Ubique March 2002
Ubique, the Society's
thrice-yearly letter, brings to its readers news from the field,
timely book reviews, and a wide array of material of geographical
interest. A lively, entertaining publication, Ubique also
serves as a vehicle for communication of Society news and events.
Ubique is sent to all Fellows, Associates, Medalists, Geography
Department Heads, and Galileo Circle Members.
XXII, Number 1, March 2002
THE HISTORY OF CARTOGRAPHY AT THE AMERICAN GEOGRAPHICAL SOCIETY
by Miklos Pinther
(This is the second of a three-part series. Pinther’s paper was delivered at the Sesquicentennial Symposium on the AGS, MAPS AND AMERICA The Arthur Holzheimer Lecture Series, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Friday, May 18, 2001)
With the election of young Archer Huntington as President in 1907, a new era was ushered in. He realized that maps played an important role in the Society’s publications and activities. He, therefore, actively and financially supported the hiring of the first, full-time cartographer. In 1913, William A. Briesemeister was hired on a one-year trial basis at $55 per month. This one year stretched to decades, and when he finally retired in 1964, he had remained with the Society for 51 years, longer than any other staff member. Briesemeister began his cartographic career at the age of 14 as an apprentice under his father, Arthur, who worked for the Museum of Natural History. At the time, the Society was located next door on 81st Street. Cyrus Adams was editor of the Bulletin and he got to know young Bill at the Museum who began to prepare some small drawings for him. He admired the exactitude and quickness of Bill, and when the Society’s new building was ready on Broadway at 156th Street, complete with a “drafting floor… with skylight roof above it,” Cyrus suggested to Huntington that he should be brought on board. Readers of the Society’s publications must have noticed right away the increased number of cartographic illustrations. Thanks to Bill’s pride in his own work, we can identify most of his maps by the small initials he placed in one of the corners. It is interesting to observe here that the year before Bill was employed, the Society and the Museum jointly published an unusual map of the Arctic Region that was prepared by his father.
Two years later, in 1915, Isaiah Bowman became the first director of the Society. Briesemeister, and Adams’ assistant, Wolfgang Joerg, were two of the few staff members who survived his hurricane takeover. Clearly, he had the ability to recognize and appreciate talent and he wasted no time in carefully putting together a thoroughly professional staff. He was acquainted with Briesemeister’s work before he became director, as it was Bill who drew several maps illustrating his first South American excursion. In Joerg, Bowman recognized a gifted, modern geographer. Although they often quarreled, Bill idolized Joerg and learned much from him, particularly the value of research and careful compilation. With the new Geographical Review and other publications, Bill soon had more work than he could handle. In 1916, an Austrian cartographer, Charles Krisch was added to the staff.
At the end of 1917, while seconded as a junior topographer to the Mississippi River Commission, Bowman called Briesemeister back to the Society to work for the Colonel House team in preparation for the Paris Peace Conference. As the preeminent geographical research institute in the country, Bowman opened the doors of the Society. Under his direction, a group of experts known as The Inquiry established its headquarters there. An important component of the group was a specially formed cartographic team. First, under the direction of Bowman, and later supervised by Professor Mark Jefferson, the cartographers prepared a series of base maps on which ethnographic, economic, historic and political problems were depicted. Such information was constantly revised and adjusted by the cartographers, several of who traveled with Jefferson to Paris. Briesemeister often lamented that he could not go as his first son was born in 1918. The more than 300 map products prepared for the American Commission to the Peace Conference were the first significant cartographic contributions of the Society in the international arena. Some twenty years later, Bowman proudly wrote to Hitchcock that, “they were the most important maps to be used by the various delegations.”
Soon after Bowman returned from Paris, he lunged into the Millionth Map project, or the mapping of South and Central America at the scale of 1:1,000,000, based on the standards established by the International Geographical Union. The idea first occurred to Bowman on one of his South American expeditions and was solidified in Paris where he occasionally made use of the European maps of this series. It was a brilliant idea that profoundly influenced the work of the Society for nearly half a century. It was Briesemeister who undertook the pioneering compilations of the first sheets, La Paz and Panamá. Twenty-five years later, with Hitchcock, he completed the compilation of the last sheet, Bogotá. Within a couple of years, compilers and surveyors augmented the Society’s cartographic staff. There were some Yankees among them, but mostly there were three distinct groups of recent immigrants who represented the best of the European tradition. Besides Briesemeister and Krisch, there were the Scots: Forsyth, Miller, MacCleod, and Philip, and an Englishman Smith. Arnold, Noetzel, Schweizer, and Weldon were the Americans. And there were six Russian military officers, Chern, George, Kostenko, Krijanowsky, Sovinsky, and Transehe, who together compiled 72 of the 104 sheets that made up the series. Seven of this group remained with the Society for more than thirty years. In 1920, Professor Alan G. Ogilvie, whom Bowman first met in 1912, then again in Paris at the Peace Conference, was coaxed to join the Society’s staff and lead the Millionth Map project. He only stayed for three years, however, followed by Raye Platt, and still later by Charles B. Hitchcock who supervised the Hispanic-America program.
These were simply outstanding craftsmen and scientists who created a product that no other similar institution has done before or since. In 1940, Earl P. Hanson wrote in the Harpers Magazine, “Only rarely now does a map appear that stands out above all the rest, commands respect for its beauty and adequacy, and paves the way for further advances, cartographic, economic, political, cultural. Of such the outstanding example of our time is the American Geographical Society’s ‘Millionth Map of Hispanic America.’”
Besides the cartographers at the Society, there were many others who were involved in this monumental undertaking. Special mention must be made of the contributions of Messrs Huntington and Ford, which amounted to the majority financial support, and of A. Hoen & Co. of Baltimore who was the exclusive lithographer. There were also many by-products, such as the Catalogue of Maps of Hispanic America, or the delimitation of the Guatemala-Honduras boundary, but they are far too numerous to elaborate in the present narrative.
To top it all, the Millionth Map project was by no means the only cartographic undertaking of significance during this period. For a decade, Osborn Maitland Miller and Weld Arnold, both trained at the Royal Geographical Society in London and both of whom joined the AGS in 1922, ran a School of Surveying at the Society, founded and directed by Professor Alexander Hamilton Rice, a member of the Council. Walter A. Wood, a mountaineer and Arctic researcher, and later President of the Society, was among its first graduating class. A number of famous explorers also spent weeks at the School receiving basic instructions. Sir Hubert Wilkins, for example, got extensive assistance before both of his Arctic and Antarctic expeditions. With the valuable input of such explorers, the Society compiled and published several groundbreaking maps of the Polar Regions.
Besides Antarctica, globes and relief models remained a passion of Briesemeister throughout his career. In 1933, he compiled the gores for the 50-inch American Bible Society globe. Ten years later, he assisted with the construction of President Roosevelt’s globe, and in the mid 1950s with the Geo-Physical globe. He also built a partial globe at the scale of 1:1,000,000 for illustrating the Millionth Map project at the 1938 World’s Fair, which was subsequently extended and installed as a permanent exhibit at the Society.
Meanwhile, the restless, inventive mind of Miller experimented with photogrammetry, developing the first plotter for the use of oblique aerial photographs. This method was demonstrated with excellent results during and after the Alexander Forbes Labrador expedition and subsequently received much attention at Government agencies. In 1932, Miller also developed an experimental map to be used in the cockpit by pilots and navigators. And before that, Miller directed a survey expedition to central Peru in 1927, which eventually led to the first accurate survey of the source of the Marañon River, the farthest reach of the Amazon Basin. During this mission, the only survey directly undertaken by the Society in connection with the Millionth Map project, Mait was hospitalized in Lima with a sever case of malaria that nearly took his life.
Both Briesemeister and Miller were very interested in map projections, a field that they approached in an entirely different way. Briesemeister had excellent knowledge of geometry and an unusually sharp, graphic imagination. Miller, on the other hand, was quite the mathematical genius. One project, in which their collaboration is little known, was the bi-polar conic conformal projection for the Americas. Briesemeister first constructed this on the drawing table and then Miller developed the mathematical formula and description of it, demonstrating its unique scale preservation properties. The projection was specifically developed for a 1:12,000,000 scale, single-sheet map of the Americas, which was then expanded to a 1:5,000,000 five-sheet set of maps. This method of cartographic representation of the Western Hemisphere remains the best and most widely used to date.
Two other leading staff members whose related contributions must be pointed out here were Charles B. Hitchcock and John K. Wright. Hitchcock, after graduating from Harvard, came to the Society in 1928 to take a course in reconnaissance under Miller and Arnold. The following year, he accepted an invitation from Bowman to join the Society’s staff. Charlie was a geomorphologist who first distinguished himself as an excellent compiler and a keen field observer. He took part in over half dozen expeditions to South America, several to hitherto unexplored areas. During this period his greatest contributions were the work he undertook for the Hispanic America program and the supervision of the many projects for the Department of State during the Second World War. In the words of Mait Miller, “He was the best map editor and cartographic administrator the Society has ever had, and it is largely to his credit that the Society established an enviable reputation for cartographic excellence.”
John Wright was another of Bowman’s find. He was hired as the Librarian in 1920; a position, he said, “really fitted him.” He also remarked at one point that the Research Catalogue, a topical and regional classification system he developed for the Society’s collections, was “perhaps [his] most important contribution to scholarship.” But, as many of you know, he was an imaginative cartographic thinker as well. Maps were his life-long passion. In his youth he loved field sketching, an avocation he was able to carry on in Europe during the First World War. He was an erudite, prolific writer. He wrote extensively on cartography, particularly on thematic mapping. One of his most popular pieces was the essay on “Map Makers are Human.” Jack’s first foray into cartography at the Society was guiding and completing Charles O. Paulin’s “Atlas of the Historical Geography of the United States” in 1932. This was, in his words, “one of the most comprehensive historical atlases that have ever been produced for a single nation.” Twenty years later, this atlas paved the way for the preparation of a 400-page prototype for a national atlas by the Society, which was eventually modified and published by the U. S. Geological Survey in 1970.
What was truly amazing about this group was their camaraderie and respect for each other. To be sure there was professional rivalry and pride, but rarely at each other’s expense. Jack Wright, in his book on Geography in the Making , lovingly describes a family. After Bowman left for the Presidency of John Hopkins University he wrote to Wright on more than one occasion how much he missed the Society, his “family.” Bowman had enormous drive, but the staff respected and loved him. Briesemeister had a gruff exterior, but he was a very loyal and generous person. Miller may have seemed aloof, but only because he was lost in thought. On the occasion of his sickness-enforced retirement, Hitchcock wrote to the staff, “I consider you not only as loyal and able employees of the Society, but as my own personal good friends.”
One would imagine that Bowman’s departure would have meant an insurmountable void. But, such was the strength of the Society that the staff managed to overcome this loss. To be sure, Bowman remained a strong supporter; in fact, to some it seemed that he never left. There were times when he would dash off three, four letters a day. It was he who supported Jack Wright for the directorship in 1938, and later told Jack to groom Charlie Hitchcock for the eventual day.
When the Second World War erupted, the Society once again made its services available to the Government. Wright developed a close professional friendship with the State Department’s chief geographer, Samuel Wittmore Boggs. The Society undertook close to 80 projects for the war effort, most of which were cartography related. These activities not only reinforced the value of an institution like the Society, but also produced some badly needed income, as well as new ideas for the staff. It was during this period that Miller devised his modified cylindrical projection. And it was Boggs who told Wright that Miller should put aside his modesty and name the projection after himself, hence the Miller Cylindrical Projection, one of the most popular for decades.
It was also during this period that several of the leading staff assumed important roles in shaping the future of cartography in the United States. For example, Miller served as the President of the American Society of Photogrammetry, Wright was the first Chairman of the Division of Cartography of the American Congress on Surveying and Mapping, and for a decade, Hitchcock was the Chairman of the United States Advisory Committee on American Cartography. Wright was also a close advisor to Robert H. Randall of the Bureau of the Budget, who was the Chairman of the United Nations Conference on Cartography in 1948. Boggs and Wright developed many of the recommendations that were put forth by Randall at this first international conference of its kind.
Before leaving this period, mention must be made of Ena Yonge. Although not a cartographer, she was very closely attached to the cartographic activities as the Society’s Map Curator. She joined the Society in 1917 and served in this capacity for 45 years. Through her industry the Society’s map collection grew to be one of the finest in the world. With all the activities going on in the Society, she had a tough job keeping track of her holdings and preventing the users and compilers from damaging them. Such was the fame of Briesemeister, however, that she once declared that only he was allowed to mark them since anything Bill put on the maps could only be an improvement. When Jack Wright began his book on the Society, she wrote to him that, “It wasn’t until World War II that I started to visit the Government offices in Washington, and it had been a most educational experience as well as a very gratifying one. The name A.G.S. was open sesame everywhere, and it made one very proud to be a part of the Society.” Upon her departure, Roman Drazniowsky assumed the post of Map Curator, and as many of you know, he was instrumental in bringing the collections to Milwaukee.
As Wright prepared to leave the post of Director, a definite sense of change permeated the Society. There was an atmosphere of uncertainty that caused anxiety among all. Dr. Richard Light, President of the Society, most prophetically expressed this in the April 1948 issue of the Geographical Review when he said, “In an age when institutions are faced with economic extinction, their very right of survival in dispute, the quiet warning of what would be lost by the disappearance of such unique forces as this little body of map makers should be received with the utmost seriousness. It is all too easy to destroy, whether by direction or neglect. The rebuilding is another matter.”
As we see, the first half of the twentieth century was a very powerful period in the history of cartography at the Society. Invaluable service was extended to Washington during two world wars. A remarkable, unique contribution was made to the mapping of the Western Hemisphere. New instruments, techniques, and map projections were invented. At a time when there were no cartographic journals, The Geographical Review was the principal source for newly issued maps, cartographic articles, and reviews of atlases and books on the subject. The Society exercised dynamic leadership that helped shape both American and international cartography.
(to be continued).
Geographers in the Spotlight
Two geographers and two geographical institutions were honored by the American Geographical Society on November 10th, 2001. Their accomplishments were celebrated at an honors ceremony and dinner in New York City at the Yale Club attended by friends and Fellows of the Society.CITATION FOR JOHN FRASER HART
Regions have long been the special domain of geographers. Perhaps no geographer has documented, written about, or understood regions more enduringly or analyzed them more evocatively than has the person we now honor.
The Center for the Analysis and Research of Spatial Information (CARSI) at Hunter College, City University of New York, and Environmental Systems Research Institute (ESRI) of Redlands, California, were honored for their crucial contributions to the rescue and relief efforts at the site of the World Trade Center immediately following the terrorist attack and in ensuing weeks. Sean Ahearn, Director of CARSI and Professor of Geography at Hunter College, and Chris Schielein from ESRI described how Geographic Information Systems technology and expertise were applied hourly to map the shifting terrain of “ground zero.” Their work minimized the danger to emergency workers and maximized their efforts. It was clear to the guests who heard and saw the presentations on November 10th that the contributions of ESRI and CARSI saved lives and reduced the incidence of injuries. A more graphic demonstration of the power of geographical analysis would be difficult to imagine.
The two geographers who were honored were John Fraser Hart and Douglas R. McManis. No better exposition of the reasons for their awards could be given than the citations that were read upon presentation of their medals. Those citations, written by AGS Councilors, appear below. Professor Susan Hardwick, of the University of Oregon, wrote the one for Dr. Hart, and Professor Alexander B. Murphy, also of the University of Oregon, wrote the one for Dr. McManis.
From his high-impact books such as The Look of the Land to his AAG presidential address that referred to regions as the “highest form of the geographer’s art,” our honoree’s cogent analyses and clear prose have brought regional studies back into the fold of the discipline. Through his immense corpus of books, journal articles, and book chapters, this award-winning regional geographer has coaxed, cajoled, and corralled a generation of scholars to study and write about regions.
For more than four decades, this honoree has served as a regional role model to a generation of new geographers who have read his publications, imitated his methodologies, and attended his annual “How to Publish Your Scholarly Book” workshops. His long tradition of field-based research (which continues to the present time) has provided other geographers with the tools to work in the field and to investigate relationships between people and place in regions ranging from the rural South to the British Moorlands to Alaska. Through his eyes geographers have found information and insights for teaching about topics spanning the regional spectrum - from forest land use in Indiana to abandoned farm land in Kentucky to urban encroachment on rural land in the Mid-West to pork palaces in the Panhandle. This creative and challenging author has taken the geographical analysis of the everyday experiences of people and the sense of place they create and has applied this elegantly simple yet remarkably complex approach to understand and interpret regions both near and far.
For intellectual achievement in regional geography and in recognition of his extraordinary work exemplifying “best practice’” in American regional geography, as well as his eloquent defense of the vital importance of the regional method in geographical thought, the American Geographical Society is honored to award the Paul P. Vouras Medal for “outstanding work in regional geography” to John Fraser Hart.
CITATION FOR DOUGLAS R. McMANIS
The scope and quality of the Geographical Review-America’s most international and most readable scholarly journal of geography-is the product of a succession of distinguished editors. Amidst that group, this honoree stands tall. Through an extraordinary run of seventeen volumes, he brought to the editorship a marvelous combination of high standards, an innate sense of the interesting, and a real sensitivity to the kind of prose that makes for effective communication. The result is a body of published work of enduring value and significance.
The editorial work of this scholar was so important that it alone would be worthy of special recognition by the American Geographical Society. Yet our honoree’s contributions do not end there. Through his writings, he has enriched our understanding of the historical geography of the North American continent. He has also kept alive the history of the American Geographical Society-helping contemporary geographers understand where their discipline came from while drawing special attention to the role of notable American Geographical Society women. Beyond the realm of scholarship, our honoree has made a mark through his teaching and lecturing and through his administrative service at the American Geographical Society.
Perhaps the one accomplishment of our honoree that transcends all others is the one that cannot be found on the pages of his curriculum vitae. Throughout his tenure as editor of the Geographical Review, our honoree was ever on the lookout for new geographical talent, and when he found it he would go out of his way to nurture and develop it. As a result, there is a significant cohort of geographers who, through the sometimes stern but always supportive guidance of our honoree, were crucially aided in achieving their scholarly and career goals. This is indeed a legacy.
It is often said that institutions are a product of the individuals that comprise them. In that spirit, the American Geographical Society is fortunate indeed that this honoree has been and continues to be a member of its family. It is thus with great pleasure and gratitude that the American Geographical Society recognizes one of its own in awarding to Douglas R. McManis the Samuel Finley Breese Morse Medal for “the encouragement of geographical research.”
Turning the tables, the American Geographical Society itself was also honored on this occasion in recognition of its sesquicentennial.
The Hundred Year Association of New York presented its “Excellence in Public Service Award” to AGS “for making New York City its home for 150 years, led by such prominent New Yorkers as Henry Evelyn Pierrepont, Chief Judge Charles Patrick Daly, and Samuel Finley Breese Morse; and for its major contributions to Arctic exploration and to the development of the Transcontinental Railway and the Panama Canal…” The association’s President, Richard A. Cook, presented the award in person.
In addition, Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani proclaimed November 10, 2001 “American Geographical Society 150th Anniversary Day” in New York City, citing the Society for its service to the U.S. government and to the business and academic communities and enumerating a number of its accomplishments over its first 150 years. [The full proclamation appears on the AGS website: http://amergeog.org]---mlb.
Arabella Adamo---AGS Intern
My internship at the American Geographical Society has been a marvelous and unforgettable experience. I arrived in New York from Italy - where I study foreign languages with a major in American literature at the University of Venice - 15 days after the September 11th attacks. The consequences of those terrible events would affect my life, as well of those of millions of others. I found myself sandwiched between two questions; my “Hamlet dilemma” was more or less the words of a famous song, which says: “Should I stay or should I go?” However, despite everything that had happened I decided that achieving my dreams and my goals were good enough reasons to make me follow through on this internship. My reading in the American Geographical Society library increased my knowledge of the field and helped to broaden my scope. For example, Emerson and Thoreau were great geographical seekers in their own personal ways. Both made of the land not only a mere geographical space through which to travel, but also a mental concept to explore:
“There are new lands, new men, new thoughts”
- Ralph W. Emerson
“Staying at home is the heavenly way”
- Henry D. Thoreau
I enjoyed every single aspect of my internship, from updating data bases and conducting web and archival researches to what was for me the pinnacle of the entire internship: the award ceremony at the Yale Club. I was in charge of designing the booklet for that event. I hardly can express how honored I felt in receiving that assignment. I acquired new computer skills in the preparation of it. That night, I also had the amazing opportunity to see exclusive slides of the maps of the Trade World Center. From attending a meeting of the GISMO organization a few weeks later, I again had the chance to see how the city of New York faced the emergency of those terrible moments.
Being part of an American employment environment, as with the American Geographical Society staff, and above all living in a city struggling from its wounds has been an exceptional anthropological experience, which has been valuable step toward my goal of learning and being involved in American culture.---Arabella Adamo
Best Fellows Awarded for Research in the AGS Collection
By Marie D. Price
The AGS Collection at the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee is a world-class collection of maps, atlases, photographs, globes, and satellite images. Thanks to a generous gift from Mrs. Helen Best in memory of her late husband, the John S. Best Fellowship is awarded each year so that scholars can receive a stipend to defray the cost of travel and work in the collection for up to four weeks. This year two Best Fellows were granted, one to Scott R. McEathron, Assistant Map and Geography Librarian at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and the other to Dr. Ian R. Manners, Professor of Geography and Middle Eastern Studies at the University of Texas at Austin.
Competition for the Best Fellowship draws scholars from around the world. Last year’s fellows came from Russia and the United Kingdom. A total of six people applied for the 2002 award, up from last year. As in years past, half of the applicants were from outside the United States. The Best Fellowship continues to be a wonderful means to grow the community of scholars that use the AGS Collection in their research.
Mr. McEathron plans to publish a descriptive cartobibliography on the manuscript maps in the AGS Collection, a project he became interested in when he worked as a cataloger for the collection four years ago. He notes that the AGS Collection contains roughly 100 manuscript maps, from Leardo’s Mappamundi of 1452 to charts used by Captain James Cook during his voyages. Yet there are also published maps with important manuscript annotations that should be added to the cartobibliography, such as the navigational charts used by Charles A. Lindbergh when planning his Trans-Atlantic flight and U.S. Civil War maps used by General Silas Casey. When published, McEathron’s work will be a welcomed reference tool for the AGS Collection staff and future researchers.
Nineteenth century maps and atlases of the Middle East are what Dr. Ian Manners plans to examine when he comes to Milwaukee. As part of his long-term project called “Mapping the Middle East”, he is exploring the relationship between geographical knowledge and boundary making in this region. Dr. Manners is especially interested in comparing Ottoman and Western representations of the Eastern Mediterranean. Materials from the collection will be used as part of his book-length manuscript comparing geographical representations constructed by Ottoman and Western mapmakers from the fifteenth through the twentieth centuries. The topic seems especially fitting given that the AGS Collection is housed in the Golda Meir Library at the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee.
The American Geographical Society encourages its members to consult the staff at the AGS Collection with their research questions. The toll free number is 900 558-8993.
SESQUICENTENNIAL HONOR FOR AGS
In a moving display of amity across the waters, the Royal Scottish Geographical Society awarded The Scottish Geographical Medal to the American Geographical Society on October 29, 2001.
The award, which was made to mark the sesquicentennial of AGS, was presented at the annual awards dinner of the Scottish society, held in Barony Hall at the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow. The medal was presented to AGS President William P. Doyle by the President of the RSGS, The Earl of Dalkeith.
Among the other awards given at the dinner were The Livingstone Medal to Robert D. Ballard, the ocean explorer, and The Centenary Medal to Anne Buttimer, current President of the International Geographical Union.
The festive occasion gave Dr. Doyle and his wife Judy the opportunity to meet and compare notes with David Munro, the Executive Director of the RSGS, and Rita Gardner, the Executive Director of the Royal Geographical Society, as well as other leaders of the geographical community in the United Kingdom. Copies of the special issue of FOCUS on Geography devoted to Scotland were given to guests at the dinner. Alistair Cruickshank, one of the two co-authors of that issue and a past president of the RSGS, was among the guests welcoming the Doyles. ---mlb
The AGS WEBWORLD
The AGS website (http://www.amergeog.org) continues to grow daily, with new material,
links to interesting and informative sites, and information about myriad AGS programs. Detailed information about past issues of the Geographical Review is now available, including article titles, abstracts, relevant pictures, and other useful material. The site also details the many exciting AGS-sponsored educational tours available for the 2002 and 2003 season. Visit the travel program page and be tantalized by the exciting itineraries and wonderful locations featured in the AGS tours. The webmaster would like to hear from Ubique readers and AGS Fellows about the website, their geographical activities, or member news. Just use the links on the website to send information to the AGS.
The AGS Webmaster (aka Professor David J. Keeling, Western Kentucky University and AGS Councilor).
TRAVEL PROGRAM: ON THE MOVE!
Now in its second year, the new and improved AGS Travel Program is covering the globe.
More than fifteen spectacular trips are planned for 2002, with tantalizing new itineraries planned for 2003. In addition to familiar and popular itineraries in Europe, the Mediterranean,
and the Middle East, some different places are included in the new trips being offered now: Vietnam, South Georgia, Jordan, Canada, Burma, the Falkland Islands, Iran, Cambodia, Morocco, Indonesia, Bhutan, India, Oman, Muscat, the Dahlak Islands, Laos, Syria, Mongolia, Tunisia, and even Canada and the United States. Most trips continue to be by ship.
There are a number of trips by train, however, including two trans-continental trips in North America: one from Montreal to Vancouver and the other from Washington to Los Angeles.
As usual, a number of trips combine ship with short flights and legs by train. The ships continue to range from 85 to 170 passengers in capacity.
For more of the delicious details, see the Travel Program section of the AGS web site, or contact the AGS Travel Program Office at (888)805-0884 or (603)756-2553.
Address: The AGS Travel Program, P.O. Box 938, Walpole, NH 03608-0938
If you like your landscapes cold, quiet, and austere, welcome to Ellesmere Island, photojournalist Jerry Kobalenko's spiritual (and part time) home, where you needn't bother with thermometers and maps, because you really don't want to know: Horizontal Everest (Soho).
Ellesmere Island is up north: "Think of the little metal disk that sits on top of a globe," says Kobalenko. "Ellesmere is under that." Kobalenko has logged more miles on the island's 76,000 square miles that any known human, with the exception of the Greenlander Nukapinguaq. He is drawn to its "physical beauty, its cold, its nontechnical terrain, its isolation…its unwalked expanses, its alien flavor, all felt like a purer form of my own inner geography." Keeping his observations and historical anecdotes as spare and flinty as the land, he coaxes a very wild portrait from the island, a place where the compass points west, where one can sled along behind dogs under northern lights for weeks at a time, have a fine chance of coming eyeball-to-eyeball with a polar bear, or eat your whisky rather than drink it: just leave it out in the 70-below chill.
Kobalenko delights in following in the footsteps of men and women who went before him. Admiral Peary spent time here, as did a host of lesser lights in the Arctic exploration community, many of them meeting dreadful ends right here---Hans Kruger, Alfred Bjorling, Otto Sverdrup---and Kobalenko likes to search for mementos, which takes him all over the island, one literally and figuratively extreme end to the other. In the process he witnesses rainbow-colored lenticular clouds, white wolves that don't fear humans, "the best-known rock on Ellesmere" (Kobalenko does have a wispy, dry humor), sites where ancient people lived, though "God knows how these early Stone Age cultures survived." Amen. Hard travel in a severe land, and---this is the neat trick---beckoning.
Midnight to the North (Putnam) is a revelatory story of the Inuit woman explorer Tookoolito and how she figured in the Arctic travels of Charles Francis Hall in the mid-19th century, told with a glinting passion by Sheila Nickerson.
The incredible tale of how nineteen people---five of them children and the remainder a multinational assortment of Americans, Scandinavians, English, German, Prussian, Inuit, and an African American---survived six and a half months on an ice floe in the high Arctic after their Polaris expedition to the North Pole ran amuck, forms the crux of this book. But Nickerson is just as fascinated by two elements of that saga: the role of Tookoolito in Hall’s polar exploits and the Arctic itself, a hub of “water in motion and transformation,” spoked by nine seas radiating southward, as there is nowhere else to go.
Nickerson brings to bear the outlandishness of the place---the bizarre and wonderful world in which the heavens let loose the aurora borealis, multiply suns and moons, arrange for halos and fata morgana, the land’s strange and at times terrifying sounds---in ways that illuminate the life of Tookoolito. With little source material to go on, Nickerson sculpts a shadow portrait of Tookoolito, a sense of her world and how she might have acted on the floe. Nickerson is a lapidary writer---it will come as little surprise to readers that she was poet laureate of Alaska---and her tone of understatement inspires a trust in her words, which are often conjectural.
Few will argue with Nickerson’s image of Tookoolito, a woman bringing an Inuit sense of balance to the outrageous circumstances, who translated and hunted, who knew the tricks to survival---from keeping feet warm to keeping lamps burning---who read Hall’s bible but followed her shaman, and more importantly, her own instincts. A probing contribution---literary and historical---of significant consequence and beauty to the story of Arctic exploration and its faint record of the achievements of women.
It is not overmuch to say that the material contained in The Essays of Henry D. Thoreau (North Point Press) is among his best writing, distillates of his preoccupations: nature, walking, how to live in the world---crackingly sharp, like a bright winter morning after a snowfall. The thirteen pieces gathered here by Lewis Hyde include favorites such as "Walking," "Civil Disobedience," and "Natural History of Massachusetts," as well as "Wild Apples," "The Last Days of John Brown," and "Autumnal Tints."
What makes this collection special, since these essays get reprinted regularly enough not to fear being lost, is Hyde's thoughtful introduction. He offers access to the essays by way of Thoreau's prophetic voice, as in the prophet speaking "of things that will be true in the future because they are true in all time." He notes the declarative and redemptive in Thoreau's words, of the spontaneous, imaginative, and intuitive---Thoreau's field of engagement. There are the times when Thoreau goes beyond the ordinary---"My genius makes distinctions which my understanding cannot," he said, where genius equals imagination---and he can be down in the trenches, as in his identification with John Brown. The trick, says Hyde, is to pay attention to the pitch of his voice: their prophetic power comes "quickly back to life for any reader with ears to hear the many registers of their author's voice."
French Spirits (Morrow) is the story of another French country house and its travails in the hands of its new, non-French owners, this time told in a relaxed, unselfconscious, and observant fashion by poet Jeffrey Greene.
In the small Burgundian village of Rogny---in France’s Puisaye, still a raw and wild landscape---Greene and his wife purchase the remains of a presbytery and set about putting it back in shape. This is to be a weekend place---they live in Paris; these folks actually have jobs, and Greene’s takes him back to the U.S. every autumn---so they can’t get too precious about the process of getting the house up to speed, nor so enrapt as to become tedious. And there is just enough exasperation---theirs, not the reader’s---for these folks have lived in France long enough to understand its sense of time.
Greene gets to know his neighbors as humans rather than sideshow curiosities, charismatics and nuisances together: “farmers, woodsmen, artisans, widows, thieves, and drunks,” the last in honor of Coco, an alcoholic and also “the tutelary spirit of the presbytery”. Running through the story are the happenings---enough of them unidyllic as to make it real---that make up a life: big occasions, like Greene and Mary’s wedding or when his mother comes to live with them; smaller ones, like their maneuverings with a marquis to purchase a prayer path of ancient hornbeams bordering their property, or the purchase of furniture of suspicious provenance.
Greene is also attentive to the land, discerning its seasonal moods, mooching along its river, getting informed about the wildlife, even adopting and nursing a robin-like bird he names Charles, which gladdeningly returns to the wild. There is always something afoot in these pages, but the atmosphere is sweet torpor as Greene pursues an infusion of pleasure, a modest slice of history, an honest sense of place.
A discomforting collection of stories of people in extremely straitened circumstances, stranded and often with nothing to eat but their deceased comrades can be found in Survive (Thunder’s Mouth), assembled by Nate Hardcastle.
Among these sixteen stories are a few fictional pieces, little excerpted gems from Twain, Defoe, Melville, and a short story from Jack London, of cannibals and shipwreck. They serve to lighten the otherwise dreadful load borne by the other works, nonfictional accounts of surviving horrible ordeals, some more, some less convincing, but all enthralling in their misery.
There is material here from Virginia Reed Murphy on her experiences with the Donner Party, though she skirts the cannibalism issue, and Tobias Schneebaum recounts an episode in the Peruvian wild in which he partakes of a piece of a rival warrior's heart, heavily charged with Schneebaum's sexual imagery and not the more persuasive for it. Leonard Clark also went to the Peruvian Amazon, back in the 1940s in search of El Dorado, and wound up barely escaping from a group of ecstatic fighters, lost in a world of sorcery that Clark fabulously describes, although other members of his party were not so fortunate.
The tales of being lost at sea are the most finely crafted and the most disturbing. Steven Callahan was adrift for 76 days and even in this excerpt he manages to catch the cadence of his days, struggling to catch fish and collect water and keep his mind from unhinging. The story that leaves the most terrible impression is Louise Longo's. Sailing with her husband and 5-year-old daughter, their boat sinks. First her husband dies, then a freighter comes but can't get her and her daughter aboard, then, the seawater lapping on the lifeboat's floor, her daughter dies, "all at once, before I had time to see death arrive." Rattling stories, stories that repel and attract the reader like natural forces, dreadful and irresistible.
Sara Wheeler has written a nimble and discerning biography of Apsley Cherry-Garrard---Cherry (Random House)---who wrote one of, if not the finest book on polar exploration.
It comes as a shock to learn that Wheeler’s in the first biography of Cherry-Garrard, considering the adoration in which he is held in polar circles. His Worst Journey in the World, chronicling his three years in the Antarctic with Robert Falcon Scott, is routinely put forward as a peerless example of adventure writing. And Wheeler has done a remarkable job, working with a very scanty amount of primary source materials, in conjuring a sense of the man from what little is left, giving readers a personality to go with Cherry-Garrard’s detachment, irony, and melancholy.
Cherry-Garrard was privileged, as someone with a name like that must be, reared on great English estates with rooks and gardeners and manor houses old enough to have medieval architectural remnants. Though he was never comfortable with the swells and the bloods, he harbored a respect for tradition and ritual, and had his share of “ambition, single-mindedness, and self-reliance.” Which led him into the arms of Scott and the push to the South Pole, with its disastrous consequences, for which Cherry-Garrard assumed a self-imposed burden of responsibility.
Wheeler had access to Cherry-Garrard’s widow’s memory to try to decipher the post-polar man, and she convincingly draws a portrait of someone ruing the changes in the pastoral landscape, the position of the gentry, and deeply depressed by not just his many illnesses, but by the dreadful consequences of war and economic depression, then war again, leading to a life that feels an extended “elegiac melancholy.” Wheeler doesn’t try to gloss the silences in the historic record, yet her image of Cherry-Garrard isn’t fragmentary, but rather crazed like an old mirror or the polar ice, a telling aggregate.
by Peter Lewis