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PROJECT NARRATIVE

The University of Miami Library, in partnership with Florida International University Library and the Historical Museum of Southern Florida, received a 1998 Library of Congress/Ameritech National Digital Library Grant of $137,188 for "Reclaiming the Everglades: South Florida's Natural History, 1884-1934." With this support, the three institutions will digitize historical materials that document the evolution of the Florida Everglades. Upon completion, the partnership will merge a series of separate yet inter-related collections at three institutions into a single resource for students, scholars, researchers and other individuals. The grant is one of seven 1998 awards following a national peer review process that considered sixty-eight submissions. The project will digitize approximately 10,000 images, letters, documents, and pages of printed text.

Principal Investigator, William Brown, Jr., Head of Archives and Special Collections at the University of Miami Richter Library, noted that, "This project represents the culmination of years of work by librarians and archivists at these institutions. The invaluable support provided by the Library of Congress and Ameritech Corporation will help us create this unique historical and educational resource on the Everglades for the citizens of the world. Gail Clement, who serves as Project Director for the Everglades Information Network & Digital Library at Florida International University and as Technical Advisor for "Reclaiming the Everglades", observed that this project "demonstrates the commitment and determination of south Florida's libraries to advance our knowledge about the past and present state of the Everglades." Rebecca Smith, archivist at the Historical Museum of Southern Florida also hailed the project for its inter-institutional cooperation.

The history of southern Florida, particularly the development of the Everglades, is a central theme to the operations and collections of each institution. The University of Miami Library, and its Archives and Special Collections Department, maintains one of the finest collections of primary source and print materials on the history of the Everglades. Florida International University, through the Everglades Information Network & Digital Library, is leading the way to preserve and promote historical information on the South Florida ecosystem. The Historical Museum of Southern Florida's extensive collection of visual materials and manuscripts also contains significant photographs and documents about the Everglades. This partnership combines the resources of a private and public university with a local historical museum in a most important and creative manner.

The Everglades, a unique subtropical ecosystem, bears a rich and troubled history. As this fragile wilderness wavers on the edge of environmental annihilation, the textual and visual history of this natural treasure also borders on destruction. The preservation of our natural resources and the survival of its textual and visual history are linked in this consortial project. The ability to provide remote digital access to the myriad types of historical information relating to the Everglades will fuel the educational process at all levels of our society, both in the near-term and for future generations.

Don L. Bosseau, Director of Libraries at the University of Miami, said "This grant represents the unique joining of modern technology with rare and unique documentation of the history and ecology of the Everglades. The project is a precursor to the new approaches that libraries are embracing to enhance access to intellectual content". Dr. Laurence Miller, Executive Director of FIU Libraries, commented, "We appreciate the opportunity this represents to enahnce the content of the Everglades Information Network, based at FIU, and welcome the opportunity to share the technology that has been developed in this effort."

The materials proposed for digitization represent a diverse and divergent body of materials documenting the history of the Everglades form the period 1884 to 1934. Selected from sixteen separate but interrealted collections, these materials include personal papers, manuscripts and typescripts, rare books and periodicals, personal diaries, scientific or engineering field surveys and reports, black and white photographs, telegrams, pamphlets, maps, rare color postcards, and other doucments. The project will include selections from the personal papers of the late environmenatlist and author Marjory Stoneman Douglas, whose 1941 seminal work River of Grass recognized the environmental significance of the Everglades; the Model Land Company, the real estate division of Henry Flagler's Florida East Coast Railroad Company; Indian rights activist and author Minnie Moore Willson; noted photographer Claude Matlack; environmentalist Ernest Coe; and others. Published materials selected for the project are noteworthy for both their intellectual value and physical rarity.

The earliest materials in "Reclaiming the Everglades" depict the initial exploration and survey of the vast wetlands from Lake Okeechobee to the southernmost tip of the Florida peninsula, as individuals ventured to the far reaches of the new State for the purposes of recreation, railroad prospecting, hunting; scientific exploration and specimen collection; and agricultural experimentation and development. These primary source materials provide evidence of the Everglades in its undisturbed state -- "baseline data" that is invaluable to fully understand the natural environment and its evolution.

The Collections further document the unforeseen and often unintended consequences of human disturbance in South Florida. These historical records provide detailed evidence of the declining size and composition of the local flora and fauna, as well as the adverse effects of burgeoning development on the Everglades' Indian population, the Seminoles. The materials also provide insight into the activities and thoughts of the diverse community of 'stakeholders' in South Florida. Finally, the latter part of the Collection depicts the evolution of a grassroots and somewhat frenetic movement to preserve and protect the fragile wilderness. The story culminates in 1934, with the congressional hearings to consider the establishment of a national park in South Florida, and President Roosevelt's signing of the enabling act for Everglades National Park.

Individually, each collection included in this project offers a distinct perspective on the "reclamation" of the Everglades. Each person represented in these historical materials focused national attention on the unique value of the region through his or her efforts to explore, exploit, or conserve its biological resources. Collectively, the documents in "Reclaiming the Everglades" provide a balanced view of the history of the Everglades while illuminating numerous topics and themes of regional, national and worldwide concern. Major issues explored in these records include the role of the federal government, state government, and private citizens in the creation of a national park; the growth and devolpment of the modern conservation moveoment and its institutions (e.g., genesis of the National Audubon Society and the establishment of Everglades National Park); the evolving role of women on the political stage at both the state and national levels; the treatment of Native Americans, including the Seminoles; rights of individual citizens or private corporations vs. the public interest; and accountability of government as trustees of public resources, whether for the purposes of development, reclamation, or environmental protection.

Rather than limiting the historical view to that of a simplistic battle of "environmental activists" on one side and "agri-business capitalists" on the other, "Reclaiming the Everglades" expands the horizon to include all those with a stake in the process. With that accomplished, the intellectual use of the materials digitized through this project can paint a more informed, enlightened view of the struggle to establish, maintain and preserve the Everglades as a treasurd natural ecosystem. Students and researchers will judge the validity of the information provided, the motives of the individuals and organizations represented, and the ultimate value of these materials for educational purposes. Here, then, is an opportunity to use the historical record, in its many formats and configurations, as a true teaching and learning tool.

The history of the Everglades also encompasses universal and timeless issues that make this subject a compelling area for research and study within Florida. For example, the movement to reclaim the South Florida wetlands for farming speaks to the complex issues of natural resource management and the effects of "upstream" decisions on "downstream" quality of life. The "land boom" and drainage operations spurred by Henry Flagler's railroad and supported by his Model Land Company exposed the challenges inherent in balancing human growth against the health of the natural environment. The successful and widely acclaimed construction of the Tamiami Trail, the first overland roadway connecting the east and west coasts of the Florida peninsula, further demonstrated the disturbing effects of urban development on the surrounding ecosystem and the many impacts on its animal and Indian inhabitants.

The fight to preserve fragile wildlife, reflected in the struggle to protect the declining bird populations from greedy plume hunters and in the battle to set aside vast acreage for a national park against the protest of individual landowners and mineral rights owners, speaks to the age-old struggle to balance the rights of individuals against the public good. The introduction of agricultural experimentation in the form of invasive exotic plants -- to this day a serious threat to the health of the Everglades ecosystem -- illustrates the risks of unchecked scientific and technological progress against the forces of nature. And perhaps most poignantly, the success of a small band of local nature lovers, working tirelessly to realize their vision of a national park in South Florida, demonstrates the power of the individual to change public policy and national development. In sum, "Reclaiming the Everglades" represents the south Florida environment as a microcosm for other issues in American history and culture.

Once freely accessible via the Everglades Digital Library, the collections of "Reclaiming the Everglades" will be freely available to a limitless universe of educators, students, scholars and other interested individuals. Teachers and students will find resources of particular relevance for classroom use and are being encouraged to incorporate them into curriculum materials and student projects. They are also invited to share their newly crated resources with others via the Everglades Digital Library. EDL Project staff are working with educators, teacher training programs, schools, and community groups to increase awareness of this unique and valuable content area, and promote its use in classrooms and libraries throughout the community and around the world.


Reclaiming the Everglades
A Collection of the Everglades Digital Library and the American Memory Project, Library of Congress
A State University System of Florida PALMM Project
Please send technical questions and comments to:
RTE Technical Advisor

Updated: 26 October 2000