The Evolution of the Conservation Movement, 1850-1920

Editor's Note

This collection has been developed according to two guiding principles. In the first place, the editors have chosen to interpret the history of the early American conservation movement through the wide lens of cultural history, rather than limiting their focus to the narrower developments of conservation policy. Accordingly, we have included both the essential documents of conservationism itself--its major philosophical statements, for example, and its legislative landmarks--and works that represent the most important facets of conservationism's generative cultural milieu, such as the literature of scenic tourism, or of popular ornithology. For the same reason, we have designed the collection to reflect as closely as possible a historically accurate balance among the perspectives of different social classes and geographic regions, between public and private initiatives and between state and Federal leadership, and to attend appropriately to chronology by including seminal works and first editions whenever possible. In the second place, the collection has been developed in order to replicate for users in the electronic environment something of the experience of research in the Library of Congress itself. Accordingly, the collection's structure retains distinctive attributes of the Library's custodial structure, and its editorial apparatus is intended to provide the kind of archival and contextual guidance that might be offered by an informed and helpful reference librarian with subject expertise in the scholarship of American environmental history and intimate familiarity with the materials in her care, while leaving users largely free to form their own analyses, judgments and interpretive conclusions about the documents they find.

Inevitable limitations of technology and resources obliged us to make some difficult choices about what could and could not be included in a collection of this kind. Certain kinds of material that are a vital part of the historical record, and of the Library of Congress's own holdings, had to be excluded either for technical reasons or because their adequate representation would have monopolized the collection's available resources, precluding the structural latitude that was our paramount goal: the rich and diverse newspaper and periodical literature on conservation issues, for example; or the Library's unique and extensive manuscript archives of the papers of individual conservation leaders; or Theodore Roosevelt's Executive Orders on conservation matters, which included landmark initiatives in Federal conservation stewardship; or the corpus of political cartoons on conservation subjects. In some areas, the historical importance of certain aspects of conservationism's legacy is not matched by a comparably rounded or readily encapsulated documentary record in the resources of the Library, and that, too, has constrained our choices for this collection at the expense of full balance and accuracy. In this connection we regret, for example, the general absence of material reflecting the evolution of the conservation movement at the grass-roots level; and the complete absence of material reflecting the conservation ethos of Native American cultures, the ancient vernacular traditions of conservation stewardship among subsistence farmers, the significance of agricultural reform and soil-conservation enterprises, and the growth of fish culture. Some of these and other lacunae have been imperfectly accommodated by features of the collection's editorial apparatus: through references in the Chronology or archival head-notes, for example, or through the Additional Resources lists. No project of this nature can hope to be comprehensive, of course, especially when such a topic is its subject, and such a storehouse of plenty as the Library of Congress is the grounds of its feast.

Jurretta Jordan Heckscher
Washington, D.C.
Spring, 1996

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