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Paul Bigelow Sears papers

Call Number: MS 663

Scope and Contents

The Paul Bigelow Sears Papers consist of correspondence, writings, topical research files, minutes, agendas, and other organizational papers, and teaching files, which document Sears's career as an educator, conservationist, author, and spokesman for the environment. The papers highlight Sears's work as the founder of the Yale Conservation Program in 1950, but also reflect his earlier teaching at the University of Oklahoma and at Oberlin College. There is also material concerning Sears's scholarly and popular writing, his research in paleobotany, his studies of arid lands, and his efforts to improve the quality of science education. The papers focus on Sears's activities on behalf of professional scientific organizations and civic groups interested in ecology and conservation. Numerous files concern Sears's involvement with citizens groups and government agencies in the interest of conservation in Ohio.

The Sears Papers, which the Manuscripts and Archives Department acquired through a gift from Paul Sears in 1969 and through transfers from the Yale Forestry School in 1974 and from the Kline Science Library in 1976 and 1977, are arranged in four series:

  1. I. General Files, 1910-1969
  2. II. Organizations, 1919-1969
  3. III. Yale Files, 1946-1968
  4. IV. Research and Writings, 1911-1969

The bulk of the papers dates from the 1930s through the 1960s, and Series I comprises more than half of the papers.

Series I, General Files, is arranged in two sections: Alphabetical and Topical, of which Alphabetical is the larger section. The Alphabetical section consists of files arranged alphabetically by personal or corporate name; files include correspondence and other types of material by or related to the individual or organization named in the file title. In folders titled with organization names, there may also be memoranda, position papers, committee reports, minutes, agendas, programs, publications, press clippings, and other similar types of material in the file. Files for editors and publishers may also contain outlines or drafts of manuscripts.

Sears's major correspondents, who include ecologists, conservationists, state and federal government officials, former students, and editors and publishers of his books and articles, are represented in the Alphabetical section in files for their own names and also in the files of organizations with which they were associated. The container listing for the series includes a large number of cross-references directing the researcher from a personal name to corporate name files within Series I, II, III.

The Topical section includes routine correspondence, such as requests for book reviews, information, and reprints; invitations that Sears refused; comments on Sears's writing; discussions of arrangements for lectures; and congratulatory messages. While Sears received many of these letters from persons he did not know, the files also include letters from personal friends and professional associates for whom there are already files in the Alphabetical section. No attempt has been made to cross-reference the files in the Topical section, and the reader of the Alphabetical section who notices a gap in the sequence of exchanges in these files should check the Topical section.

Series I includes numerous files for individuals, professional scientific organizations, civic groups, and foundations interested in ecology and conservation. Files such as those for the National Audubon Society, Friends of the Land, the Garden Clubs of America, the Conservation Foundation, the Izaak Walton League of America, the Nature Conservancy, the National Wildlife Federation, Resources for the Future, the Soil Conservation Society of America, the Wenner-Gren Foundation, and the Wilderness Society document Sears's efforts working within and among conservation organizations in the United States. In many of these organizations Sears served as a board member and an officer. (Files of four additional organizations, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the Ecological Society of America, the National Research Council, and the National Science Foundation, are in Series II.)

Sears served as a representative of the Ecological Society of America to the Natural Resources Council of America. Here he worked with representatives of other participating organizations such as Henry Clepper of the Society of American Foresters, Curtis Newcombe of the Ecologists Union, and Fairfield Osborn of the New York Zoological Society. Other officers and professional staff members of conservation organizations and other conservation leaders among Sears's correspondents include Charles C. Adams, John Baker, Hugh Hammond Bennett, George Emerson Brewer, Robert Burnap, Stanley A. Cain, Arthur Carhart, William S. Cooper, Samuel Trask Dana, Frank Fraser Darling, Jay N. Darling, Clinton Raymond Gutermuth, Roger D. Hale, George B. Happ, Aldo Leopold, Russell Lord, Samuel Ordway, Richard Hooper Pugh, John William Scott, Carl David Shoemaker, Henry Van Loon, William Voight, Henry Baldwin Ward, and Howard Clinton Zahniser.

On the national level Sears worked with various federal agencies including the United States Soil Conservation Service and the President's Task Force on the Preservation of Natural Beauty. On the international level there are files relating to the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), particularly the work of the International Commission for Applied Ecology chaired by Hugo Boyko, and to Chronica Botanica, the international plant science news magazine, on whose editorial board Sears sat.

Recognition of Sears's prominence in the field of ecology led to his appointment in the 1950s to the United States Atomic Energy Commission's Plowshare Advisory Committee. Files on this committee concern investigations of the peaceful use of atomic energy, particularly a proposed test, Project Chariot, to dredge a harbor in Alaska using atomic explosives. Sears also served at this time as a consultant to the President's Science Advisory Committee and as a member of the National Science Board. Files for these organizations give some indication of the development of federal policies on science but contain much routine correspondence concerning meeting agendas and travel vouchers.

Sears was particularly active in groups concerned with conservation education and legislative action in Ohio in the 1940s. In the early 1940s he worked with the Ohio Department of Education and Oliver D. Fink to establish a conservation laboratory, and in 1946 he was named to the Ohio Conservation Commission. He worked with Charles Dambach, John Byrne, and others for the elevation of the Division of Conservation and Natural Resources within the Department of Agriculture to the Department of Natural Resources. Correspondence with Jonathan Forman and Louis Bromfield concerns the founding and organizing of Friends of the Land in Ohio. With Bromfield there is also discussion of his work on Malabar Farm. Other individuals and groups active in Ohio conservation include Emory Beetham, Bryce Browning of the Muskingum Watershed Conservancy District, the Cuyahoga County Conservation Foundation, Garden Clubs of Ohio, the Ohio Academy of Science, the Ohio Agricultural Experiment Station, the Ohio Forestry Association, and the Ohio Postwar Program Commission.

Following his move to New Haven in 1950, Sears became increasingly involved with Connecticut and New England conservation groups. Files in Series I which relate to this work include those for Richard Goodwin, the Connecticut Watershed Council, the Connecticut Wildlife Federation, the Natural Resources Council of Connecticut, and the Regional Planning Authority of South Central Connecticut.

Sears's interests in science education at all levels, teacher training, and curriculum development are well documented in Series I. Files such as those for the American Council on Education, the American Association of School Administrators, the American Institute of Biological Sciences, the General Education Board, the Institute on Man and Science, the National Education Association of the United States, the National Science Teachers Association, the Progressive Education Association, and the Walt Foundation contain materials indicative of this interest, which demonstrate Sears's activities as a consultant, committee member, conference participant, and guest lecturer.

In 1936 Sears received an appointment as a research associate in natural sciences at Columbia University's Teachers College and worked with S. R. Powers in the Bureau of Educational Research in Science preparing reports on ways to improve science education and curriculum through the teaching of the interrelations of living things to their environments. At the same time Sears worked with Paul Hanna, a professor of education at Stanford University, reviewing elementary social studies textbook material. When Hanna became chairman of the Commission on Resources and Education, he invited Sears to serve as a consultant to the commission. In the 1950s Sears worked with the National Committee for the Development of Scientists and Engineers, a presidential committee established to find ways to meet the growing need for scientific manpower.

With John Ivey of the American Council on Education's Committee on Southern Regional Studies and Education, Sears worked to develop educational programs on resource utilization in the southern United States, and with Carroll V. Newsom, an assistant commissioner for higher education in New York, Sears discussed graduate training in conservation within the state. There is also material in Series I relating to several institutions at which Sears taught, including the University of Oklahoma, Oberlin College, Yale University, and the University of Louisville. Former students are frequent correspondents, routinely writing concerning fellowships, employment, and letters of recommendation.

Sears's active membership in numerous professional scientific and academic organizations is well-documented in the papers. There are files for the Limnological Society of America, of which Sears was a founding member. He was a member of the executive committee of Sigma Xi, and a visiting scholar for Phi Beta Kappa. He was also a frequent reviewer for and member of the editorial board of Phi Beta Kappa's journal American Scholar. Besides the files for American Scholar,there is material concerning the journal in the Hiram Hayden files. Other files which reflect the breadth of Sears's professional involvements include the Botanical Society of America, the American Scientific Congress, and the Geological Society of America.

Sears's own research was in botany, primarily studies of fossil pollen and of climatic changes which affected ecosystems. One of his long term interests was the study of arid lands, particularly Mexico and the desert Southwest. Files for the Belvedere Scientific Fund and the Rockefeller Foundation document the funding for these studies, while the files for the International Arid Lands Conference, sponsored by the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and for the International Botanical Conference reflect Sears's presentation of research at scientific gatherings. In the files for Aaron Sharp, Pablo Martinez del Rio, C. Warren Thornthwaite, Kathyrn Clisby, the Council on Foreign Relations, and the Rio Grande Study Group there are also discussions of this research.

Sears's book Deserts on the March was a product of his early climate research. On the publishing of this popular volume, see the files for the University of Oklahoma Press, Joseph A. Brandt, and Savoie Lottinville. Sears was also effective in calling public attention to the problems of arid lands, appearing on radio programs and lecturing to numerous audiences. The files for Frank Thorne of the Science News Service as well as the files in the Topicalsection for invitations and lecture correspondence help demonstrate how Sears was able to publicize his findings to audiences whose interest was heightened by concern over dust bowl conditions in America.

The files contain scant correspondence that is strictly personal. There are some exchanges between Sears and his parents, brothers, and wife, Marjorie McCutcheon Sears. The Ohio Wesleyan University files include some memorabilia from Sears's undergraduate years, but the bulk of these files concerns Sears's continuing interest in the administration of the school.

Series II, Organizations, contains files for four scientific organizations in which Sears played a sizeable role over an extended period of time or was intensely involved for a shorter duration, such that he generated voluminous files documenting his activities. The four organizations are the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the Ecological Society of America, the National Research Council, and the National Science Foundation.

The files for the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) contain material from the 1930s when Sears became involved with the Committee on the Improvement of Science in General Education. For the period of the 1940s the files document the development of the ecological section of the AAAS. During this period Sears and William Dreyer served as the representatives of the Ecological Society of America to the council of the AAAS. Most of the material in the files, however, dates from the 1950s. In 1951 Sears began serving on the executive committee of the AAAS, and in 1956 Sears became the society's president.

When Sears joined the executive committee, the AAAS was contemplating a shift in its organizational program, de-emphasizing the technical aspects of individual scientific disciplines and increasing the emphasis on broader problems involving the whole scientific community, such as the relation of science to government and science to society. The files include correspondence with officers, committee chairpersons, and administrative staff, notably Warren Weaver and Detlev Bronk. The files include agendas and minutes from board and executive committee meetings as well as addresses and comments by Sears at AAAS functions. Since the retiring AAAS president continued to serve as chairman of the board of directors, AAAS files remain full even after 1957, when Sears's term as president ended. There is also material dating from the 1960s when Sears chaired the association's commission on science education.

The files for the Ecological Society of America (ESA) also date from the 1930s to the 1960s. In 1934 Sears was elected to the editorial board of Ecological Monographs,and the files for this period include correspondence with board chairman C. F. Korstian. The files also contain correspondence with society officers and members, such as William A. Dreyer, Orlando Park, and Charles C. Adams. During the 1930s and 1940s the society was active in promoting the importance of teaching ecology, and there are files concerning publications, conferences, and symposia. There is material documenting Sears as president of the society (1948), but the heaviest concentration of material is in the late 1950s when Sears chaired the study committee on ecology.

Sears's earliest correspondence with the National Research Council is from the 1920s and 1930s and concerns Sears's application for grants-in-aid to support his research both on post-glacial climate changes and their effects on vegetation and on fossil pollens of the Erie basin. In the 1930s and 1940s the files reflect Sears's interest in the work of the Paleobotany Committee and the Ecology of the Grasslands Committee.

The bulk of the National Research Council files, however, date from Sears's service as chairman of a sub-committee on conservation of the Committee on Plant and Crop Ecology and then as chair of the Committee on the Use and Care of Natural Resources. The files for these various committee assignments contain correspondence with Paul Weiss, C. F. Korstian, Ralph Cleland, Stanley Cain, and the Ford Foundation. There is also material in these files documenting the National Research Council's interest in UNESCO's arid zone program.

The National Science Foundation files date from the 1950s and 1960s. These files document Sears's role in evaluating grant proposals directed to the advisory panel on environmental biology. There are also several folders of press releases and printed matter relating to the National Science Foundation.

Series III, Yale Files, documents Sears's tenure at Yale University as chairman of the Conservation Program (1950-1960), chairman of the Department of Plant Science (1953-1955) and as professor emeritus (1960-). The series is divided into two sections: General Correspondence and Conservation Program. The General files include exchanges with and material about various departments, schools, and programs within the university. The files are most substantive for those administrative units with which Sears had the most interaction, the biology department, the graduate school, the forestry school, and the plant science department. There are minutes of faculty meetings and discussions of changes in curriculum in several files in this section.

The files in the section Conservation Program focus on the establishment, organization, and day to day administration of the Yale Conservation Program, the first graduate program in the conservation of natural resources in the country, from its inception in 1950 until Sears's retirement in 1960. The files are arranged alphabetically by topic and cover every phase of the program, including applicants, course content, finances, personnel, and requests from the public for information. The files also include several boxes of material relating to students in the program, who included persons who had already established careers and enrolled in the program as scholars-in-residence, Commonwealth Fund fellows, and National Science Foundation fellowship recipients. The folders for individual students may include student papers and theses, letters of recommendation, and post-graduation correspondence.

The section also includes files concerning grants-in-aid beginning in 1955 from the National Science Foundation to Yale University to support Sears's micro paleobotanical study of sediments. As chairman of the conservation program Sears helped establish the Yale Conservation Studies series. Manuscripts submitted for publication and correspondence relating to the planning and publication of volumes in the series will also be found in this section.

Series IV, Research and Writings, is arranged in two sections: Writings Files and Research Files. Sears's writings are arranged roughly by type: book reviews, radio talks, talks (which include informal speeches, public lectures, and formal addresses intended for publication), and writings (which include technical papers, articles, and books). There is a certain amount of overlap between these categories. A bibliography of Sears's speeches and writings is included in Series I (box 76a), which may be helpful in identifying materials in this section. For an individual title the files may include outlines, knead, manuscripts in draft, printed copies, and reprints. The files do not include the published versions of Sears's books, nor is there any correspondence concerning publications or arrangements in these files.

Research Files includes topical files, arranged alphabetically, which relate to Sears's research and teaching at institutions other than Yale University. The file headings reflect some of the common themes in Sears's career, conservation, arid lands, ecology, land use, Ohio, and science teaching. The files under the heading "teaching" are arranged by institutional name and include outlines, notes, and correspondence concerning arrangements for Sears's teaching positions. Though there is material documenting Sears's early teaching career at the University of Nebraska and the University of Oklahoma, most of the teaching files are from schools at which Sears taught as a visiting faculty member after his retirement from Yale. The files also include research notebooks from Sears's graduate studies and an extensive collection of glass transparencies used in illustrating his lectures. An index to the slides is available in box 147.

Individual files may include clippings, drafts of manuscripts by others, newsletters, pamphlets, and photographs. The contents of these files seem quite random and obviously do not represent all the printed sources Sears may have used for any particular research project. The index to the Sears's Conservation Program Pamphlet Collection, included in boxes 151-153, is a better indicator of the extent of his research. The pamphlet collection itself, however, no longer exists.


  • 1910-1969


Conditions Governing Access

Box 118 is restricted until January 1, 2042 as established by Yale Corporation regulations.

Conditions Governing Use

Copyright status for collection materials is unknown. Transmission or reproduction of materials protected by U.S. Copyright Law (Title 17, U.S.C.) beyond that allowed by fair use requires the written permission of the copyright owners. Works not in the public domain cannot be commercially exploited without permission of the copyright owners. Responsibility for any use rests exclusively with the user.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Gift of Paul B. Sears in 1969; transfers from the Yale Forestry School in 1974 and from the Kline Science Library in 1976-1977.


Arranged in four series: I. General Files, 1910-1969. II. Organizations, 1919-1969. III. Yale Files, 1946-1968. IV. Research and Writings, 1911-1969.


62 Linear Feet (154 boxes)

Language of Materials


Catalog Record

A record for this collection is available in Orbis, the Yale University Library catalog

Persistent URL


The papers consist of correspondence; writings; topical research files; minutes, agendas, and other organizational papers; and teaching files, which document Paul Bigelow Sear's career as an educator, conservationist, author, and spokesman for the environment. The papers focus on Sears's activities on behalf of professional scientific organizations and civic groups interested in conservation, such as the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the Ecological Society of America, the National Research Council, and the National Science Foundation. Numerous files concern Sears's involvement with citizens' groups and government agencies for conservation in Ohio. The papers also highlight Sears's interest in improving science education, his research in paleobotany, his studies of arid lands, his work as the founder of the Yale Conservation Program, and his scholarly and popular writing. Sears's major correspondents include ecologists, conservationists, state and federal government officials, former students, and editors and publishers of his books and articles.

Biographical / Historical

Paul Bigelow Sears, educator and ecologist, was born on December 17, 1891, in Bucyrus, Ohio, to Rufus Victor and Sallie Harris Sears. He attended Ohio Wesleyan University, receiving a B.S. degree in 1913 and a B.A. in 1914. From there he went to the University of Nebraska and received an M.A. in 1915, after which he studied at the University of Chicago, earning his Ph.D. in botany in 1922. Sears married Marjorie Lea McCutcheon on June 22, 1917, and served in the United States Army from 1917-1918. The Searses had three children, Paul McCutcheon, Catherine Louise (Mrs. Arthur Frazer), and Sallie Harris Sears.

Sears began his teaching career as an instructor in botany at Ohio State University (1915-1919). He then served as assistant and associate professor of botany at the University of Nebraska (1919-1927). From 1928 to 1938 Sears taught at the University of Oklahoma and was head of the Botany Department. He also served as a botanist for the State Biological Survey of Oklahoma. His books from these years presented issues in the study of ecology to the public. These included Deserts On The March (1935), for which Sears received a Book of the Month award, This Is Our World (1937), and Who Are These Americans (1939). Sears also produced ecology study guides and textbooks for science teachers and their students.

From 1938 until 1950, Sears served as professor of botany at Oberlin College. In Ohio, Sears was active in local conservation groups and was instrumental in the founding of Friends of the Land in Ohio. In 1946 he was named to the Ohio Conservation Commission and worked to create an Ohio Department of Natural Resources. Sears was also active in the Ecological Society of America and was elected president of the society in 1948.

In 1950 Sears was named professor of conservation and chairman of the Conservation Program at Yale University. The Conservation Program at Yale was the country's first graduate program in the conservation of natural resources. From 1953 - 1955 Sears also served as chairman of the Plant Science Department at Yale. In 1952 Sears received the Conservation medal from the Garden Club of America and in 1956 he was named Eminent Botanist by the Botanical Society of America. Sears served as president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (1956), Sigma Xi national lecturer (1956), chairman of the board the National Audubon Society (1956-1959), and president of the American Society of Naturalists (1959). From 1958 - 1964, Sears was a member of the National Science Board and from 1959 - 1972 he served on the Plowshare Advisory Committee of the Atomic Energy Commission.

In 1960 Sears retired from Yale and was named professor emeritus. Subsequently he served as visiting professor in the Tom Wallace Chair of Conservation at the University of Louisville and was a visiting faculty member at the University of Hawaii, Carleton College, Wake Forest College, and the University of Southern Illinois. From 1963 - 1965 Sears chaired the commission on science education of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. In 1965 Sears was named Eminent Ecologist by the Ecological Society of America. During the decade of the 1960s Sears published Where There Is Life (1962), The Living Landscape (1966), and Lands Beyond the Forest (1969), as well as writing articles of technical and general interest on applied ecology.

Paul Sears died on April 30, 1990.

Guide to the Paul Bigelow Sears Papers
Under Revision
by Diane E. Kaplan
May 1989
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English.

Part of the Manuscripts and Archives Repository

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