National Geographic: Student keeps history through magazines



by Luke Glaser

An ad this big couldn’t fit in the classifieds.

Zachary Davis, a sustainable agriculture junior, wants someone to take his massive magazine collection.

When his high school was rebuilt, the librarian offered Davis an opportunity he couldn’t refuse: a chance to own every National Geographic magazine since 1930.

Since then, Davis has accumulated a number of National Geographics dating back to 1918, more than 1,000 magazines that take up 25 feet of shelf space.

“I always liked geography as a kid,” Davis said. “… I wanted to know more about the world around me, that insatiable thirst.”

Nevertheless, Davis is quickly running out of room. The National Geographics, combined with the entire 1880s International Science Library, 200-year-old family Bibles, the earliest known biography of Robert E. Lee and the entire collection of Ad-Buster’s magazine, take up quite a bit of space.

“I’m not a packrat,” he said. “I’m a literary aficionado.”

Since 1918, the magazine has gone from a thick periodical to the slim editions Americans enjoy today. While the old magazines were nothing but text and an occasional picture, today’s National Geographic is more photographs than anything else.

Davis’ favorite thing about his magazines is their status as a barometer of American culture.

“In 1918, there were full page advertisements, nothing but text, on the revolutionary disposable battery,” Davis said.

Another aspect Davis enjoys about his large collection is the retrospective opportunity to examine quotes predicting the future of America.

In a February 1970 article about agriculture, an interviewee, not envisioning Dole and Chiquita, guaranteed that “corporate behemoths will play no greater role in agriculture 20 years from now than they do today.”

“There’s something to be learned from the past,” Davis said. “We shouldn’t be throwing it away wholesale for the sake of progress.”

A few weeks ago, Davis had an epiphany.

“Reading one National Geographic issue a week would take me 16 years,” Davis said. “What am I doing, sitting here, reading all these books? I want to pare down the number and increase the depth of what I read.”

Davis will give away his complete National Geographic collection to anyone who shares his passion for the world and for reading.

“You read other people’s work to look into yourself,” he said.