The Evolution of the Conservation Movement, 1850-1920

Materials from the Prints and Photographs Division of the Library of Congress

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This collection contains 170 photographs, prints, and other graphic images drawn from the holdings of the Library of Congress's Prints and Photographs Division. These document the visual imagery that influenced the evolution of the American conservation movement in its formative years, and testify especially vividly to the broad foundations of much conservationist sentiment in American popular culture.

Throughout the latter half of the nineteenth century, artists, photographers, and printmakers created archetypally powerful images of America's wild landscapes that circulated widely in various forms through nearly all economic groups, decisively shaping the nation's perception of its natural heritage. In this collection, these vital images are represented in selections from the work of two early masters of landscape photography, William Henry Jackson (from his work with the Hayden Survey in the 1870s) and Carleton E. Watkins, and by a spectrum of printed forms, from sumptuous chromolithographs based on the work of eminent landscape painters, such as Thomas Moran, Albert Bierstadt, and Jasper Cropsey, to the exquisite engravings created for the elegant album Picturesque America; or, The Land We Live In (William Cullen Bryant, ed.; 2 vols., New York: D. Appleton and company, 1872-74), to the humbler and cheaper images disseminated in untold numbers by Currier & Ives. At the same time, Americans were drawn to wild places in increasing numbers for recreation and refreshment; in this collection, contributions from Currier & Ives and from the work of a photographer named Joseph J. Kirkbride capture the changing attitudes and popular pleasures that revised one nation's understanding of the uses of nature.

The collection also includes a portrait gallery of individuals in this era who made especially significant contributions to the conservation movement and to the documents of the movement that are represented in this collection.

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