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Howard T. Odum Papers

Identifier: Ms Coll. 130

Scope and Content

The Odum Papers document the life and career of one of the most important ecologists and environmental scientists in the 20th Century. The collection spans the majority of this life, with materials dating from 1935 to 2003. The bulk of the collection is comprised of Odum's professional files related to his research and educational activities.

The collection is organized into several series of files. The Biographical Files series includes Odum's curriculum vita, lists of his contributions and accomplishments, an oral history interview and miscellaneous materials related to his death and memorial. The series also includes files related to awards and honors, such as the Crafoord Prize and Institute de la Vie award.

Odum's correspondence can be found throughout the collection, but there are three series that contain the majority of his letters, memoranda and electronic mail. The Subject Correspondence series includes files pertaining to colleagues, students, organizations, countries and research topics. There are multiple files related to the Cousteau Society, Biosphere 2, China, the International Society for the Systems Sciences, New Zealand, Puerto Rico, and various universities. Correspondents include David M. Scienceman, Dennis Collins, Thomas A. Robertson, Sheng-Fang Lan, Ariel Lugo, and Jan Sendzimir. The Chronological Correspondence series includes letters filed by date from 1955 to 2001. The USA Correspondence series includes files marked by Odum as pertaining to correspondents and subjects in the United States. There is a great deal of overlap between files in all three correspondence series.

Research Projects, one of the largest series in the collection, includes research data, notes, correspondence, graphs, diagrams, and miscellaneous materials pertaining to Odum's research. Research topics with significant coverage include energy transformities, Ecuador, Biosphere 2, emergy, energy analysis, New Zealand, phosphate, the Kissimmee River and Lake Okeechobee. There are numerous files pertaining to the Terrestrial Ecology Program and Odum's rainforest research at the Puerto Rico Nuclear Center in the 1960s, including data, reports, notebooks, and correspondence. The Florida Files series primarily relates to research Odum conducted on Florida springs and other bodies of water in the 1950s and 1970s. Odum pioneered the way to study and measure energy flow in ecosystems quantitatively in his study of Silver Springs in Florida during the 1950s.

The Air Force Files contain materials created by Odum while studying meteorology in Puerto Rico in the Army Air Force and while serving as an instructor at the Air Force Tropical Weather School in Panama. The Proposals series includes research proposals submitted by Odum and his associates, particularly related to the UF Center for Wetlands. The Systems Models series includes models and simulations created by Odum using his symbol language.

The large number of publications and other writings produced by Odum throughout his career are organized in several series. The Journal Articles and Papers series includes writings published and presented by Odum from 1950 to 2002. The Manuscripts and Books series includes published versions of Odum's books, as well as the manuscripts written prior to publication. The Reports series includes project reports created by Odum and his associates. The Chapters series includes chapters written by Odum for publication in books by other authors and editors, as well as some chapters from Odum's own books. The Miscellaneous Writings series includes reviews written by Odum, fragments of larger writings, notes, figures and charts used in publications, and a variety of miscellaneous documents where the author is unidentified. The News Clippings series primarily includes articles by and about Odum, as well as other members of the Odum family.

The Reference Files include publications, papers, clippings, and other materials written by other authors and collected by Odum for reference and research purposes. Similarly, the Writings by Others series includes articles, papers and reports written by other authors and collected by Odum. The Travel Files series includes materials pertaining to some of the trips that Odum made to various countries around the world. The Conference Files include materials pertaining to conferences attended by Odum, including some of the papers presented by Odum at the conferences.

The Courses and Workshops series includes syllabi, assignments, handouts and class notes for course taught by Odum. The majority of the classes were taught at the University of Florida, but other universities are represented. There are files pertaining to American Association for the Advancement of Science at Chautauqua short courses for which Odum served as an instructor. The Lectures, Papers, and Presentations series includes miscellaneous lectures, speeches, and presentations given by Odum.

The University of Florida Files series pertains to Odum's employment and activities at UF for more than three decades. Many of the files are from his tenure as director of the Center for Wetlands and the Center for Environmental Policy. The Family Files series includes correspondence between Odum and his mother, Anna K. Odum; his father, Howard Washington Odum; his brother, Eugene P. Odum, and other family members.

Photographic materials in the collection include prints, negatives and slides. There is one group of Puerto Rico Research photographs, and a small group of Photo Albums and Binders, which contain a combination of photographic prints and images clipped from magazines and other publications. The collection also includes a small number of memorabilia, audiovisual recordings and computer media.


  • Creation: 1935-2003



University Archives collections are available for research. Portions of the collections may be restricted due to the requirements of applicable state and federal laws, including but not limited to FERPA and HIPAA, and in accordance with best practices as defined by the Society of American Archivists.

Biographical/Historical Note

Howard Thomas Odum was born September 1, 1924 in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, where his father, Howard Washington Odum, worked as a sociology professor at the University of North Carolina. He served in the U.S. Air Force from 1943-1946, studying meteorology in Puerto Rico and serving as an instructor at the Air Force Tropical Weather School in Panama. He earned an A.B. degree in zoology from North Carolina in 1947, and a Ph.D. from Yale in 1951. Although his degree was in zoology, his dissertation focused on the biogeochemistry of strontium.

From 1950 to 1954 he taught limnology and biology at the University of Florida and conducted research on springs and estuaries. He initiated microcosm studies while employed at Duke University in 1954, and he served as Director of the Institute of Marine Science at the University of Texas from 1956 to 1963. From 1963 to 1966 he worked as Chief Scientist at the Puerto Rico Nuclear Center, which was operated by the University of Puerto Rico for the Atomic Energy Commission. While there, he initiated large scale environmental experiments on irradiation of rainforests in the Luquillo Mountains. From 1966 to 1970 he served at the University of North Carolina as a professor in zoology, botany and environmental sciences and engineering.

In 1970, Odum returned to the University of Florida as a professor in engineering. He founded the Center for Wetlands in 1973 with grants from the Rockefeller and National Science Foundations. He spent the rest of his career at UF, serving as a Graduate Research Professor in Environmental Engineering Sciences, Director of the Center for Wetlands from 1973 to 1991, and also as Director of the Center for Environmental Policy, which he founded in 1991. The Center for Wetlands was later named the Howard T. Odum Center for Wetlands in his honor.

Odum was a pioneer in the fields of systems ecology and energy analysis, and was instrumental in the development of ecological science, ecological economics, and ecological engineering. Related research and teaching specialties included experimental microcosms, biogeochemistry, environmental valuation and policy and systems modeling. Much of Odum's research focused on understanding the way flows of energy develop maximum power and order in ecosystems, and the common similarities among all systems. He was particularly interested in the similarities in patterns of energy flow and behavior in ecosystems, economic systems and social systems.

Throughout his career, Odum focused on the experimental and theoretical study of ecosystems and larger environmental areas, making controlled experiments of whole ecosystems, developing experimental microcosms, and creating systems models and computer simulations. He analyzed energy flows in numerous ecological systems including streams, rivers, coral reefs, lagoons, springs, mangroves, salt marshes, rain forests, and agricultural systems.

In the 1960s and 1970s he developed a language of symbols used for representing concepts about energy systems in network diagrams, which could be translated into mathematical equations for simulation. Over the next four decades, he used the energy symbol language to illustrate the structure and function of systems, and also to identify similarities between different systems. He created computer simulation models that allowed him to investigate a variety of topics including world fuel shortages, inflation, net power, international competition, societal history, world population, and resource use.

Odum was responsible for formulating and developing numerous ecology and energy concepts and principles. He developed the "maximum power" principle, focusing on the efficiencies of energy intake, transformation, and production in systems. His "net energy" theory stated that a society must not expend more energy during the production of energy than the total energy produced. In 1983 he and colleagues, including Mark T. Brown, coined the term "emergy" (spelled with an "m") to discuss quantitative evaluations of embodied energy concepts for public policy.

Odum was a prolific author with hundreds of journal articles, papers and other publications. His books include: A Tropical Rainforest, A Study of Irradiation and Ecology at El Verde, Puerto Rico (1970; with R.F. Pigeon); Environment, Power and Society (1971); Energy Basis for Man and Nature (1978, 1982; with Elisabeth C. Odum); Systems Ecology: An Introduction (1983); Cypress Swamps (1985; with K.C. Ewel); Ecological Microcosms (1993l; with R.J. Beyers); Ecological and General Systems: An Introduction to Systems Ecology (1994); Maximum Power: The Ideas and Applications of H. T. Odum (1995); Environmental Accounting: Emergy and Decision Making (1996); Environment and Society in Florida (1998; with Elisabeth C. Odum and Mark T. Brown); Biosphere 2: Research Past and Present (1999; with B.D.V. Marino); Modeling for All Scales: An Introduction to System Simulation (2000; with Elisabeth C. Odum); Heavy Metals in the Environment, Using Wetlands for Their Removal (2000); A Prosperous Way Down: Principles and Policies (2001; with Elisabeth C. Odum); and, Environment, Power, and Society for the Twenty-first Century: The Hierarchy of Energy (2007).

Odum received numerous awards and honors throughout his career. He was an elected member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Science, he received an honorary Doctor of Science degree from Ohio State University, and he received the Distinguished Service Award from the American Institute for Biological Sciences. In 1975 he and his brother, University of Georgia ecology professor Eugene Odum, were awarded the international prize for outstanding research from the Institute de la Vie in Paris. In 1987 the brothers were awarded the Crafoord Prize from the Royal Swedish Academy of Science.

Odum was married to Virginia W. Odum, but was widowed in 1972. They had two daughters together. In 1973, he married Elisabeth Chase Odum. Elisabeth C. Odum is professor emerita at Santa Fe College in Gainesville, Florida. She taught energy and ecology and was co-author of numerous books and articles with H. T. Odum.


129.5 Linear feet (109 boxes)

Language of Materials



Correspondence, research files, publications, photographs, and personal papers of the renowned ecologist, environmental scientist and University of Florida professor, Howard T. Odum.

Physical Location

University of Florida Smathers Library Building

Acquisition Information

The Odum Papers were donated by Elisabeth C. Odum. Many of the files were transferred from offices of the Howard T. Odum Center for Wetlands with the assistance of Mark T. Brown.

Alternative Format Available

Digital reproductions of selected items in the Howard T. Odum Papers are available online via the University of Florida Digital Collections (UFDC). Please read the Permissions for Use statement for information on copyright, fair use, and use of UFDC digital objects.

A Guide to the Howard T. Odum Papers
Finding aid created by John R. Nemmers
December 2009
Description rules
Finding Aid Prepared Using Dacs
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note
Description is written in English.

Revision Statements

  • August 2016: This finding aid was revised in August 2016 by Steve Duckworth to add new folders to the collection description. The extent was updated to show the addition of two boxes.
  • November 2022: New addition added to the collection.

Repository Details

Part of the Special and Area Studies Collections, George A. Smathers Libraries, University of Florida Repository

George A. Smathers Libraries
PO Box 117005
Gainesville Florida 32611-7005 United States of America