Archive for Digital Archive
Of Victorian England’s perambulating naturalists, Charles Darwin is the most celebrated. But he was only one of many, a throng of young men and women who left British shores for places unknown including Joseph Banks, Alfred Russell Wallace, Thomas Huxley, Mary Kingsley, and Henry Walter Bates. These were not foppish lads and doe-eyed ingénues on vacation. They followed new, dangerous itineraries: into the Pacific and Polar Regions, the interiors of South America and Africa, and the islands and archipelagos of the Indian Ocean. This was not some logical extension of the European Grand Tour; these men and women sought to bring home information that would shape science, and, no doubt, further their careers.
One of the most important of these ranks was Joseph Dalton Hooker, doctor, naval surgeon, mountain climber, and botanist. Hooker traveled to the Antarctic with James Ross, dug for fossils in Wales, and tromped up the Himalayas in search of botanical specimens (interested in, among other things, testing Darwin’s theories of biogeography and isolation).
If this whets your appetite, check out Jim Endersby’s Joseph Dalton Hooker Website, a nicely designed site with biographical pages, extensive extracts of Hooker’s writings, and a list of collectors who helped him in the field. If this is not enough for the obsessive-compulsive Hookerologist in you, Endersby has also provided a list of archives and secondary literature on Hooker to keep you occupied until the bicentennial of Hooker’s birth in 2017.
I have worked on Arctic exploration for over a decade and have been feeling lately that it’s time for a change. I like exploration too much to leave it as a field of study (as is probably obvious from this blog), so I have been digging into the literature on another love of mine, mountains, specifically the role of mountains in the work of nineteenth-century scientists.
I don’t have any method for starting new research projects. I have a “if time, pursue this” file, but most of these ideas feel stale by the time I get back to them. So I usually set off into the literature much the way less-than-smart dogs take to being off the leash: running around sniffing randomly until they find something good, chasing it till it runs out, then running some more until they something else. I pursue this approach until I find food. Methodological rigor comes later, usually about the time I need to apply for a grant.
In any event, I was in my dog phase a few months ago, when I started to realize something about the secondary literature on mountains. There are some divisions I expected to find according to discipline (lots of material in art history, for example, not that much in the history of science). But there were also some divisions I didn’t expect, namely differences according to nationality. In particular, it seemed to me that French scholarship on the intellectual history of mountains was very well developed whereas Anglo-American literature was still getting off the ground.
How much do we miss by not wading into the literature of other languages, other countries? It depends upon the research question obviously. But in my case, it’s something I need to do. I can read French, with effort, fingers gripped to the side of my desk. This too must change. I have been on the lookout in the last few weeks for serious exploration blogs or sites outside of the U.S and the U.K.
One of the best that I’ve found is the Centre de Recherche sur la Littérature des Voyages (CRLV). This site has been around for a while, offers an impressive, searchable bibliography of primary literature on exploration (by author and location), a list of CRLV publications, schedule of conferences, and series of conference podcasts, some of which have abstracts and transcripts. Impressive.
I’ve been happy to note more traffic here from other countries, particularly Scandinavia. If you think I should be aware of exploration-related sites, please drop me a line.
Gardner’s Comparative Heights of Mountains and Rivers, 1823
When I was a young, baby-faced graduate student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, I had the good fortune of attending a series of lectures by Simon Schama on his new book Landscape and Memory. Schama presented a cultural history of landscape in Europe (mountains, rivers, forests). He was compelling as a lecturer, impressive in his arguments. But man, did he have good slides. I had already begun to settle into the history of exploration as my thesis area. But I had always imagined that I would approaching this material from the world of text: logs, journals, scientific monographs, etc. As Schama delivered his lectures (they took place over three days), his slides were more than eye-candy, they were arguments. This may sound silly, but I never thought about the visual artifacts of exploration as evidence until that moment. In any event, I am always on the lookout for good expeditionary photos, engravings, etc. Over the next few posts, I hope to share some sites with good pickings for those of you who are visually inclined.
David Rumsey started digitalizing his map collection twenty years ago. He now has over 17,000 of them scanned, online, free of access to all. There are some amazing maps here, authored by Lewis and Clark, James Cook, and Alexander von Humboldt among others. You will need to download one of the specialized browsers on his site, but once this is set up you can view thousands of exploration maps in all of their hi-def grandeur and download them too. One of the best features is the document notes available with each map. Sometimes these offer secondary source notes useful for explaining context, etc.
As someone more familiar with explorers from this side of the pond, my encounters with David Livingtone, British missionary and African explorer, have been mediated by others: biographers, Henry Morton Stanley, or the press reports of the New York Herald. No longer is this the case. Professor Christopher Lawrence of the Wellcome Trust Centre of the History of Medicine has established Livingstone Online, a place where you can read Livingstone’s own words, primarily letters from the holdings of Wellcome and other archives in the UK. Livingstone Online also offers good contextual background on science and medicine in 19th century British society. Taken together with Google Book’s collection of full text Livingstone works (including Missionary Travels and Researches in South Africa), we now have the key sources to uncover the man (if not, alas, the Nile).
Which is the most significant expedition in U.S. history? I would put my money on the U.S. Exploring Expedition (1838-42). Today Lewis and Clark get most of the attention for their impressive trek to the Pacific in 1804. Yet they were not very well known in the 19th century and did not leave much of an impact on scientists or the general public. But the U.S. Ex Ex, as it came to be known, helped shape American exploration for the rest of the century. As America’s first international discovery expedition, it was a way to show the world that the United States had come of age as a civilized nation. Where the government had frowned upon all but the most practical goals in exploring the west, it proved more indulgent of scholarly objectives in exploring the world. It was not that the government placed greater significance on the geography outside its borders. Rather, it was that the wider world offered a more prestigious stage for explorers than the American West, a place where their actions would be more keenly noticed. Under such scrutiny, U.S. expeditions put on their best face, sailing with corps of “scientifics” to advance geographical knowledge, and in the process, to persuade other nations that the United States was more than a republic of untutored farmers. In short, pursuit of knowledge gave U.S. expeditions symbolic heft. It ushered the United States into an enlightenment tradition of imperial voyaging and – its organizers hoped – into the ranks of civilized nations. Back home, the collections of the US Ex Ex became the basis of the Smithsonian Institution when it opened under the direction of Joseph Henry. Read the rest of this entry »