NORTHAMPTON, Mass.--Just over a century ago, industrialist and railroad magnate Edward Harriman chartered a ship to take his family on a pleasure cruise to Alaska, one of the last remaining expanses of unexplored wilderness and open space on the North American continent.
What began as a summer vacation soon turned into an ambitious 9,000-mile scientific expedition. Harriman's guest list grew to include 25 of the 19th century's most accomplished scientists, conservationists and artists, among them nature writer John Burroughs, naturalist and mountaineer John Muir and photographer Edward Curtis. The exhaustive documentation they produced shaped indelibly our image of Alaska's natural resources and of North America's earliest native cultures.
This summer, from July 21 to Aug. 20, a Smith College-sponsored expedition will retrace the original route of the Harriman Expedition, in a voyage designed to assess the ecological and societal changes that have occurred in Alaska over the last century.
Aboard the M/V Clipper Odyssey, a 340-foot, 120-passenger expedition vessel, members of the Smith community, accompanied by a team of nationally recognized scientists, artists and naturalists, will retrace the 9,000-mile route of Harriman's steamship, following the Inside Passage along the Alaska Peninsula, and the Aleutian Islands across the Arctic Circle to the Bering Strait and Russia. Expedition director Tom Litwin, director of Smith College's Clark Science Center, describes "The Harriman Expedition Retraced" as "a nationally significant, one-of-a-kind experience, a chance to engage, firsthand, questions of our cultural history and our environmental legacy, in a landscape where those issues are particularly urgent and evocative."
In the company of 24 leading scholars, the 2001 expedition will recreate E. H. Harriman's "floating university." Researchers will reassess the time capsule of data from 1899 in the light of 21st century methodologies and sensibilities. The expedition and its findings will be the subject of a nationally distributed PBS film, scheduled for release in spring 2002, as well as a companion book of essays, photographs and illustrations that Litwin will edit. Emmy Award-winners Lawrence Hott and Diane Garey of Florentine Films/Hott Productions will direct the film, for which Juneau public television station KTOO is the PBS presenting station.
The Clipper Odyssey will set out on July 22 from Prince Rupert, British Columbia, and will return to Nome, Alaska, on Aug. 19. The itinerary will take advantage of the expedition vessel's shallow draft and high hull-ice rating, features that facilitate glacial exploration and enable the ship to approach the coastline in very shallow bays. Using Zodiacs, the small inflatable landing craft developed by Jacques Cousteau, participants will explore in detail otherwise inaccessible islands, coves and natural habitats.
Equally important, Litwin notes, will be the cultural exchanges with Alaskan communities when the ship makes planned stops each day in coastline towns such as Cape Fox/Ketchican (July 23), Wrangell (July 24), Sitka (July 27), Yakutat (July 29), Cordova (July 31), Kodiak (Aug. 6) and Dutch Harbor (Aug. 11).
The Ketchikan port stop is expected to carry particular significance. At that site, Saanya Kwaan leaders will receive numerous Tlingit sacred objects removed from the uninhabited village of Cape Fox, near Ketchikan, during the 1899 expedition. The objects, which include house posts, ceremonial blankets, totems, masks and carvings, have been in the collections of the Smithsonian Institute, Harvard and Cornell Universities, the University of Washington and the Field Museum in Chicago.
Expedition representatives will participate in the restoration of the sacred items to Tlingit leaders, who will be holding a ceremony of healing for hundreds of Tlingit tribe members from throughout southeastern Alaska.
"The Harriman Expedition Retraced" is a collaborative venture sponsored by Smith College's Clark Science Center and the Alumnae Association of Smith College. Key collaborators include Florentine Films/Hott Productions [http://www.
Smith College is consistently ranked among the nation's foremost liberal arts colleges. Enrolling 2,800 students from every state and 50 other countries, Smith is the largest undergraduate women's college in the United States.