Two institutions established during the nineteenth century contributed to the scientific knowledge and conservation of wildlife found in the American West. James Smithson’s donation of his estate to the United States resulted in the establishment of an “institution that would embody the state of mid-nineteenth-century American science” (p. 10). Enabling legislation for the Smithsonian required the collection of “all specimens that might be accumulated from other sources for the illustration of all branches of natural history, geology, ethnology, etc.” (p. 11). Congress further instructed the Smithsonian to serve as the repository for specimens collected through government-sponsored scientific expeditions, thus setting the stage for government scientists to provide boxes of scientific artifacts for the nation’s museum. Within a few decades of the Smithsonian’s founding, Yellowstone National Park was established to protect and conserve a pristine segment of the American West. Primarily set aside for its unique geologic features, attention soon focused on the protection of the various wildlife species there. Individuals overseeing the Smithsonian, and specifically its specimen collections, came to rely on the national park to provide “new and unique specimens to help grow its natural history collections” (p. 3). In Yellowstone and the Smithsonian, Diane Smith reveals the little known relationship that developed over several decades between the two places that both impacted and enhanced the scientific study and management of wildlife. Smith provides an engaging narrative first by reviewing the histories of both agencies. Each is plagued with conflicting responsibilities: the Smithsonian serving the needs of scholars while housing a museum to educate the public, and Yellowstone’s dual role of protecting and conserving the region’s natural conditions while supporting tourism. The history of wildlife management in Yellowstone is one of controversy that continues today. Works published since the late 1990s have examined the many issues that park managers have dealt with through the years. Few, if any, provide any in-depth discussion of the history of wildlife conservation and the role the Smithsonian Institution and its personnel played in this critical arena. While protection of all species was a concern for park management, Smithsonian personnel considered those animals as their property and so routinely requested certain species be gathered to add to their inventory and even to use in their exchange program. As noted in the introduction, much has been written about wildlife management in Yellowstone, but most of the standard works focus on the post-1916 era rather than on the early years of civilian and military oversight. While the US Cavalry served in the park from 1886 to 1916; much of their work with wildlife management has received little attention, especially their role in establishing Yellowstone as “the major supplier” (p. 3) of museum and zoo animals. Concurrently, the Smithsonian looked to the West to collect samples of all available species. Smith’s narrative moves seamlessly between each institution, providing detailed information on policies and personalities that impacted the management of wildlife species as well as the collection of specimens both living and dead. Thoroughly researched using archival resources from both the Smithsonian and Yellowstone archives, she reveals the deep connections between the two. Supplementing the routine legislative and management policies that are well covered in earlier works, Smith discusses approximately thirty individuals who had significant influence on the direction of their respective programs. Many species, such as pronghorn, mule deer, elk, and bear are discussed here, but the bison receives the greatest attention. According to the author, one of the most critical goals of the Smithsonian was the acquisition of specimens of the large mammals, particularly the bison. As their numbers declined, especially in Yellowstone, the home of the last wild bison, the species became the focus of conservation efforts. From shipping live animals to the Smithsonian to building enclosures for a captive breeding program and a living museum for the tourists, Smith details all the attempts including some that are both surprising and disturbing. Yellowstone and the Smithsonian, both centers of scientific interest and experiment, played a significant role in the conservation of America’s native fauna. Smith’s work fills a void detailing the interaction between the two in overseeing the management, protection, and conservation of wildlife. A valuable scholarly addition to the literature of both the Smithsonian and Yellowstone, this is as wonderful to read as a novel. © The Author(s) 2018. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the American Society for Environmental History and the Forest History Society. All rights reserved. For permissions, please e-mail: email@example.com This article is published and distributed under the terms of the Oxford University Press, Standard Journals Publication Model (https://academic.oup.com/journals/pages/about_us/legal/notices)
Environmental History – Oxford University Press
Published: May 11, 2018
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