puffin home

Harriman Expedition Retraced



For Educators & Students
& Students


YET participants


Lesson Plan
Lesson Plans

Extra Credit
Instructional Guide

Extra Credit
Extra Credit


Can We Be Both Conservationists and Consumers?


Grade level: 9th through 12th

Subjects: Economics, geography, history, language arts

Time Needed for Completion: One fifty-minute class period

Objectives for Students


  • Students will understand their role as consumers and conservationists and what roles they play in today's economic climate.
  • Students will explore resource allocation issues.
  • Students will analyze data and draw comparisons between historical and present-day decisions.



Language Arts:

Correlates to national standards developed by MCREL. The student:

  • Uses the general skills and strategies of the writing process. (Standard 1)
  • Uses the stylistic and rhetorical aspects of writing. (Standard 2)
  • The student uses grammatical and mechanical conventions in written compositions. (Standard 3)
  • Gathers and uses information for research purposes. (Standard 4)
  • Uses listening and speaking strategies for different purposes. (Standard 8)



Correlates to the national standards set by the National Council of Geographic Education. The student understands:


  • The patterns and networks of economic interdependence on earth's surface. (Standard 11)
  • How forces of cooperation and conflict among people influence the division and control of earth's surface. (Standard 13)
  • How human actions modify the physical environment. (Standard 14)




  • Correlates to standards set by the National Council for Economic Education.
  • Productive resources are limited. (Standard 1)
  • Effective decision making requires comparing the additional costs of alternatives with the additional benefits. (Standard 2)
  • Entrepreneurs are people who take the risks of organizing productive resources to make good and services. (Standard 14)




  • Each student needs paper and pen.
  • Class will need Internet access and/or a copy of Looking Far North by William Goetzman and Kay Sloan. 




This lesson plan introduces students to the concepts of consumerism and conservation. Students will be asked to frame and respond to critical questions about 19th century and contemporary conservation and resource allocation. 

Introductory Reading:

Have students review the material found in the Harriman web site, including the overview of the 1899 expedition, biography of E. H. Harriman, and the Development Along Alaska's Coast timeline, including the linked essays on sea otters and on the newspaper response to the sale of Alaska in 1899. 

Questions to Explore:

1. Begin by asking students if they believe in conservation and if they consider themselves conservationists. Work with them to develop a definition of conservationist.

2. Next have students define the following in economic terms, and give examples of each: need, want, goods, service, consumption.

3. Write correct definitions on board, and highlight examples. 

4. Discuss the definition of conspicuous consumption the use of a good or service to impress others.  Offer contemporary examples, perhaps Imelda Marcos and her shoe obsession, Jay Leno and his car collection.

5. Review the reasons behind 1899 Harriman Expedition to Alaska and the participants. Remind students that Harriman was told by his doctor to go on a long vacation to get some much-needed rest. Harriman's idea is to take a two-month cruise to Alaska with his family and many fine scientists.  The guest list included important conservationists:  John Burroughs, nature writer, George Bird Grinnell, founder of the Audubon Society, and John Muir, founder of the Sierra Club.But it was sponsored by a millionaire &emdash; is there a contradiction in this? 

6. In an unpublished letter, scientist Trevor Kincaid wrote: 
The expedition was a thoroughly deluxe affair without any regard to expense.  The party included a number of interesting personalities.  Harriman himself, of course, was the center and dynamo of the expedition.  He was reputed to be worth sixty million dollars and was of the type that issues orders and expects them to be obeyed.

 John Burroughs wrote:
We have hunting parties among us that expect to supply us with venison and bear meat, but to be on the safe side we take aboard eleven fat steers, a flock of sheep, chickens, and turkeys, a milch cow, and a span of horses.

On the Web site find other items taken for the cruise, and the number of crew and support staff to meet the needs of Harriman and his guests.  Contrast with the life of the Tlingits in Yakutat, as described by George Bird Grinnell:

The changing seasons give them their seal, their salmon and their berries, their fish, their fowl and their deer, the later driven down from the high mountains by the deep snows in winter or in summer forced by the flies out of the forest to feed along the beach.  They fish, they hunt, they feast, they dance.  And until the White men came and changed all their life, they lived well.

8. Ask students to discuss E.H. Harriman's philosophy.  Could we call him conservationist or consumer, or both?  Why?  Can one be considered able to be both?

9. Bring up the following points during the discussion.  By 1899 sea otters are hunted nearly to extinction, and Harriman pays $500 during his trip to purchase one; which in today's money would be approximately $20,000.

In 1899, Mount Rainer National Park is created by an Act of Congress and Congress passes the first pollution-control law setting fines for oil spills and nonsewage pollution, but it is not enforced.

Assessment Suggestions


  • Have students write a five-paragraph essay on whether one can be a conservationist and a conspicuous consumer.  A suggested structure includes introductory paragraph, definitions of terms, examples from the Harriman trip, and conclusion.  
  • Students should be graded on clarity, creativity, and use of quotes for illustration and example. 


  • Take a second 50-minute period to discuss the connection between the Alaska of 1899, with the gold rush and fur trade, and the Alaska of today, with an oil-based economy and the debate about drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. 
  • Ask students to discuss whether they agree with former Alaska Governor Jay Hammond's quote, given below.  Will these two sides ever be able to coexist in Alaska? Two types of people are attracted to Alaska: one sees new ground to plow up, the other to preserve the wilderness.




  • Two essays on the web site, Sea Otters in Alaska and U.S. and British Newspapers Respond to the Sale of Alaska in 1867 both deal heavily with the economics of Alaska and its resources.  They are on the site at Development along Alaska's Coast 1745 to 1900.
  • Looking Far North: The Harriman Expedition to Alaska, 1899 by William H. Goetzmann and Kay Sloan, (Princeton University Press, 1982), outlines the expedition's day-to-day progress, and gives an 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 has strong opinions about resource use in Alaska.


Prepared by Eileen A. Foley, teacher, Service High School, Anchorage, Alaska





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

Home | 2001 Expedition | 1899 Expedition | Maps | Log | Educators and Students | Film | Century of Change | After Expedition | About This Site