Modernization of the A.D. Hopkins collection at the Smithsonian Institution Department of Entomology

by Teresa Boyd

This is the second post in the BloggERS Embedded Series.

The Smithsonian Institution’s Department of Entomology has recently finished phase one of their multiyear project to digitize their portion of the A.D. Hopkins notes and records system, which includes about 100 years of observations, both in the field and in the lab. A.D. Hopkins developed the system in order to collect biological and natural history notes about species, the environment they were in, as well as the collectors and locations of collection. This collection was adopted by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) when Hopkins was named Chief of Forest Insect Investigations, though Hopkins is known to have developed and used the system while working at West Virginia University in the late 1800s. The Smithsonian Institution’s Department of Entomology has historically worked very closely with the USDA and therefore obtained the largest portion of the Hopkins card file over the years.


It was important to Hopkins to collect as much information as possible about specimens because he felt it was the quickest way to understand the situation of potential pests and to find solutions to harmfully invasive species. Part of Hopkins’ methodology was to encourage average citizens to send in specimens and observations to the USDA, the Smithsonian, or one of the forest experiment stations that were located throughout the United States, which were then incorporated into the Hopkins note system. Some of these notes are also documentation about lab research such as specimen rearing, specimen transfers, and communications between lab and field. A few of these notes are also cross-referenced, so often a lab note can be traced back to a field note, making it easier for researchers to quickly see the correlation between field and lab (work that was often done by different individuals.) The numbers on each individual card within the A.D. Hopkins system correlates to specimens that are housed in various locations. Traditionally a researcher or scientist would ask for the notes that were associated with a a specimen number. By creating an online repository of the notes, the Smithsonian hopes to further enrich researchers with new tools to expand their work and perhaps find new ways to use the data which has been collected by past researchers and scientists.

I have been working on this project as a lone archivist for the past 5 years, scanning the card file portion of the collection, and am now working on preparing these scans for a website that will be built specifically for this type of collection. The Smithsonian Institution’s Department of Entomology hopes to begin sending the scans of the cards to the Smithsonian Transcription Center soon to crowdsource the transcriptions. This cuts down on the time it takes to transcribe the older material which is all handwritten. I will be adding the transcribed notes to the digitized card on the website so that researchers will be able to go to the website, look up a specific card, and see both the original scan and the transcribed notes, making it easy for anyone to be able to use the information contained in the Hopkins collection. Additionally these scans will be incorporated into the Department of Entomology’s collections database by matching specimens to their unique card numbers;  thereby giving researchers the complete picture.

The Smithsonian Institution’s work to digitize and make their A.D. Hopkins collection publicly available is not the first of its kind; the USDA had previously accomplished this in the 1980s, and has made their documents available on the USDA website, HUSSI. There is hope that in the future other institutions that have their own portions of the A.D. Hopkins notes and records system will also begin to digitize and make them available online, supplementing the Smithsonian and USDA efforts to make this invaluable data available to researchers. 

Teresa Boyd is an archivist for the Department of State and a volunteer archivist for the Smithsonian Institute’s Department of Entomology. She holds a degree in Library and Information Science from the University of Arizona.