John James Audubon

Today, April 26th, is the birthday of ornithologist, artist and naturalist John James Audubon. Born an illegitimate child to his French plantation owning Father and Creole mother on the island of what is now considered Haiti, John James Audubon was an unlikely candidate to become one of the most prominent naturalists of his era.

“A true conservationist is a man who knows that the world is not given by his fathers, but borrowed from his children.” Self-portrait. From “Audubon’s America” by Donald Culross Peattie.

For the first half of his life there was arguably nothing to keep him grounded, quite literally. Upon the untimely death of his servant mother in Saint-Dominigue, he was shipped back to France and adopted by the wife of his father. Quickly, he developed a fascination with the natural world that followed him for the rest of his life. It was in France that he was versed in the knowledge and privileges of a good merchant’s son: art, music, science, history. He was also given ample time to explore the untamed green around him, a separate world that became his source of solitude, healing, wonder, awe and inspiration.

He once said, “In my deepest troubles, I frequently would wrench myself from the persons around me and retire to some secluded part of our noble forests.”

Plate 347: The Smew. Courtesy of audubon.org

During the surge of the Napoleonic Wars in 1803, Audubon, then 18 years old, was relocated again to one of his father’s estates in Mill Grove, Pennsylvania. In time he honed his artistic talents and continued to observe nature, particularly birds. In 1824 he published one of the most influential bird books in history titled “Birds of America.” Subscribers to Audubon’s publications included the likes of King George IV and 7th U.S. President, Andrew Jackson.

 

Turning the pages of Lehigh’s “Birds of America.”

The book itself is a 39.5″ x 29.5″ cover to cover collection of life-size and incredibly detailed paintings of various bird species. The birds are depicted in their natural environment as Audubon might have observed them. Lehigh University is in possession of one of only 120 believed complete collections still in existence. It is on display year-round in the reading room of Linderman Library. View a complete digital exhibit about ornithology and Audubon through Lehigh Special Collections’ Omeka page: Home to Roost: Ornithological Collections at Lehigh University.

The book on display in Linderman Library.

Aptly, today is also National Audubon Day, a day sponsored by the National Audubon Society to commemorate his contributions to the field of ornithology. Use #NationalAudubonDay or #AudubonDay to tag your best bird photos on social media.

 

Earth Day at Lehigh, April 22, 1970

Earth Day as we know it owes its creation to former U.S. Senator Gaylord Nelson. A fitting byproduct of the Environmental Movement in the 1970’s, Earth Day promotes environmental awareness and falls on April 22nd each year.

Nelson took advantage of a political atmosphere ripened by the Teach-in movement, Vietnam War protesting, and the 1969 Santa Barbara oil spill, which dumped an estimated 80,000 barrels of crude oil into the Pacific. Remarkably, the Day achieved overwhelming support, drawing crowds of thousands all over the country to demonstrate environmental protection and mindfulness. College and university students did not waiver in their support of environmentalism either, sending a wave across the nation.

This wave of support made its way to Lehigh University, with the first Earth Day on April 22nd, 1970 being documented in the Brown and White student newspaper archives. Lecturers and activists visited campus and took a rather drastic tone, the front page reading: “Ecology Ethics Needed for Survival on Earth.” The message was to change our mindset and change our ways of life to accommodate an advancing world.

Humans, unlike most other species on Earth, feel entitled to manipulate and damage the environment for our benefit. “Most animals are born with an inherited wisdom” to not ruin the environment, professor and ecological pioneer Francis Trembley explained. Something needed to change in order for the human race to survive.

The week also featured other significant speakers, but Earth Day was met with some opposition that may still be relevant today. Many argued it was just a day to scare or cast a pessimistic shadow on human development. Still others saw it as mostly symbolic, not achieving any real revolution.

A student writer at the time expressed his opinion of Earth Day in a piece titled, “Earth Day Approach Wrong.” To summarize, pollution is advantageous in a capitalistic society; it’s profitable because being green and environmentally aware doesn’t make money. There’s no incentive. And, all the while students are being informed to change their ways, to take better care of their environment, but the government and large corporations are those who really should be taking notes. The problems of environmental pollution are more ingrained in the way society operates, the way resources are allocated and the way technology is utilized.

As Lehigh celebrates Earth Day again in 2017, it continues a long standing tradition. An Earth Day fair is scheduled to take place on the University front lawn, and the month is filled with other various events, but the questions posed in 1970 remain. And, matters are growing more complex with budget cuts to the Environmental Protection Agency and climate change denial.

Lehigh’s Paisley Magazine, 1966-1970

As you may already know, Lehigh University’s student newspaper, The Brown and White, is one of the most long-running student publications in the country. This is truly an accomplishment, as most student publications ultimately evaporate away as quickly as they come.

Other than The Brown and White, Lehigh has been no exception to this phenomenon. Among the valiant, innovative, and short lived are publications such as The Lehigh Burr (1881-1934), The Lehigh Bachelor (1940-43), The Lehigh Goblet (1946-48), and Paisley (1966-70). All of these publications have been digitized and are now available in their entirety for viewing or download through the Internet Archive

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Pictured: Cover page for the first volume of Paisley

The first installment of Paisley establishes its mission. First, to provide a medium for student expression. Second, to promote a collective class conscience, making students cognizant of “their present and future potential in an impersonal world”. And third, to entertain. (Volume 1. Pg. 4)

Paisley is filled with student editorials, poems, and short stories, amassing an intellectual bank of creativity, comedy, and literary art. Upon its debut, it seemed Paisley could offer only positives to our campus community, so how could a publication with so much going for it crumble to its demise in only 4 short years? The answer, Paisley was no anomaly in student publication. Many have come and gone with the same good intentions, and this example shows just how hard it really is to ignite an idea and even more so to keep that flame burning.

As we’ve learned from The Brown and White, survival requires consistency, more specifically consistent contributors and readers. Engineering themed journals, student magazines, artistic pamphlets you name it, Lehigh has seen them all. Though in the end, no one is left to fill the void created by those students graduating. Simple as that. Then years, perhaps decades later, the same thing will happen again.

However, the point here is not that student publications serve no purpose if they don’t last, but that it takes a certain group of students to bring these ideas to life in the first place. Regardless of how long a publications last, they all become a part of our shared history. What they create contributes to the readers of the time but also to future beholders.

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Pictured: puzzle from volume 1. See if you can solve it!

poemStudent publications also provide insight into the character of the student body at the time of their publication. If the editors of Paisley believed they were writing to invigorate an “impersonal world,” what does that make us now? You guessed it, no different. In fact, we are probably more detached than ever. Sending a snapchat or posting a tweet will undoubtedly be the mode of expression among today’s students; certainly not a deeply thought provoking piece of poetry. Indeed times have changed, however, human nature has not. We continue to ask the same questions as those before us. What is the purpose? Why are we here? What is love? Happiness? And considering college is supposed to be the place where students decide their future and who they want to become, I figure Lehigh is probably swimming with inquiries such as these.

Whether the pen is put to paper this year or not, student publications to come will continue to be a manifestation of beliefs, values as a student body, and a contribution to purposeful existence. The catch is that they won’t write themselves. For there to be things to read, there must be those who write. All it takes is one student with an idea and the diligence to make it happen.