Early Conservation and It’s Lasting Effects


Early Conservation and It’s Lasting Effects

Yara Makasakit, Museum Studies Intern at the University of Pittsburgh Library System Archives and Special Collections – Fall 2021 

Though environmental conservation may seem like just another passing trend, the idea of protecting wildlife has been around for thousands of years. Many Indigenous cultures have held the natural world up with great respect and continue to advocate for its protection, like the Tlingit Tribe of Alaska. These groups paved the way for government bodies and everyday people to do the same. One man who devoted the entirety of his career to this effort was Jacob Bates Abbott. Abbott was an American artist, born in 1895, whose work focused on US wildlife and created art for publications such as magazines and books.    

My internship at the University of Pittsburgh Library System Archives and Special Collections, supervised by the Coordinator of Archives and Manuscripts David Grinnell, was dedicated to the digitization of the Jacob Bates Abbott Collection. Before starting my work in the ASC, I did a bit of research and the information I found about Abbott was very minimal. I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect from the work I was going to be doing. What I came to find out was that this lack of material downplays the significance of Abbott’s work. 

Abbott had a longstanding relationship with the Pennsylvania Game News Magazine. This was a hunting publication with a heavy focus on conservation and safe hunting practices. He created the covers for the magazine’s monthly publications for about ten years and authored a few articles. Though Abbott’s paintings were not hyper-realistic, the observations he was constantly conducting shows in the detail of his work: the physical anatomy of the creatures, color patterns of the different animal’s fur and feathers, reflections in the water, and the surrounding greenery. He was able to accomplish this by carrying out his own research and studies of the natural world. Abbott’s field notes are filled with his sketches and notes of what he had seen in places such as Pennsylvania, California, New Hampshire, and more. Abbott was dedicated to observing the world as it was. It is incredibly apparent that Abbott cared a great deal for the work he was doing and found it to be important enough to commit most of his life and career to. 

Although there are only limited outside sources about Abbott himself, the entirety of his artistic career is now documented in his papers at the University of Pittsburgh Library System Archives & Special Collections, a collection which includes most of his original work. Through this experience I was able to see what truly goes into archival work and its significance. This collection is so important because it shows the ongoing history of the fight for conservation, particularly on the side of conservation awareness. Abbott was able to bring the United States wilderness to people’s homes, offices, and schools. This allowed the country, particularly Pennsylvania, to see the beauty of nature and to garner support for its care. The natural world continues to need people to defend, protect, and speak up for it.  

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