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Harriman Expedition Retraced

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David Koester

Anthropologist


David Koester

David Koester studying driftwood in Alaska.
David Koester became interested in Russian explorations and the minority peoples of the North Pacific region during a college reading course on the history of anthropology in Russia. He continued study of the Russian history and anthropology in graduate school and there first became well acquainted with the ethnography of the North Pacific region. His fieldwork experience in the North began, however, with research in the North Atlantic. He was interested in studying culturally organized ways of understanding history and turned his focus to Iceland, "land of the sagas." His work in the North Pacific region commenced in 1990, after he began teaching in the Department of Anthropology at Columbia University.

He made his first trip to Kamchatka in 1991 with a tour group of mountain climbers, shortly after the peninsula opened to foreigners. He returned the next year, again with a climbing group, to explore the possibilities of fieldwork. He was in the team of the first Americans to climb Mt. Kliuchevskaya, the highest volcano in Asia and, accompanied by two Russian alpinists, he climbed the neighboring, second highest volcano, Kamen. Remaining in Kamchatka after the climbs, he met with a small group of Kamchatkans who were traveling from central Kamchatka to the west coast to bring horses to their village. Several of the party, Native Itelmens, introduced him to Itelmen language and life during an eight-day trek to the remote Itelmen villages of Verkhny, Khairiuzovo and Kovran.

Koester returned with two graduate students for a year of fieldwork in Itelmen and neighboring villages, and, since that time, has made several trip to Kamchatka. "I ma interested in the intersection of history and culture," he explains, "and I've worked with community elders on cultural legacy and tradition." He has also compiled a song book with compositions of an Itelmen musician and worked on issues of environmental protection and locally sustainable economic development. In 1999, he begain teaching at the University of Alaska in Fairbanks.

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For information on the Harriman Retraced Expedition e-mail: harriman2001@science.smith.edu

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