A pacific world

An interesting feature of the records of former New York Zoological Society (NYZS) President Fairfield Osborn Jr. is his creative output: the numerous speeches, articles, books, and other such works he produced during his tenure as President at the Society, from 1940 to the late 1960s.

One such work is The Pacific World, a publication whose purpose was to provide zoological and natural history information to American soldiers that were stationed in the Pacific during the Second World War.

The Pacific World was published in two editions, one for the consumption of the general public and one for the armed services, as a series of small pamphlets. In the 1944 annual report of the Society, President Osborn declared that the series would prove to be an important contribution to zoology and natural history related literature. The effort was intended to encourage those serving overseas to play a role in conserving the biodiversity found in the oceans, lands, skies, and islands of the Pacific Ocean.

The work was published in 1944 by the American Committee for International Wild Life Protection (ACIWLP), an organization concerned with the promotion of the conservation of endangered species and other wildlife in their original habitats around the globe.

1. Illustrated preliminary chart by William Beebe noting the range and variety of mammals among the islands of the Pacific, 1943. Scanned from WCS Archives Collection 1029.

President Osborn served as the publication’s editor, bringing together a number NYZS contributors (including NYZS’s Executive Secretary John Tee Van, William Beebe of the Department of Tropical Research, Donald Mercy of NYZS’s Education Department), as well as contributors from well-known American scientific and educational institutions such as the American Geographic Society, the Blue Hill Meteorological Observatory, the Museum of Comparative Zoology, the Smithsonian Institution, and the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH).

2. Correspondence, instructions with sample chart, and research materials noting the advice and guidance of Curator Wm. H. Barton, Jr. at AMNH’s Department of Astronomy on a proposed star chart of the Pacific region (the final version was later published in the chapter Stars Over Melanesia within the 1944 publication of The Pacific World), November 1943. Scanned from WCS Archives Collection 1029.

While the publication is a product of its time, in that it expresses the particular ethnocentric views of its contributors in the descriptions and terminology used to report on the history, heritage, and culture of the communities of the Pacific, The Pacific World and its accompanying charts, maps, lists and other visual content provides an illuminating overview of environmental conditions (including land area, climate, and weather data) and the biodiversity of animal species found in the region in the mid-20th century.

3-1. Page one (pages two and three below) of a document by Herbert S. Zim giving editorial commentary on an earlier version of the publication, named Handbook of the Pacific, 1943. Scanned from WCS Archives Collection 1029.



The WCS Archives’ Fairfield Osborn collection includes original materials relating to the production of The Pacific World that contains correspondence, final and draft copies of manuscript materials, graphs, maps, illustrations, notes and other materials.  The materials document President Obsorn’s editorial role, the relationships between NYZS and the various contributors to the project, and the production process. There is also insight into the Pacific region through additional correspondence from those in the field.

4-1. Page one (pages two and three below) of a letter from a Ralph J. Donahue to NYZS’s William Beebe with field observations on bird species in Alaska, August 1943. Scanned from WCS Archives Collection 1029.



5. Detail of a draft chart with accompanying note illustrating data on the distribution of birds among the islands of the Pacific, circa 1943. Scanned from WCS Archives Collection 1029.

Today WCS continues to provide educational and outreach materials to those serving in the U.S. Military in support of wildlife conservation, now through 21st-century means of information distribution and sharing.

This post is the eighth in a year-long series dedicated to WCS’s National Historical Public Records Commission (NHPRC) funded archival processing project that will make several important archival collections from the New York Zoological Society accessible for the first time.

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