Amongst ornithological enthusiasts (or birders) a “big year” is an informal competition to identify the largest number of bird species in a defined geographical area within a single calendar year. To the staff of the University Archives, a “big year” refers to the next 12 months, where we will identify, digitize, and describe over 150,000 materials that document the early natural history of the state of Minnesota.

Made possible by a grant from the Minnesota Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund of the Minnesota Clean Water, Land and Legacy amendment, Exploring Minnesota’s Natural History will provide greater access to field notebooks, botanical photographs, and other materials documenting phenological observations from the 1870s through the early 20th century. Through digital access, the materials that comprise the collections of the Minnesota Geological and Natural History Survey, Department of Botany, and Bell Museum of Natural History, will be virtually transported from the secure, controlled environment of the University Archives to the laptop of a botanist in a research laboratory, an iPad at a middle school in the Iron Range, and on to a smartphone in the hands of a birder in Itasca State Park.

Follow our big year in the project blog, where we will report our progress, feature unique records, and offer historical insights about Minnesota’s natural environment.

This project was made possible by funds provided by the State of Minnesota from the Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund through the Minnesota Historical Society.

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