Aldo Leopold papers

About this Finding Aid

Title: Aldo Leopold papers, 1887-1948

Finding Aid Author: Finding aid prepared by Susan Flader in 1967 and subsequently updated.


The first efforts to bring together the papers of Aldo Leopold were made in the early 1960s. At that time, most of Mr. Leopold's personal papers were held by his widow, Mrs. Estella Leopold, while his professional files were at the UW Department of Wildlife Ecology, except for some materials that had been sent to his son Starker at the University of California-Berkeley. Roderick Nash, then a graduate student in history at the University of Wisconsin, approached Mrs. Leopold with the suggestion that she donate materials to the University Archives. Nash, whose dissertation was later published as Wilderness and the American Mind (1967), recalls:

Either in late 1960 or early 1961 I met Mrs. Leopold and suggested that she place several cartons of AL's material in the Archives. I recall her saying it couldn't be of much interest to anyone. Also that AL was a perfectionist who would not want his half-finished things seen. But I managed to convince her to start the collection. I think I had a summer job at the Archives (under Jess Boell) in 1961 going through the papers and at the same time taking notes for my chapter on AL.

Nash organized the materials available at that time into eight boxes, described in his October 1961 report, "The Aldo Leopold Papers in the University Archives." The original brief report may be found in the administrative offices of the UW Archives.

Beginning in 1967, Susan Flader, then doing research for her dissertation on Leopold as a Ph.D. candidate at Stanford University but also working as a project assistant at the University Archives, took up the task of collecting, cataloging, arranging, reorganizing, and documenting the collection, which grew about ten-fold with the addition of Leopold's professional files from the Department of Wildlife Ecology, records from his Forest Service career selected by Flader from the National Archives and other repositories, documents and publications from other collections nationwide, and further donations by the Leopold family and students. Flader's work resulted in the first sustained study of Leopold's career, Thinking Like A Mountain: Aldo Leopold and the Evolution of an Ecological Attitude Toward Deer, Wolves, and Forests (1974), as well as other books, articles, and essays.

Flader prepared the initial 170-page "Finder's Aid to the Leopold Papers" in 1969, with the collection organized substantially as it remains today both in hard copy and in the digitized version. This organization was intended to restore insofar as possible the arrangement Leopold had developed for his own files, with new sub-series for materials from other sources. The finding aid included introductions to each sub-series, descriptions of folder contents, bibliographies, and other contextual material. Over the next decade, as additional correspondence, student records, and other items were donated to the archives, she volunteered to arrange the new materials, integrate them into the collection, and prepare descriptions for eventual addition to the finding aid.

In December 1988, following completion of his U.W. doctoral dissertation on Leopold published as Aldo Leopold: His Life and Work (1988), Dr. Curt Meine revised the finding aid to incorporate all the accumulated additions. These revisions were mostly minor, involving a new inventory list, slight rearrangement of materials to allow for new accessions, descriptive entries for new accessions, and a refined numbering system to make materials more readily identifiable.

The Aldo Leopold Foundation, the University Archives, and the University of Wisconsin Digital Collections Center in early 2006 began exploring the potential for a partnership to digitize the entire Leopold collection, which had long been the most heavily used collection in the archives and needed digitizing in order better to preserve the original documents as well as to make the material more readily available to scholars. As it happened, the National Historical Publications and Records Commission announced a competition that summer for a new program to establish national models for making complete collections available in digital form in an economical manner, and the three partners applied for and were awarded one of only three grants. Since the finding aid was available and had been digitized some years previous, it could be used as the basis for the digital collection, making it unnecessary to create extensive new metadata. An advisory committee with representatives from each of the three partners, including Susan Flader and Curt Meine, who were now on the board and staff, respectively, of the Leopold Foundation, planned for and oversaw the process.

During early 2007, Susan Flader undertook yet another revision of the finding aid to incorporate additional materials and work out several problems in the digitized version of the aid. The Leopold Foundation hired Bill Meier, a U.W. graduate student in history, to work with the advisory committee and technical staff to prepare the original materials for digitizing and enter the appropriate codes in the EAD (encoded archival description) system. Fortunately, Meier was able to remain with the project until August 2009, by which time most of the digitization had been completed. Remaining details of access, citation, and dissemination were worked out by members of the advisory committee.