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Are you researching a topic related to environmental studies? If so, you can find many useful resources among these collections at the National Archives. Listed here are some of the many record groups that provide information about environmental issues.



Many state, local, and private archives also contain records that document important information about the environment. The National Archives’ National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC) has provided grants to several such institutions, and the collections those organizations have digitized are now freely available online. Two examples include:


  • The Aldo Leopold Foundation and the University Archives of the University of Wisconsin, Madison have digitized the papers of 20th century ecologist and philosopher Aldo Leopold. As they note on their website, “Aldo Leopold is considered by many to have been the most influential conservation thinker of the 20th Century. Leopold’s legacy spans the disciplines of forestry, wildlife management, conservation biology, sustainable agriculture, restoration ecology, private land management, environmental history, literature, education, esthetics, and ethics. He is most widely known as the author of A Sand County Almanac, one of the most beloved and respected books about the environment ever published. The Leopold Collection houses the raw materials that document not only Leopold’s rise to prominence but the history of conservation and the emergence of the field of ecology from the early 1900s until his death in 1948.” You can view the collection and find out more about Aldo Leopold here: Aldo Leopold Archives – UW Digital Collections


  • The University of Florida has digitized material several “archival collections related to the exploration, development, and conservation of the Everglades between 1879-1929. These collections include materials from two Florida governors who wanted to develop the swampy region, a governor's wife who advocated conservation of certain regions, and several individuals associated with development. Together, the approximately 100,000 pages in the collections document the vibrant turn-of-the-century debate about what to do with these lands that appeared useless and dangerous.” To browse the collection, visit: UFDC Home - America's Swamp: the Historical Everglades 


For more information about other NHPRC digitization grant projects, see:

     Food is essential to life and civilization. Countless struggles and conflicts can be traced to the availability and access to food, making it an absolute necessity. In war, the logistics required to feed the armed forces was a Herculean effort with impacts resonating from the government down to the local level. During World War I, the rationing of specific food stuffs and commodities were central to helping procure the necessary wartime materials. Unlike World War II however, ration stamps were not distributed, but instead, private individuals and volunteer organizations lead a grassroots campaign to reduce pressure on the national food supply. Here was the rise of some of the country’s first ‘victory gardens.’


            Charles Lathrop Pack, a businessman from Michigan, conceived of the idea of how to compensate the loss of manual labor recruited from agriculture while not putting additional pressure on the industry. Food production in Europe had essentially halted with the war and the United States was one of the few remaining industrial agricultural nations capable of the mass-production of foodstuffs. Pack believed that by having people cultivate their own gardens, it would prevent already stressed farms from having to replenish the rapidly decreasing food supply. In March 1917, Pack established the National War Garden Commission which embarked on a national campaign encouraging and educating people on the importance and function of maintaining a wartime garden. The fruits and vegetables they harvested would allow the government to ship more supplies overseas. Simultaneously, federal agencies such as the U.S. Food Administration oversaw the collection, shipment, and distribution of supplies from the United States to Europe.  Food Administrator and future U.S. President Herbert Hoover heavily promoted targeted campaigns to help reduce the reliance on foodstuffs sorely needed by the AEF; campaigns like ‘Meatless Meals’ and ‘Wheatless Wednesday’ deterred people from using so they could be donated to the Food Administration.



          (Charles Lathrop Pack speaking to the Champion War Gardeners and Canners in Bryant Park, Food Administration, Campaign, )


            Coinciding with these food programs, volunteer organizations assisted parts of the agricultural industry to help relieve the stress they endured with much of the labor force now overseas. A regional organization, the Women’s Land Army of America, trained and assigned volunteers to specific farms and ranches to help bolster the workforce. Nominally referred to as ‘farmettes’ volunteers consisted mostly of students, teachers, clerks, and other white collar workers who never worked on farms before. They were trained in agricultural basics and by 1918, they employed over 20,000 women. While not receiving any government assistance, they were supported by members of the Progressive Movement, like Theodore Roosevelt and President Woodrow Wilson and received much of their funding through university non-profits.




                              (Women's Land Army of America unit working the onion harvest at Erie College in Painesville Ohio, )


            Victory gardens sprang up all over the country and even after the war ended, they remained as community gardens. By the outbreak of World War II, the victory garden practice re-emerged and people again relied on each other to make sure soldiers and neighbors had enough food to win the war.

     The mobilization of European armies in the opening months of World War I revealed the sheer size that the war would take. Armies numbering hundreds of thousands with the latest military technology were about to clash across Europe. As the United States witnessed these unfolding events, a small group of military officers, politicians, and other affluent individuals took to the public with a dire message; the US military was woefully ill prepared to defend itself, much less mount an expeditionary force to France. This push to improve the readiness of the US military including training and mandatory service was named the Preparedness Movement. Notables such as former Chief-of-Staff General Leonard Wood and former President Theodore Roosevelt argued that the US Army lacked the manpower, infrastructure, and sufficient training for defense. Former Secretaries of War Elihu Root and Henry Stimson publicly advocated for an increase in military spending and officer training schools. This enthusiasm for bolstering national defense was matched by a strong opposition. President Woodrow Wilson advocated for an armed neutrality rather than increase military spending.


     The Preparedness Movement initially gained traction with prominent industrialists and politicians who believed in mediating international affairs via strong military. The internationalism focus ran counter to isolationist groups who not only wanted to remain neutral, but claimed that some Preparedness Movement proposals would resemble European armies they wanted to avoid, e.g. Germany. This situation gradually changed in 1915 and 1916 with two events; the Pancho Villa raid across the US-Mexico border and the sinking of the Lusitania. US national defense was tested, showing how the military faced numerous obstacles in ensuring their protection. Wilson and his Cabinet embarked on implementing a few of the programs supported by the Preparedness Movement, including a larger navy. By June 1916, Congress passed then National Defense Act which expanded the Army and National Guard and implemented the Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC). With passage of the NDA, the Preparedness Movement achieved much of its objectives and dissipated.


     While controversial in its time, the Preparedness Movement pushed for the military readiness its members believed was crucial to ensure their protection and intervene abroad.




        (Woodrow Wilson in a Preparedness Parade in Washington D.C., June 1916, )

     Securing lines of communication are vital in every war and on every battlefield. If the enemy broke this security, they can quickly learn of impending attacks, logistical situations, and thwart their opponents at every opportunity. In World War I, German radio operators and code-breakers were adept in their monitoring and deciphering of enemy communications. Fortunately for the American Expeditionary Force, they discovered a valuable asset that pioneered an innovative and wholly North American trait in their military communications: Native American code-talkers.


                Choctaw Indians serving in France regularly spoke in their native languages within their group. One day, Colonel A.W. Bloor of the 142nd Infantry Regiment heard a conversation and realized something extraordinary; the Germans would have an arduous time trying to decipher messages if they were encoded in Choctaw. Native American languages possess uniqueness in that they are not typically written down and were relatively unknown to Europeans. Colonel Bloor decided to utilize these Choctaw soldiers in developing a military code using their specific dialects. An obstacle to this however was much of the US military vocabulary did not have a corresponding word in Choctaw dialects. This forced them to improvise certain words that related to their messages. Colonel Bloor described this process in a report to his commanding general’s headquarters:


It had been found that the Indian’s vocabulary of military terms was insufficient. The Indian word for “big gun” was used to indicate artillery. “Little gun shoot fast” was substituted for machine gun, and the battalions were indicated by “one, two, three grains of corn.”’


(You can read the entire report here on the National Archives Catalog:


Following training periods for developing a standardized Native American code, it was quickly implemented and Colonel Bloor noticed instantaneous results. German code-breakers who routinely decipher American messages were soon stumped by the innovative use of Choctaw dialects. Repeated surprises by AEF assaults seemed to confirm that the Germans could not understand the new Native American code-talkers. Captured German soldiers later stated that the use of Native American languages had completely confused them and they could not gain any useful information out of them.


                Despite their achievements in France, the Choctaw code-talkers were largely forgotten after the end of the war. The prominence of Navajo code-talkers in World War II overshadowed much of the Choctaw’s former accomplishments in encoding military messages. In the 1980s, they received posthumous honors from both the Choctaw Nation and France for their contributions and in 2008, President George Bush signed the Code Talkers Recognition Act which posthumously awarded every code-talker a Congressional Gold Medal.



     In World War I, the Meuse-Argonne was the scene of bloody fighting inflicted and sustained by the American Expeditionary Forces in France. Nearly two hundred-thousand casualties were suffered by the Allies, making it one of the deadliest battles ever fought by American soldiers. Shining through the fighting were courageous acts of bravery, valor, and sacrifice by those saving their comrades and leading troops against deadly odds. One of the most well-known of these heroes was Alvin Cullum York of Tennessee. During the Meuse-Argonne Offensive, Corporal York approached a German machine gun emplacement and killed its crew, survived a German bayonet charge, and captured 132 enemy soldiers, including the commanding lieutenant. His actions merited an immediate promotion to Sergeant and the Distinguished Service Cross. Later after an official review, the DSC was upgraded to the Medal of Honor, awarded personally by General John J. Pershing.  The international attention earned him a celebrity status following the war and became known by his sobriquet, Sergeant York.


     Alvin York did not imagine the acclaim he received after returning from France. After all, he initially registered as a conscientious objector. York was brought up in a devoutly religious family and belonged to the Church of Christ in Christian Union denomination (CCCU) which forbade the use of violence. The Selective Service Act of 1917 required all able bodied men after the age of 21 to register for the draft and when York’s claim for CO status was denied, he appealed this decision on religious grounds. Conscientious objectors were not wholly exempt from military service in 1917 however as they were normally given non-combat assignments. When training began at Camp Gordon, Georgia, York routinely felt conflicted between his military duty and religious conscience on pacifism. Two of his commanding officers, Capt. Edward C.B. Danforth and Major G. Edward Buxton argued that his religious beliefs didn’t conflict with his duties as a soldier, citing Bible verses which eventually convinced York that his military service wouldn’t force him to compromise his morality. York was assigned to the 328th Infantry Regiment, 82nd Division and saw his first combat during the St. Mihiel Offensive. On October 8, 1918, Cpl. York led the charge on Hill 233 in the Meuse-Argonne that catapulted him to international renown and earned him the Medal of Honor.


     Following his homecoming, York immediately went back to work in his home state. In the 1920s, he founded the Alvin C. York Foundation for the purpose of providing educational and agricultural training for students in Tennessee (the agricultural school established by the foundation in 1926 now exists as a state operated high school, the Alvin C. York Institute). During the Great Depression, he joined the Civilian Conservation Corps in 1935 and oversaw the construction of the Cumberland Mountain State Park. When the United States entered World War II, he re-enlisted, but because he suffered from a myriad of health issues, he was not given a combat assignment. Instead, York was commissioned as a Major in the Army Signal Corps and inspected training camps during the war. Alvin York continued to campaign for proper education and training for everyone and on September 2, 1964, he died at the Nashville Veterans Hospital.


     Alvin York never lost his religious conviction while in the Meuse-Argonne and when asked by his brigade commander General Julian Lindsey what happened, he replied “A higher power than man guided and watched over me and told me what to do.”

   york-l (1).jpg

(Alvin York's draft card, World War I Selective Service Draft Registration Card, National Archives at Atlanta, note on Question 12 asking '               do you claim exemption from draft (specify grounds)' York answers 'yes, don't want to fight.')