Understand the Roots of the Environmental Conservation Movement

5 min read

| By Gale Staff |

There are many meaningful causes motivating today’s college students, but climate change and environmental conservation are at the top of the list. According to a 2021 Pew Research Study, Generation Z feels particularly anxious about our climate future, and they are more likely to make personal choices to help address climate concerns. College faculty can engage their students’ passion with the help of Gale’s Environmental History: Conservation and Public Policy in America, 1870-1980.

Environmental history examines humanity’s impact on the natural environment over time through an interdisciplinary approach spanning social issues, world history, public policy, and ecological studies. College students who possess a solid academic foundation in environmental history will better understand the nuances of modern-day climate change debates.

Environmental History: Conservation and Public Policy in America, 1870-1980 is Gale’s newest academic collection. With this specialized resource, students can explore the story of the U.S. conservation movement as told through an impressive collection of primary source materials. Students learn how history shapes modern environmental decision-making and governmental policies. And with Gale’s in-text keyword search tools, users can quickly find relevant content in archived materials. Gale’s Environmental History provides invaluable context for today’s new generation of activists who aspire to become tomorrow’s climate scientists and decision-makers.

Dive into Environmental History: Conservation and Public Policy in America, 1870-1980, and see how the country evolved from the Industrial Revolution to the dawn of the Reagan era. Explore how the human-nature relationship changed over 100 years and learn about the events that led to the founding of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the planet’s first Earth Day—both in 1970. The Environmental History archives are your roadmap to help students better understand the roots of the climate crisis and how individuals have successfully sought to fix it.

Recognize the Major Milestones

Given the scale of the problem, it’s understandable that many college students feel anxious about the planet’s future. Focusing on the progress made throughout the late 19th and 20th centuries can provide helpful context. For generations, people have valued and fought for environmental conservation, providing hope for the present moment. Turning to the archives, start with Yale University’s George Bird Grinnell Papers, 1886-1939, a fascinating collection of records from the “Father of American Conservation” who helped found the National Parks Association. Gale’s advanced search features can help you locate subject files on the founding of the country’s most precious National Parks. Additionally, students can read Grinnell’s correspondence with politicians, activists, and friends regarding his efforts to preserve the country’s natural resources.

Comb through the United States Bureau of Land Management Records, 1944-1979, for reports, speeches, and other governmental files detailing the country’s efforts to establish environmental protections while managing the needs of its expanding population. Find environmental impact statements mandated by Nixon’s National Environmental Policy Act, and discover speeches from the 1960s imploring people to live differently and opt for alternative fuel sources, specifically moving away from coal and toward gas. By delving into the Gale archives, your students can recognize the similarities between environmental conservation efforts in the past and today.

Learn About Early Conservation Heroes

Today, we have celebrity activists like Greta Thunberg and Leonardo Dicaprio. We have social media to share our favorite vegan recipes, sustainable yoga outfits, and selfies in stunning national parks. Environmental conservation is trendy and accessible. Consider then the strategies that early conservationists used to share their values. How did eco-minded individuals spread the word and raise awareness without Instagram, viral videos, and high-definition documentaries?

Young researchers can explore primary source materials from diverse repositories spanning the United States, all housed in a single place: Gale’s Environmental History archives. This includes the Denver Public Library’s digital collections from those very conservationists, featuring that detail Velma Johnston’s efforts throughout the 1950s to protect wild horses—demonstrating how an individual citizen, despite powerful government interest, can stand up for the natural habitat and win. Curious users can browse the Velma Johnston (“Wild Horse Annie”) Papers, 1955-1977, for photographs, legal documents, and her correspondences.

Sift through Environmental History’s collections to find other key figures in early environmental conservation, such as Roger Wolcott Toll. An outdoor enthusiast in the early 20th century, Toll was fundamental in the Rocky Mountain National Park’s establishment. The Roger W. Toll Papers, 1920-1936, showcase both his commitment as an activist and his genuine love of the natural world. His work as a U.S. National Park Service surveyor helped create the beloved national parks in Death Valley, Joshua Tree, Big Bend, and the Everglades.

Think Critically About Modern-Day Environmental Discussion

Modern-day environmentalism is a complicated academic topic. Today’s environmentalists, scholars, and industry leaders debate strategies to reduce fossil fuel usage, the ethics of nuclear power, and the efficacy of electric vehicles.

Collections within Environmental History provide models for collaboration between government agencies, business leaders, and activist organizations. In the United States Forest Service Collection, 1870-1981, researchers can find records and reports detailing the country’s early efforts to regulate natural resource protections. For example, trespass logs and diaries illustrate the agency’s struggle to enforce its authority against business interests—a common theme in today’s environmental conflicts.

With the Rosalie Edge Papers, 1930-1954, students will learn the story of Rosalie Edge, an environmental activist and equal rights campaigner in the women’s suffrage movement. She called out corruption in male-dominated environmental organizations and inspired later female conservationists such as Rachel Carson. Through stories like hers, students can think critically about the intersection today between environmental conservation and social justice issues. Fighting for one elevates the other.

Take advantage of the collections in Environmental History: Conservation and Public Policy in America, 1870-1980. These primary sources provide valuable insight into the country’s ongoing conservation movement and a path forward for viable solutions. We can only make progress if we learn from the past.

If your academic institution is not an active Gale subscriber, connect with your local representative and request a trial of Gale’s Environmental History database.

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