While digging through boxes of material at the Kelly Adirondack Center on the history of the New York State forest rangers, Anna Gagion ’19 was surprised to discover the paucity of information about women.
“There haven’t been a lot of women in the profession, so I wanted to learn more,” said Gagion, an environmental policy and French major from Chappaqua, N.Y.
Primarily using resources at the center’s Adirondack Research Library, Gagion is examining the evolution of the forest rangers, including their training, the role of women and the job of preserving the six-million acre Adirondack Park.
Founded in 1885 to protect the land from rampant forest fires, the rangers today primarily respond to search and rescue incidents in the backcountry of the Adirondacks. Col. William F. Fox, Class of 1869, is credited with establishing the rangers when he served as the state’s first Superintendent of Forests.
For Sanan Hajiyev ’19, a class he took in the fall term on environmental anthropology led to his interest in exploring the roots of modern day environmental and ecological morality. One focus is the historic Philosophers’ Camp in the summer of 1858.
Organized by William James Stillman, Class of 1848, the outing brought together 10 scholarly men, including poet Ralph Waldo Emerson and scientist Louis Agassiz, deep into the wilderness of Follensby Pond. There, the men spent several weeks of spiritual bonding over nature.
“I want to see how the moral foundation they set has evolved over time,” said Hajiyev, an environmental policy major who arrived in the U.S. from Azerbaijan in 2006. “How the actions we have taken to protect the environment may have had unforeseen moral consequences and how our moral view of the environment has changed.”
Gagion and Hajiyev are the latest recipients of a summer research fellowship program offered through the Kelly Adirondack Center.
Now in its sixth year, the competitive program is open to students enrolled in an undergraduate, master’s or doctoral program.
Over the course of eight weeks, fellows conduct independent research on an issue impacting the Adirondacks. They also meet with representatives of organizations involved with Adirondack advocacy and policy. Visits to the Adirondacks are also part of the itinerary.
Each fellow receives a stipend and, if needed, housing. The fellowships are funded in part through a grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to strengthen the College's Adirondack Studies initiative.
“The fellowships are one of the most important ways that the Kelly Adirondack Center supports the interdisciplinary study of the Adirondacks,” said Margie Amodeo, coordinator of the KAC.
The research library boasts a unique collection of material on the Adirondack Park and the New York State Forest Preserve, including rare books, maps, photographs, documents and the personal papers of some of the region's foremost conservationists.
“The Adirondack Park provides 125 years of tangible data and experience fueling conversations regarding the relationship between humans and wilderness,” she said. “Students use the primary sources in the library collections to explore the history of essential questions in current debates regarding the Adirondack experiment. Understanding the lessons of the park’s history is essential to students as they will become the future policy makers. The fellows play a crucial role in supporting the Kelly Adirondack Center mission of studying the Adirondacks as a way of revealing the diverse and complex relationships between society and the environment.”
Gagion’s adviser for her research is Andrew Morris, associate professor of history. Douglass Klein, the Kenneth B. Sharpe Professor of Economics and faculty director of the Kelly Adirondack Center, is advising Hajiyev.
For the students, the chance to comb through the library’s collections has also led them to discover other topics. For example, Gagion is learning about the life of Anne LaBastille, a naturalist who inspired women to explore outdoors. She gained fame as the author of “Woodswoman,” a four-volume autobiographical series about her experiences living on a hidden lake in the Adirondacks.
“This fellowship has been a great opportunity,” said Gagion. “This is the first time I’ve been able to do research at Union. It’s really opened up a lot of different interests for me.”
Gagion and Hajiyev will share their research during two public presentations: Wednesday, Aug. 1, at 5 p.m. at the Kelly Adirondack Center and Friday, Aug. 3, in Wold Atrium from 12:15 to 1:30 p.m.