Cultivating the Wild

“Generations are growing up without any natural contact with wild creatures; a new public opinion concerning wildlife and wild environment is arising unfettered and unguided by fact or experience. Except at the Zoo, the opportunities to know or even become interested in wild creatures are largely vicarious ones for many city dwellers. The opinions of these people will shape the future of wild lands and wild creatures.” -William G. Conway. General Director, 1966-1999. New York Zoological Society. (Gathering of Animals. William Bridges. 1974. Page 500.)

Frequently here at WCS Archives, I find myself reflecting on public experiences and encounters with the natural world, and the challenges of conveying rural and field perspectives and experiences in an urban context.  It is particularly true on Wednesdays, when admission to the zoo is free, and streams of families, teams of teens, as well as school groups with tethered young potential zoologists, naturalists, and conservationists come to visit, many for the first time.

A typical opportune sighting presently available to park visitors at the Zoo. A pasture dotted with a group of Père David deer amongst the surrounding fall foliage of the season. The Rare Animals Range, a former exhibit which opened in 1973, featured this Asian deer species as well as Mongolian wild horses (Przewalski’s horses) and European Bison (wisent). The press release produced for the exhibit opening stated, “all three species are extinct in nature and exist today only in zoos and preserves.” Photograph by Emma Curtis.

A typical opportune sighting presently available to park visitors at the Zoo. A pasture dotted with a group of Père David deer amongst the surrounding fall foliage of the season. The Rare Animals Range, a former exhibit which opened in 1973, featured this Asian deer species as well as Mongolian wild horses (Przewalski’s horses) and European Bison (wisent). The press release produced for the exhibit opening stated, “all three species are extinct in nature and exist today only in zoos and preserves.” Photograph by Emma Curtis.

Recently a file relating to the promotion of the New York Zoological Society’s [NYZS] herd of Mongolian wild horses in the late 1970s passed by my desk here in the WCS Archives, as work continues on the processing of NYZS Public Affairs collections. The contents serve as a small behind-the-scenes window to NYZS and as an example that raises questions regarding how the Society cultivated the experience of wildlife and the natural world for the benefit of its visitors over the course of its history. In particular, what roles have NYZS’s education, publications, public relations, advertising, special events, marketing, and communications staff over the years played in this process?

Correspondence, typed memoranda, and handwritten notes frequently appear in the press release files. This draft of the “Chinese New Year of the Horse” press release, accompanies the edited photograph featured below. The annotations here are from General Director, William Conway. Press release February 6, 1978. Scanned from WCS Archives Collection 2032.

Correspondence, typed memoranda, and handwritten notes frequently appear in the press release files. This draft of the “Chinese New Year of the Horse” press release accompanies the edited photograph featured below. The annotations here are from General Director William Conway. Press release February 6, 1978. Scanned from WCS Archives Collection 2032.

This file is one of my favorite examples of late among these records. Particularly because through it, one can begin to see and get a sense of the multiple layers of NYZS staff that were involved in crafting a vision together to deliver to the public. The textual narratives found in mid-to-late 20th century press releases, particularly those from the 1940s and 1950s, often include comical and creative storytelling that invite a sense of curiosity about the zoo, its inhabitants, and the multiple worlds the zoo contained. Later releases, such as those from the 1970s, contain practical information for the visitor and highlight important factual information about the Society’s progressive efforts in the fight for the preservation of numerous animal species to save them from their plight across the globe. Society photographers responsible for representing NYZS on film have been known for going to great lengths to capture the Zoo and Society facilities at their best angles. And what of the watchful editorial eyes? Their perspectives also helped perfect the message that would hopefully play a key role in fostering public curiosity, empathy, love, and respect for the natural world, as well as a sense of connection between humans, animals, and their habitats for the benefit of the livelihoods of all.

A reproduction of a photograph taken by NYZS photographer William Meng (1969 – 1996) that accompanies the press release for the “Chinese New Year of the Horse.” Crop marks in red and black appear on the picture plane on the left and top edge of the image featuring NYZS’s Mongolian wild horses. These edits highlight elements of concern from Society staff, namely the context of the zoo’s urban environment, when creating an image representative of the Zoo’s facilities and animal collections intended for public consumption. Photograph by Bill Meng, circa February 1978. Scanned from WCS Archives Collection 2032.

A reproduction of a photograph taken by NYZS photographer William Meng (1969 – 1996) that accompanies the press release for the “Chinese New Year of the Horse.” Crop marks in red and black appear on the picture plane on the left and top edge of the image featuring NYZS’s Mongolian wild horses. These edits highlight elements that concerned General Director Conway, namely the context of the zoo’s urban environment, when creating an image representative of the Zoo’s facilities and animal collections intended for public consumption. Photograph by Bill Meng, circa February 1978. Scanned from WCS Archives Collection 2032.

This post was submitted by WCS’s National Historical Public Records Commission (NHPRC) Project Archivist, Emma Curtis.

Turning on, Booting up and Jacking In

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Caroline Gil here, Digital Project Archivist for the Leon-Levy Foundation-funded Legacy Digital Media Project at the Wildlife Conservation Society. My initial weeks here at the WCS Archives have consisted of inventorying, assessing, and developing an all-encompassing, forensically sound plan for imaging and conserving approximately 1,000 pieces of digital media. For this pilot project, WCS Processing Archivist Leilani Dawson selected pieces of removable media, including optical, magnetic and spinning disk hard drives, which encompass about 393 3.5” floppy disks, 390 pieces of either CDs and DVDs (in all their configurations, i.e. CD-R, CD-RW, DVD-R, DVD +R etc), 46 Mini-DV video tapes, and half a dozen external hard drivesreally cool looking, heavy ones circa the early aughts. Continue reading

NEH Sustaining Cultural Heritage Collections Grant Project Complete

As we reported back in August 2015, the WCS Archives received a Sustaining Cultural Heritage Collections grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities.  We’re pleased now to report the completion of the project, in which we developed a Conceptual Preservation Design Plan for a new WCS Archives space.  Situated in the Bronx Zoo’s Heads and Horns Building, this space would include a large collections storage area to provide safe, sustainable preservation conditions for our historical materials, proper fhich we currently lack) to host those consulting the collections as well as classes and small lectures, and a small exhibition area to showcase WCS’s historical treasures to invited audiences.  Continue reading

Society Letterhead: Press Releases, 1938-1979

2032_pressrelease_nyzs_1970_2This is the fourth blog post in our series on graphic design in letterhead.

For this post, we will be showcasing examples of design found in letterhead of press releases closer to home, from the Society as a whole, as well as releases from the Bronx Zoo and the New York Aquarium.  Continue reading

WCS Archives Awarded Grant from the Leon Levy Foundation

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We’re very excited to start work on a one-year project funded by the Leon Levy Foundation [LLF] to ingest and process our legacy digital removable media!  This project builds directly on the success of last year’s National Digital Stewardship Residency [NDSR] Project.  However, while that work focused on electronic records that are just now being transferred to the Archives, the LLF project will allow us to work with digital materials that had been previously transferred to the Archives as part of predominantly paper-based collections. Continue reading

Nanuk: What’s in a Name?

 Archivists mine the collections and materials they process for key points of access, as gateways to gain attention and connect researchers to archival resources. Keeping in mind the needs of both the current and future generations of researchers, locations, names, dates, specific activities and events, along with other keywords get logged in the mind’s eye of processors whilst looking to make sense of the surviving records under their care. Terms like these provide valuable clues and points of entry into the materials to unearth important pathways for discovering existing relationships.  Continue reading

Early Photo Retouching and Other Reflections from the WCS Archives Photo Preservation Project

Wildlife Conservation Society_11357_Southern Bald Eagle_BZ_06 26 29In the first phase of a project whose eventual purpose is to conserve the WCS Archives’ collection of nearly 50,000 photographic negatives, the assessment of some 10,000-plus of these has been a mostly shared endeavor between myself and another intern. Dating from 1899 to 1946, this first batch of negatives is of interest from more than one perspective:  not only do the images constitute a visual timeline of WCS’s history and the histories of zoos, aquariums, and wildlife conservation, the negatives themselves can also be seen as artifacts that represent milestones from within the discipline of photography. Among other things in the collection, we see the transition from the use of glass to film negatives, as well as early attempts at photo manipulation.  Continue reading

“For it was never intended, from the beginning…” conservation action and advocacy at NYZS

2018_cif_brochure_back_circa1970sWCS Archives holds a number of collections that tell the story of the New York Zoological Society and its activities in the realm of public affairs. A portion of these materials relate to the former Department of Government Affairs which, from the period of the 1960s-1980s, produced records that serve to provide a snapshot into the Society’s contributions towards wildlife conservation legislation.  Continue reading

[If] Mars Attacks!

The Bronx Zoo, like many public facilities, has long had internal protocols for both standard operating procedures and emergency operating procedures [EOPs].  In the early 1970s, the Bronx Zoo’s newly-revitalized Safety Committee conducted a series of revisions of the Zoo’s Emergency Procedures Manual.  The revision process included gathering and codifying types of emergencies, ideal responses, and needed equipment from a wide variety of departments.  Continue reading