Project will allow WCS to digitize its little-seen historical Department of Tropical Research film holdings and share them online
The Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) Library and Archives has been awarded a Council on Library and Information Resources’ Recordings at Risk grant to digitize and make accessible films created by WCS’s Department of Tropical Research (DTR). The grant program is made possible by funding from the Mellon Foundation.
Between 1916 and 1965, the DTR undertook expeditions across tropical terrestrial and marine locales. Conducting what is now regarded as standard ecological research, the DTR were among the first Western scientists to study the interconnectedness of tropical wildlife and their habitats through close, first-hand observations. The DTR were additionally noteworthy in that they were composed of both men and women, hugely influential in their time, and that, beyond scientists, the team included artists, writers, and filmmakers. Their footage, which comprises the WCS Library and Archives’ DTR Film Collection, not only documents the early history of Western conservation science, but it also includes rare and possibly unique documentation of landscapes, wildlife, and people local to the areas in which the DTR conducted their expeditions.
In their time, the DTR were well-known by many in the US: DTR Director William Beebe’s accounts were bestsellers, the team published hundreds of articles in both technical and popular outlets, and their expeditions were breathlessly covered by the American popular press—particularly their 1930s record-setting deep-sea explorations in a submersible called the Bathysphere. The DTR influenced generations of now-famed scientists, including Rachel Carson, David Attenborough, and George Schaller, and they helped to shape US audiences’ understandings of tropical regions.
This influence on the public imagination was amplified as some DTR members went on to careers in Hollywood. Among those who contributed to the creation of the films held by the WCS Library and Archives today were Ruth Rose and Ernest Schoedsack (with the DTR’s 1925 Galapagos expedition and others), later screenwriter and co-director, respectively, of King Kong (1933), and Floyd Crosby (with the DTR’s 1927 Haiti expedition), who later won an Academy Award for cinematography for Tabu: A Story of the South Seas (1931). The reels also include footage shot by lesser-known yet barrier-breaking women biologists Gloria Hollister and Jocelyn Crane.
Slated to begin in Fall 2023, the grant-funded project will allow the WCS Library and Archives to digitize 88 16mm and 35mm film reels related to the Department of Tropical Research and to make the digitized films available on the WCS Library and Archives Digital Collections site. This online collection is expected to be accessible by Fall 2024.
About the WCS Library and Archives: The Library & Archives advances knowledge in support of WCS’s mission to save wildlife and wild places. It provides information services to foster WCS’s leadership in science-based conservation, it preserves WCS’s robust record of activities, and it enhances understanding of WCS’s rich legacy.
About CLIR: The Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR) is an independent, nonprofit organization that forges strategies to enhance research, teaching, and learning environments in collaboration with libraries, cultural institutions, and communities of higher learning. To learn more, visit www.clir.org and follow CLIR on Facebook and Twitter.
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