Proceedings – SUBJECT MATTER

Proceedings of the First Park Naturalists’ Training Conference, November 1 to 30, 1929



By Frank T. Been and George L. Collins

Before we may enter into any discussion in this field we should have an understanding or definition of subject matter. We have decided that subject matter may be any definite feature or features of a park or features associated with a park, and may occasionally be in part supporting material for the main topic.

Subject matter would necessarily be historical, biological, botanical, geological, and zoological; broadly, these classifications probably cover our entire field.

Each park has ample material from which to select and arrange lectures embodying elements of any of these studies, but certain parks have a larger field for some one study, as for instance. Grand Canyon has a particularly wide geological field; Sequoia offers more of biology, and Hawaii offers volcanology. As long as each park is supposed to be known for, or at least owes its creation to, some great natural feature, it would be a good plan to stress that individual identity by accentuating in lectures those subjects mentioned above as they apply in our separate cases rather than to be too general. This suggestion of course would apply only to regular, more or less formal lectures, certainly not in nature guide work, etc., (where generalities have a first place) any more than limitations impose.

Subject matter relative to features in place would best be introduced interestingly, easily, and effectively by dividing it into groups of subjects which particularly apply according to the season of the year.

The use of subject matter in a lecture in an easily followed sequence is probably one of the most important points to bear in mind for it is sometimes easy to transpose or to digress too far and thus shade an otherwise good presentation.

Experience has pointed out that the average visitor to a national park may have come to relax and not to study, so consequently one must not be too technical or too profound. The informal atmosphere of the nature guide’s party cannot, perhaps, be duplicated on the lecture platform but a happy medium must obtain or loss of interest will be the result.


In the discussion following the paper on subject matter, the following ideas were brought out:

The lecture should be planned so as to leave the audience with some central idea or concept of one of the great phenomena of nature, such as plant evolution, mountain making, natural communities etc. The lecturer should guard against leaving the impression that he has presented merely a jumble of facts. The hearer should be inspired to a greater appreciation of the bigness of great concepts, and local materials should be used in presenting these concepts. The lecturer has a splendid opportunity of presenting his material in such a manner as to build up a beautiful philosophy of life in the people with whom ho comes in contact.

Anecdotes and short descriptions of personal experience add greatly to the effective presentation of a topic.

Because the lecture program should be so arranged that where possible it will give a bread conception of the main features of the park, it is important that the lecturer himself have this material well in hand.


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