Bookshelf provides descriptions and notices of recent publications on Pennsylvania subjects.

A Century of Forest Resources Education at Penn State: Serving Our Forests, Waters, Wildlife, and Wood Industries

By Henry D. Gerhold
Published by the Penn State University Press, 2007; 280 pages, cloth, $35.00

A Century of Forest Resources Education at Penn State: Serving Our Forests, Waters, Wildlife, and Wood Industries chronicles the origin and development of the Pennsylvania State University’s School of Forest Resources as it observes its centennial in 2007.

Forestry education in the Keystone State has a long and proud tradition, having begun earlier than in most states. By 1897, twenty land-grant colleges, including Penn State, had introduced the subject of forestry, typically in botany courses. Professional forestry education in Pennsylvania originated in 1903, when the nation’s third institution, the Pennsylvania State Forest Academy was established at Mont Alto, Franklin County (see “Reviving — and Revising — the Reputation of Ralph Elwood Brock” by Rachel L. Jones Williams in this edition). Professional forestry training was expanded four years later, in 1907, when a baccalaureate program was instituted at the Pennsylvania State College (now the Pennsylvania State University).

Author Henry D. Gerhold reviews the progress of Penn State’s School of Forest Resources by assessing its academic programs and facilities, as well as by examining accomplishments of several of its more interesting and prominent faculty members and graduates. He first traces the events and incidents that led up to the school’s founding, featuring several pioneering men and one woman, among them Joseph Trimble Rothrock (1839–1922), renowned as the “Father of Pennsylvania Forestry”; George H. Wirt (1880– 1961), the Commonwealth’s first professionally trained forester; Joseph S. Illick (1884–1967), one of the early forestry authorities in the Keystone State; and Mira Lloyd Dock (1853-1945), an ardent and articulate advocate of environmental reform whose work associated her with landscape architects, foresters, and conservationists, including Gifford Pinchot and Horace McFarland.

Gerhold devotes the core of A Century of Forest Resources at Penn State to the first fifty years of the school to provide a solid historical background and establish a foundation for a discussion of the ensuing expansion of the faculty, facilities, curricula, and administrative organization. After addressing the evolution of the school, he describes early directors and department heads, beginning with Victor A. Beede, who joined Penn State’s Department of Forestry in the School of Agriculture in 1931, two years after the college merged with the Mont Alto institution (whose name had been changed in 1920 to the Pennsylvania State Forest School). Many professors, students, and graduates considered the 1929 merger an unholy alliance and vehemently protested the consolidation of the two schools. He continues with a discussion of the academic curricula and degree programs in forest science, wood products, and wildlife and fisheries science. The remainder of the book focuses on research in forest ecology, silviculture, genetics, and hydrology; wood products engineering, marketing, and management; fisheries ecology; and extension and outreach programs. The book concludes with biographical sketches and accomplishments of later faculty and a brief chapter entitled “Looking Ahead: Strategic Plan for the Future.”

Although a sound institutional history, A Century of Forest Resources Education at Penn State: Serving Our Forests, Waters, Wildlife, and Wood Industries does contain several anecdotal snippets and tantalizing tidbits that give life to the centennial story, such as students hanging school officials in effigy, an interloping bear in a classroom, and a tale of the “Original Nittany Lion,” the only mounted specimen of an eastern mountain lion in Pennsylvania (and symbol of the mascot adopted by Penn State in 1904).

 

Pittsburgh in Stages: Two Hundred Years of Theater

By Lynne Conner
Published by the University of Pittsburgh Press, 2007; 278 pages, cloth, $32.00

Pittsburgh possesses a rich and diverse history of theatrical tradition, from early frontier performances by officers stationed at Fort Pitt through experimental theater at the close of the twentieth century. Lynne Conner’s Pittsburgh in Stages: Two Hundred Years of Theater offers the first comprehensive history of theater in the Allegheny County seat, placing it within the larger contexts of cultural development in the city and the national history of theater.

By the time its first permanent theater was built in 1812, Pittsburgh had already established itself as a serious patron of the theatrical arts. The city soon hosted New York and London-based traveling companies and gained a national reputation as a proving ground for touring productions. By the early twentieth century, affordably priced vaudeville and burlesque shows brought theater to the masses. Not long after, Pittsburgh witnessed the emergence of
a myriad of community-based theater groups and the formation of the Federation of Non-Commercial Theaters and the New York Theater League, guilds designed to share resources among community producers. The rise of local productions was also instrumental to the growth of African American theatrical groups and the emergence of artists such as Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright August Wilson (1945–2005), for whom the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission dedicated a state historical marker in May 2007 at his Bedford Avenue birthplace in Pittsburgh. African American theater flourished, but segregation delayed its recognition as part of Pittsburgh’s rich artistic tradition.

Pittsburgh in Stages: Two Hundred Years of Theater relates the significant influence and interpretation of urban socioeconomic trends in the theatrical arts and the role of theater as an agent of social change. Dividing the city’s theatrical history into two distinct eras, the author details the defining movements of each and analyzes how public tastes evolved over time. She offers a fascinating study of regional theatrical development and underscores its substantial contribution to the history of American theatrical arts.

 

A Philadelphia Perspective: The Civil War Diary of Sidney George Fisher

Edited by Jonathan W. White
Published by Fordham University Press, 2007; 312 pages; cloth, $65.00, paper, $28.00

An aristocratic member of a socially prominent Philadelphia family, Sidney George Fisher (1809–1871) was a prolific writer of letters. For thirty-seven years, from 1834 to just before his death at the age of sixty-two, he kept an intensely detailed diary that chronicled not only daily life in the nation’s second city, but also key political, social, and cultural events of the nineteenth century. Recent articles in Pennsylvania Heritage have included extracts from Fisher’s diary because they offer a rare, first-person account of Philadelphians who helped shape local, state, and national history. Published in 1967, Fisher’s diary quickly became one of the most remarkable works of its kind; few published diaries are as inclusive, incisive, and illuminating of their eras.

Edited and with a new introduction by Jonathan W. White (author of “Supporting the Troops: Soldiers’ Right to Vote in Civil War Pennsylvania,” Winter 2006), A Philadelphia Perspective: The Civil War Diary of Sidney George Fisher provides a tantalizing portrait of the city during the Civil War era, made all the more heady by the diarist’s inclusion of arresting details. For most of his life, he lived on inherited or borrowed money, rarely working to sustain himself. He graduated from Dickinson College in Carlisle in 1827, tried his hand at farming and law, but preferred the polite pursuits of thinking, reading, and writing. Such luxury of time enabled him to painstakingly record the events and incidents that unfolded about him.

Fisher’s Civil War entries provide an especially rich record of the War Between the States. “My diary has become little else than a record of the events of the war, which occupies all thoughts and conversation,” he wrote on November 9, 1861. The tone and content of his diary reveal the ways in which many Americans grappled with such a long and devastating conflict. On hearing news of a reputed Union defeat, he described the confusion and disillusionment in the North. “The town was full of all sorts of rumors but nothing was considered reliable except the fact of a battle,” Fisher wrote. “The night is cold, there is a fierce wind. I can think of nothing but the wounded now lying exposed to the weather on the battlefield. What a scene of suffering & horror it must be, yet in spite of it all, who does not love war & its glory?” As with many Americans, the Civil War had a transformative effect on Fisher’s thinking. By late 1862, he was ready to endorse President Abraham Lincoln’s policy of military emancipation, although he still opposed equality for African Americans.

Fisher’s “record of the events” is an invaluable portrait of a city, and a nation, at war. He recorded everything from conversations overheard on street corners to arrests of civilians for treason, including members of his family, critiques of partisan speeches and pamphlets, descriptions of battles, accounts of runaway slaves, and tales of mob violence (see “Pennsylvania Copperheads: Traitors or Peacemakers?” by Timothy Kehm in the fall 2007 issue). At the same time, however, he also reports on dinners, parties, weddings, and funerals of the city’s elite.

With the approaching Sesquicentennial of the American Civil War, which will be observed from 2011 through 2015, readers will appreciate Sidney George Fisher’s lucid account of, and insightful commentary on, the conflict. He left an invaluable record of the past that has served a generation of scholars and, with this new edition focusing on the Civil War years, will serve many more generations. With A Philadelphia Perspective, White brings to today’s readers Fisher’s observations on war and peace, secession, and Lincoln, as well as the diarist’s own complicated feelings about slavery and emancipation.

 

These Just In …

A number of new and recent books about Pennsylvania history have been received by Pennsylvania Heritage’s editorial staff, which has not yet had the opportunity to review them, but wishes to share news of their availability with readers.

A Forester’s Legacy: The Life of Joseph E. Ibbserson, Forester, Tree Farmer, Philanthropist, by Henry D. Gerhold, published by the Pennsylvania Forestry Association, 2007; 250 pages, cloth, $39.95.

First Farm on the Right: An Innermost Look Into the Heart Throbs, Joys, Sorrows, and Pathos of the George and Leah Lehman Family, by Loretta Jane Stoltzfus, published by Masthof Press, 2006; 123 pages, cloth, $25.00.

Images of America: Norristown, by Michael A. Bono and Jack Coll, published by Arcadia Publishing, 2007; 128 pages, paper, $19.99.

Secret War at Home: The Pine Grove Furnace Prisoner of War Interrogation Camp, by John Paul Bland, published by the Cumberland County Historical Society, 2006; 100 pages, paper, $26.00.

Allegheny Mountain, by John Hesselbein, published by Xlibris Corporation, 2007; 128 pages; cloth, $27.89, paper, $17.84.

Peoples of the River Valleys: The Odyssey of the Delaware Indians, by Amy C. Schutt, published by the University of Pennsylvania Press, 2007; 250 pages, cloth, $45.00.

Rails to Penn State: The Story of the Bellefonte Central, by Michael Bezilla and Jack Rudnicki, published by Stackpole Books, 2007; 310 pages, cloth, $29.95.