Rare Book Monthly

Book Catalogue Reviews - November - 2002 Issue

Review Article for Rivers, Edens, Empires: Lewis & Clark and the Revealing of America

Lewis & clark track map

Samuel Lewis after William Clark, 1810.


By Julie Carleton

As the official depository for Jefferson’s papers and several of Clark’s maps, the Library of Congress is a fitting place to present an exhibit based on the Lewis and Clark expedition. Therefore, it is no surprise that it has formed a new exhibit based on the Lewis and Clark expedition. This online exhibit is called Rivers, Edens, Empires: Lewis & Clark and the Revealing of America. It currently serves as a preview for a larger exhibit, which is opening in July 2003. In addition to Lewis and Clark, it will document the expeditions of explorers such as John Fremont, Stephen Long, Charles Wilkes, and Zebulon Pike. Objects and images were borrowed from such renowned institutions as the Philosophical Society, Harvard University and the Smithsonian Institution.

The title Rivers, Edens, Empires is based on Jefferson’s hopes for the discovery of new edens (and eventual empire) in the American West. This exhibit presents a variety of media from the events surrounding the Lewis and Clark expedition: maps, manuscripts, paintings and three-dimensional objects. In summary, these materials represent some of the events that formed and were later a result of the Lewis and Clark expedition. A generous range of materials from the expedition is included, from the letters and speeches of Thomas Jefferson to the drawings of William Clark, to a Native American peace pipe.

Captain Meriwether Lewis and William Clark led the Corps of Discovery from 1803 to 1806 in perhaps the most famous western expedition in American history. Upon acquiring the Louisiana Territory, Jefferson had been eager to find waterways, natural resources and fertile lands. Lewis was directed by Jefferson to find navigable rivers from the Missouri to the Pacific Ocean.

As the Corps of Discovery was led by the Missouri River, so the viewer is guided by the through the exhibit by images of rivers and waterways and the American West. Navigated equally by text and image, Rivers, Edens, Empires is divided into 23 sections, which sequentially guide the viewer through the events that surrounded this monumental journey. Text surrounds each image in comprehensive coverage of its particular historical context. The images can be enlarged to full screen size. In addition, the colors used for this exhibit appropriately harmonize with the tones of aged papers and maps.

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