Writers have often compared libraries and archives to wildernesses. But for Aldo Leopold, the metaphor was reversed. To him, a woodpile was as rich in meaning as a library of good books.

Now, a first-ever large-scale exhibit of Aldo Leopold manuscripts at UW-Madison exploring his life and work is on display in the UW-Madison Libraries’ Department of Special Collections Jan. 22-May 24.

“This is an opportunity to revisit Aldo Leopold’s evolving legacy on the 70th anniversary of his book ‘A Sand County Almanac,’” said Curt Meine, senior fellow with the Aldo Leopold Foundation. “Its publication was a landmark in the way we understand the development of our moral responsibilities to our communities, to the land, to other species, to future generations.”

Leopold, considered by many as the most influential conservation mind of the 20th century, was an author, professor and public intellectual. In 1933, the University of Wisconsin appointed him to a chair in game management, and he subsequently became the world’s first professor of wildlife management, a position he held until 1948.

“The exhibit reveals many seemingly incongruous facets of Leopold’s complex relationship with nature,” said Stanley Temple, who also served in the same position from 1976 to 2008 at UW-Madison and is a senior fellow at the Aldo Leopold Foundation. “He was a bird watcher and a bird hunter, an advocate for protecting wilderness and a proponent of sustainable use of natural resources, a guardian of public wild lands who also understood the central importance of individual responsibility for the health of private lands. The exhibit reveals Leopold’s genius was that he navigated these complexities by constantly evolving his thinking about critical issues.”

Leopold’s papers came to the UW-Madison Archives in several installments beginning in the early 1960s. The majority of Leopold’s surviving manuscripts are found in the Aldo Leopold Papers, a collection held by University Archives in Steenbock Library. Leopold published more than 500 articles, essays and reports. His papers also include yet another estimated 500 unpublished items, as well as extensive correspondence, field journals, research records, photographs and other materials.

Another major collection, the R.A. McCabe Collection of the Writings of Aldo Leopold, has a home in the Department of Special Collections. Leopold’s papers were fully digitized by the library between 2007 and 2009 and are available freely online through UW Digital Collections.

“For those who may be less familiar with Aldo Leopold, I hope the items chosen for this public exhibit will make them want to learn more about him,” Temple said. “For those who already know something about Leopold, I hope the exhibit reveals new insights that strengthen their appreciation of his timely and timeless contributions.

“For everyone who visits the exhibit, I hope it makes them want to explore the trove of additional material available online in the Aldo Leopold Archives.”