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The Works of William Harlow: Finding Aid

This LibGuide was created by Jane Verostek, Associate Librarian at Moon Library at the SUNY College of Environmental Sciences and Forestry. This LibGuide will give an overview of the works of William Harlow - his photography, film work and publications.

Collection Guide


Collection Size:

3 cartons, 12 archival boxes, 2 small boxes, 2 flat file boxes of prints, (Approximately 10 linear feet with some oversized items)

Note: This does not include the 100+ canisters containing the films of William Harlow, which are already processed and largely digitized by the Archives (see: Related Materials).


Donor(s): Personal donation from Dr. Harlow (Died April 6, 1986) (Donated: 1979)

      Donations from Harlow Estate (Donated: 1986)

Research Strengths:

Dr. Harlow was a professor for many years at SUNY ESF, and his areas of research — dendrology (the study of trees) and outdoor education — remain relevant to the focus of the college. He was a well-known scholar in his field; his Textbook of Dendrology is still in print, in its ninth edition as of 2017. Dr. Harlow was also a renowned nature photographer and filmmaker, focusing on time-lapse films of natural processes.

This collection documents Dr. Harlow’s photography, filmmaking, and writing on both plants and outdoor education. The collection contains a large number of Dr. Harlows photographic prints and negatives, as well as  reprints of many of his articles and published copies of his books. In addition to final copies, the collection includes correction copies, with extensive notes by Dr. Harlow, of many of his works, including several editions of the Textbook of Dendrology.

The documentation of Dr. Harlow’s work in nature photography is a real strength of this collection. Researchers may be interested in his fieldwork, his photography/filmmaking processes, and his process of preparing his photographs and writings for publication.

Dates: Approximately 1925-1986, bulk 1940s-1960s. Significant amounts of undated materials.

Language: Written materials in the collection appear to be entirely in English, although they have not been reviewed at the item level.


Copyright restrictions may apply and will need to be evaluated on a case-by-case basis. Written permission must be obtained from the Archives and all relevant rights holders before publishing quotations, excerpts, or images from any materials in the collection.

Some materials in the collection, particularly illustrative plates and photographic negatives are very fragile. Not all of these materials may be available to researchers. Researchers should handle the materials that are made available with extreme care.

Biographical Sketch

Dr. William M. Harlow (1900-1986) taught at the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry (SUNY ESF) (Syracuse, N.Y.) from 1928 to 1965, when he retired. He was a professor of wood technology, and his research included studying the chemistry of the cell walls of wood.

Dr. Harlow wrote seven books, all of which were illustrated with his own photographs. His most well-known book, Textbook of Dendrology, is in its ninth edition as of 2017. His nature photography is also featured in several of his books and has been used to illustrate textbooks by other authors. In addition to still photography, Dr. Harlow produced films, including for Walt Disney Studios and Encyclopedia Britannica Corp. The Disney film Secrets of Life featured Dr. Harlow’s time-lapse sequences of flowers and trees blossoming. In his lifetime, Dr. Harlow won 13 national awards for his 28 16mm films.

While much of his work focused on plants, particularly trees, Dr. Harlow also taught and wrote (under the name “Moosewood”) on the subject of outdoor education. In addition to his dedication to and impact on SUNY ESF, Dr. Harlow taught at several nature camps, was a camping consultant to the Rescue Mission’s Camp Id-Ra-Ha-Je, and was head of the camping department at the Sergeant College of Physical Education (Petersboro, N.H.).

Dr. Harlow’s impact on the community of outdoors enthusiasts and dendrologists is still felt. Tom Kimmerer, author and founder of Venerable Trees (a book, website, and nonprofit organization “dedicated to the preservation of ancient trees in the Bluegrass and Nashville Basin”) wrote a fond remembrance of “Moosewood Bill” in 2013. He writes that “Harlow was known throughout upstate New York and the Adirondacks as Moosewood Bill. He was widely admired for his woods lore and worked with boy scouts and other groups on getting around in the woods. Among his many books [were] Ways of the Woods: A Guide to the Skills and Spirit of the Woodland Experience and Songs of the Forester.” Kimmerer relates a story that illustrates not only Dr. Harlow’s expertise but his passion:

One day, I was wearing my usual outfit – Pendleton shirt, khakis and hiking boots. He drew me aside and berated me for wearing Vibram-soled hiking boots. “Do you have any idea what those damned things do to the soil and the roots?” he asked me. “You want to tear apart the soil, you wear those. You might as well go out with a bulldozer.” Then he hiked up his pant leg and showed me his boots: 16″ high Bean’s Boots, the classic wetlands boot of the northeast. He extolled the virtues of Bean’s boots with their soft rubber sole with chain tread, as he lectured me about proper care of the woods..

Sources: Dr. Harlow’s obituary in Syracuse’s Post Standard. There are numerous photocopies in the Archive’s files.

Kimmerer, Tom. (2013). “Remembering Moosewood Bill Harlow,” Venerable Trees. Retrieved


Scope and Content Note

The papers of Dr. William M. Harlow include published materials, including textbooks and other publications; manuscripts; photographs, including negatives and prints; scrapbooks; correspondence; diaries/daybooks; research materials/notes; and memorabilia.

Dates for the collection are estimated to range from 1925-1986, with a significant amount of undated materials. Materials are distributed broadly throughout that range, with a large amount of the dated materials from the 1940s-1960s.

Significant subjects of the collection include dendrology; nature photography and filmmaking; camping/outdoor education, including a WWII-era wilderness survival course; and local (Syracuse-area) history — Dr. Harlow remained connected to and involved with SUNY ESF from his attendance in the 1920s until his death in 1986.

A Note on Dr. Harlow’s Films: Dr. Harlow’s film collection has been largely processed and digitized on its own by the Archives. On receipt of a grant to digitize materials, the decision was made to digitize Dr. Harlow’s films and make many of them available on the SUNY ESF Archives website. Because the films already formed a cohesive collection on their own, with significantly more processing work already completed, and because of the volume of the film collection (100+ canisters of film), the decision was made to consider them a separate, but related, collection.

Notes on Order: On evaluation and processing of the collection, there was no discernable order to the folders, objects, and loose material in the larger cartons, although the materials in the archival boxes seemed to be separated by subject.

Within the archival carton, folders are arranged alphabetically by file name. Folders from different series are interfiled, maintaining alphabetical order. This serves to keep materials on the same topic — e.g. World War II — together, even though individual folders may fit within different series. Materials that were already separated into archival boxes have not been rearranged.

Most folders appear to be labeled, both by Dr. Harlow and by the previous archivist, by subject. All existing folders and labels have been retained; file names from original folders are in quotation marks in the inventory.

Although the contents of each folder were given a cursory examination to determine series and estimate dates, items were not moved or refoldered. While efforts were made to determine the correct series for folders, researchers may find materials from multiple series within any given folder. Loose material in the collection has been collected, housed, and given a general subject label when possible. Due to the volume of materials in the collection and the specialized subject matter of its contents, some folders have been labeled as miscellaneous (“Misc.”) — researchers are encouraged to explore these files.

Important Divisions:

Series and Subseries:

I - Photographs and Negatives

II - Writings

            IIA - Diaries

III - Subject Files

IV - Correspondence Files

V - Personal Artifacts/Objects

Related Materials — Also located at the SUNY ESF Archives:

Films of William Harlow Collection

Harlow Memorial Materials

Students of William Harlow Collection

George Snyder Prints

There are no collections of Dr. Harlow’s materials elsewhere.

Series and Subseries Descriptions

I - Photographs and Negatives: Dr. Harlow had an extensive photography career, documenting subjects including dendrology, nature photography, camping/outdoor education, and local (Syracuse-area) events. The collection includes both prints and negatives in a variety of sizes. Many of the photographs in the collection are in the groupings organized by Dr. Harlow. Most photo file names are original; loose materials have been collected and assigned general file names when possible (there are some miscellaneous files). Many photos are labeled by Dr. Harlow, but the vast majority of these materials are undated. There are approximately 3 linear feet of photographs. Folders are arranged alphabetically by file name.

The collection includes a series of 22 black and white prints donated to the archives by Dr. Harlow and a series of 12 color prints displayed in the SUNY ESF library, along with an educational guide to the display.

Some photographs are laid out as illustrative plates for publishers, although the adhesive used for many of these plates has deteriorated over time. Some prints and labels have completely separated from their mounting boards, but the loose materials have been kept together. Researchers should use caution when handling these materials, and not all of these materials may be available for research use.

Film and negatives are fragile, and some rolls of film have stiffened — researchers may not be able to view all negatives.

II - Writings: Dr. Harlow published a variety of materials, including books, journal articles, and pamphlets, under both his own name and “Moosewood” AKA “Moosewood Bill.” He wrote on subjects including dendrology; wood technology, which he taught at SUNY ESF; and camping/outdoor education. This series includes published materials, manuscripts, notes, and correction copies of published works. Dates for this series range from 1925-1984. Folders are arranged alphabetically by file name, interfiled with other series. There are approximately 2 linear feet of writings.

            IIA - Diaries: The collection includes Dr. Harlow’s diaries/daybooks from 1957-1982 (inclusive), which are organized chronologically.

III - Subject Files: This series contains files which, while focusing on a common subject, do not appear to fit within the Correspondence Files series or the Writings series. Subject files include reprints of newsletters, articles, reviews, etc. about Dr. Harlow’s works and his areas of research. This series is largely undated, with approximate dates for folders ranging from 1954-1981. Folders are arranged alphabetically by file name, interfiled with other series.

IV - Correspondence Files: Dr. Harlow’s correspondence files deal largely with his research and the process of publishing his work. While there may be some personal correspondence in the folders, the bulk of this series appears to be professional. Dates for this series range from 1924-1984. Folders are arranged alphabetically by file name, interfiled with other series.

V - Personal Artifacts/Objects: This series encompasses a variety of artifacts/objects retained by Dr. Harlow. These include certificates, film awards, programs from awards ceremonies, inscribed books given to Dr. Harlow, a wallet[?], and a plaque/sign printed on white birch bark. Most materials in this series are undated; the certificates and awards are approximately dated to the 1950s-1960s. Discrete objects are not arranged in any particular order; files are arranged alphabetically.

Container Lists

Preliminary container lists are below. Some file names are original and some were likely assigned by the previous archivist — file names from original folders are in quotation marks.

Appendix: Library of Congress Subject Headings



Forests and forestry



Forest plants

Forest sciences

Forestry sciences

Nature study

Outdoor education

Outdoor life


Wilderness survival

Forests and forestry--Recreational use


Botanical science


Plants in art

Stop-motion films


Black-and-white photography

Color photography

Nature photography

Photography of nature

Photography of plants

Photography--Scientific applications

Library of Congress Name Authority: Harlow, William Morehouse, 1900-

LOC Name Authority Variants: Harlow, W. M. (William Morehouse), 1900-; Moosewood, 1900-