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The American Nature Study Society Archive Project

The nature study movement was a popular education movement in America in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Nature Study attempted to reconcile scientific investigation with personal, spiritual experiences gained from interaction with the natural world. Led by progressive educators and naturalists such as Anna Botsford Comstock, Liberty Hyde Bailey, and Louis Agassiz. It changed the way science was taught in schools, emphasizing learning from tangible objects, something embodied by the movement’s mantra, aptly coined by naturalist Louis Agassiz to “study nature, not books.”

The American Nature Study Society (ANSS), America’s oldest environmental education organization, founded in 1908, quickly became the leading organization serving and strengthening the Nature Study Movement serving the personal and professional needs of countless educators with workshops, publications, field trips and conferences. ANSS Past Presidents include outstanding leaders in the field: Liberty Hyde Bailey, Anna Botsford Comstock, Cap’n Bill Vinal, E. Laurence Palmer, Roger Torey Peterson, Edwin Way Teale, and Helen Ross Russell.

ANSS was formed at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) in Chicago in 1908 and Liberty Hyde Bailey was elected its first president. As its members were widely scattered throughout the country (and Canada), the principal means by which ANSS maintained contact and purpose was through the AAAS annual meetings and the publication of an “official organ” of some sort. The history, and now legacy of ANSS (and nature study) is essentially the history and preservation of its publications.

The American Nature Association, once headquartered in Washington D.C. was the publisher of Nature Magazine from 1923-1959, an illustrated monthly with popular articles about nature and later, the “interpreter of the great outdoors”. The American Nature Association morphed into the American Nature Study Society and Nature Magazine eventually transitioned to Nature Study, ANSS’ official Journal.

To preserve ANSS history, legacy, and stature we have gathered and retained several its publications in a manner that is searchable, accessible, retrievable, and available to the general public. The files are protected from someone simply downloading and publishing the information for profit. Anyone can use the files but not in commercial ways. While we were not able to secure all ANSS publications, we have included copies of Newsletters, Teaching Tips, Nature Study Journals and E L Palmer’s Natural History Inserts along with historical and biographical information that may be of interest.

A significant amount of historical information regarding Nature Study, ANSS and related topics, individuals, and publications can be found in the ANSS Records 1908-1997 at the Cornell University Library – Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections, Collection #2195. (We will pursue potential to have the publications listed here added to the appropriate collections at the Cornell Library)

This ANSS archive project is ‘fluid’ – when secure copy of the ‘missing issues’ and/or additional information, we will do our best to add them to the listings. This project has been made possible with the help of the American Nature Study Society (available) records, the Brandwein Institute, the Lime Hollow Nature Center, the Cornell University Library – Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections and several individuals.

Please use this link to contact us with your questions, concerns and suggestions.

Associated accessible/retrievable information and resources include:

Brief history of the ‘nature-study’ movement (Wikipedia)

History of the American Nature Society Essays and Articles (PDFs)

Biographical Sketches & Photos:

ANSS Newsletters (PDFs)

ANSS Newsletter, mailed quarterly (when available) from 1943-1999, kept members posted on Society and member news. Each issue featured 1- to 3-page Teaching Tip, nature writing excerpts and announcements of upcoming regional, national and international events.

ANSS Nature Study Journals (PDFs)

Nature Study Journals (1964-2004), in 3-4 annually themed issues, contained in-depth articles focused on nature study, nature education, environmental education, trends, issues, resources, opportunities and more all written and compiled by its members and guest writers and editors such as; L H Bailey, Anna Botsford Comstock, E L Palmer, Cap’n Bill Vinal, Roger Tory Peterson, Edwin Way Teale, Bill Sharp, Helen Ross Russell, Bill Stapp, Verne Rockcastle and Bill Hammond. The Journal often contained additional Teaching Tips corresponding to the issue’s theme feature articles.

Nature Study Journal themes included: Interrelationships, Insects, Water, Amphibians, Forest, Winter, City, Writing for Children and many more. Index and Anniversary issues were published periodically. Books for both children and adults, many authored by members, were reviewed in each issue.

ANSS Teaching Tips (PDFs)

Teaching Tips were/are 1-2-page ‘lesson plans’ focused on helping teachers and students learn about the natural world. ANSS’ Tips were first published in the Society’s Newsletters but also found their way into the Nature Study Journals. Topics were as widespread and as varied as all the associated fields of nature-study and environmental education from Acid Rain to Insects to Bird Houses to the Moon. Tips were written by members, authors and guests, many of whom were outstanding educators and naturalists. ANSS Teaching Tips have been re-printed many times and are still in use and valuable today.

E L Palmer’s Natural History Inserts(PDFs)

Ephraim Lawrence (E L) Palmer was most well-known for his books such as Field Book of Natural History (1949), his weekly radio show This Week in Nature of the 1940s – 1950s, and his writings and contributions in the monthly publication of Nature Magazine including the 100+ Natural History Inserts. Each 8-page insert is inclusive of and focuses on a distinct and specific topic of natural history. Palmer often wrote a ‘School Page’ article in Nature Magazine to accompany the Natural History Insert of that issue giving teachers the tools and lessons he/she needed to include the information presented in classroom and related field studies. It is significant to note and remember that Nature Magazine was a monthly publication. You will often find these inserts in the binders and on library shelves in schools, libraries, nature centers and outdoor/environmental education centers today.