Jason Goldman covers the acquisition of Gombe chimpanzee records from the Jane Goodall Institute by Duke University (“Digitizing Jane Goodall’s legacy at Duke”).
Now, researchers at Duke University are taking more than twenty file-cabinets full with fifty years of check-sheets, longhand narratives in both English and Swahili, hand-drawn maps, videos, and photos, and carefully digitizing everything. This will allow researchers to construct searchable life-histories of the chimpanzees of Gombe, for the first time. The word "archives" is a bit misleading, though. The new Jane Goodall Institute Research Center at Duke is continuing to receive new data from Gombe, which will all become digitized and included in the collection as well.
The move toward digitizing and making primate field records available has been a major challenge for primatology. Different research teams have legacies of partially incompatible records, which complicates the process of comparing data from different sites and different species. My UW-Madison colleague Karen Strier together with many of the leading figures in primate field research have been involved for several years in an effort to bring life history records from different primate species together. One of the first tangible results of the collaboration is a paper that appeared earlier this month in Science by Anne Bronikowski and colleagues
Seems to me that this kind of archiving is absolutely essential to our ability to study primate behavior in the future. Not least, data archives will be necessary to document the effect of range contractions and habitat fragmentation on primate behavior. Openness is difficult to negotiate in these contexts, because of the long-term effort put into data collection. But in thirty years, these archives will not be useful unless they are extended and put into accord with formats that are widely used. Goldman describes the idiosyncrasies of Goodall’s data, and many other field projects have similar traditions that differ from each other. Without building a larger community capable of understanding these records, the data may be as useful as WordStar files from 1981.