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Harriman Expedition Retraced

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Suggestions for Further Reading

For an Overview
Books about the Harriman Expedition
Biography
Advanced Student Research

For an Overview

Through the years, several books, science journals and popular magazines have featured overviews of the Harriman Alaska Expedition. The following four articles, written for a general audience, give teachers and students a look at the motives behind, and the outcomes of the 1899 expedition.

"The 1899 Harriman Expedition to Prince William Sound," by Nancy Lord, Alaska, March 1999. Nancy Lord based this article on her book, Green Alaska. Her approach is comparative; in both book and article, Lord relates what the Harriman Expedition visited in 1899 with her own observations a century later.

"Mr. Harriman Requests the Pleasure of Your Company,"American Heritage, 1982, Vol. 33, No. 4, by William H. Goetzmann and Kay Sloan is also based on a book, Looking Far North. The authors draw heavily from original sources, including diaries and contemporary newspaper articles to create a history that is part science, part personality. The articles includes Arthur Schlesinger's interview with W. Averell Harriman.

"A Cruise for Rest and Recreation,"by Robert McCracken Peck, Audubon Magazine, (1982, Vo. 84, No. 5), is a lively recounting of the natural history contributions made by the Harriman Expedition.

"The Harriman Alaska Expedition of 1899," by Alton A. Lindsey in Bioscience, (1978, Vol. 28, No. 6) takes a look at the identities of the scientists in the group photograph taken by Curtis at Cape Fox in 1899. Teachers interested in reinforcing the importance of photographic documentation might find this focus useful.

Books about the Harriman Expedition

Alaska: The Harriman Expedition, 1899, Dover Publications, Inc., in 1986, is a one-volume reprint edition of Volumes I and II from the original expedition. The book includes the John Burroughs essay on the trip, and chapters on the history and biology of coastal Alaska written by other 1899 participants. The text is delightfully readable; Burroughs's lengthy essay offers students a good look at a 19th century nature writing, and the other, briefer chapters serve as a starting point for a comparative study of scientific writing.

Looking Far North: The Harriman Expedition to Alaska, 1899 by William H.Goetzmann and Kay Sloan, (Princeton University Press, 1982), was the first modern study of the 1899 expedition, and is considered the best overview of the trip.

Green Alaska: Dreams from the Far Coast, by Nancy Lord, (Counterpoint Press, 1999) is both a history of the Harriman Expedition and a meditation on Alaska's coast today. Lord, who relies heavily on the Burroughs essay, includes a good deal of contemporary information on the changing coastal environment.

Biography

The more famous of the group -- Burroughs, Muir, and Harriman for example -- have been written about extensively, and students interested in biography will have no trouble locating several volumes on these men.

Books about E. H. Harriman
The Life and Legend of E. H. Harriman by Maury Klein, (University of North Carolina Press, 2000) has a long and interesting chapter on the expedition. Klein claims that Harriman's experience in Alaska toughened him against the challenges he would face in the worlds of railroads and high finance.

E. H. Harriman: A Biography by George Kennan, (Houghton Mifflin, 1922) is the biography authorized and paid for by Mary Harriman after her husband's death. Kennan's chapter on Alaska would make a good comparison with Klein's (above); reading both, students could compare authorized and unauthorized portraits, as well as early and late 20th century approaches to biography.

Other Biographies
John Muir is, of all the participants, the most widely written about. Two works that students will find both useful and entertaining are The Story of My Boyhood and Youth, Muir's own memoir, (University of Wisconsin Press) and Stephen Fox's The American Conservation Movement: John Muir and His Legacy (University of Wisconsin Press). The first part of Fox's book lays out Muir's full biography; readers interested in his environmental legacy will find the full work compelling.

John Burroughs, too, is much written about. Two recent biographies include John Burroughs: An American Naturalist by Edward Renehan, (Black Dome Press, 1998) and John Burroughs: The Sage of Slabsides, by Ginger Wadsworth, (Clarion Books, 1997). The second title is written for children to age 12, and is unusual in that it includes quotes from Burroughs's originals works, something that biographies for younger readers often fail to do.

Edward Curtis, photographer, is the subject of two recent works that students interested in photography will find worthwhile. Shadow Catcher: The Life and Work of Edward S. Curtis, by Laurie Lawlor, (Walker and Co., 1994) looks at Curtis's life, and discusses the importance of his early work in Alaska. Shannon Lowery's Natives of the Far North: Alaska's Vanishing Cultures in the Eye of Edward Sheriff Curtis, (Stackpole Press, 1994) evaluates Curtis's anthropological approach to portraiture in Alaska throughout his career.

Advanced Student Research Suggestions

With a little digging, students will be able to find biographical information on less-than-famous historical figures. If it's a scientist you're interested in, seek out the published scientific works at college and university libraries, or through an inter-library loan program. These works often have biographical notes and sketches. A good example of this is Ellis Yochelson's The Scientific Ideas of G. K. Gilbert, (The Geological Society of America, 1980). This collection of essays includes several academic papers, but it also has information on Gilbert's life, his early career, and photographs.

Another source of information on scientific biography is the Biographical Memoir Series, published annually by the National Academy of Science. This series is made up of chapter-length biographies of NAS members published on an annual basis. Harriman Expedition geologist Charles Palache was featured in the 1961 volume in this series, botanist William Trelease in 1962.

If a student is interested in the life story of an artist, a good source would be the catalogs published in conjunction with an artist's show at a gallery or museum. These usually include biographical information, and sometimes a personal note from the artist. Larger galleries and all museums generally have an archival collection that is open to researchers.

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beaver carving
Tlingit carving of a beaver


Tlingit carving of a beaver.
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"November 30, 1899. It was a cloudy day but still and mild. I keep pretty well and am working on my Alaska trip. I have already written about ten thousand words about it. The Century paid me seventy-five dollars for two poems, three times as much as Milton got for Paradise Lost. The third poem I shall weave into the prose sketch."

John Burroughs writing about his work after the Harriman Expedition.

 

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

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