on the families of birds and conducting field trips and expeditions for bird observation. For his “valuable contribution” to ornithology he received a special award from the New Jersey Audubon Society, which he also served as president from 1940-1945.

Starting at age 11, Charles H. Rogers penciled detailed descriptions of daily bird sightings. In 1900, he participated in the first Christmas bird count held in Central Park that later would be hosted annually by the Audubon Society, and Rogers missed only one of these bird watching events. His observations spanning over 70 years allow researchers to compare current density and distribution data with bird populations of yesterday.

Online exhibition curation & design: Jennifer Cabral-Pierce, Digital Imaging Technician, Princeton University Library.