Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Discovering Lewis & Clark from the Air

I had a nice chat at the WHA with some scholars of the American West and we agreed how delighted we were that the L&C Bicentennial is at an end. I cannot imagine a more over-rated historical event. They weren't important and the canonization of what should be an obscure event distracts us from more important themes in Western History. On the other hand--some amazing scholarship, teaching and web resources came out of the anniversary hysteria, which is all to the good. And also some stuff that is just plain fun.

Discovering Lewis & Clark from the Air
is a web presentation of a book by Jim Wark and Joseph Mussulman. The later of course is the Producer and Principal Writer at Discovering Lewis & Clark, by far the best of untold millions of L&C sites on the web. The idea of the book is simple enough: Our dynamic duo took flew a small plane over the route of the Corps of Discovery and took aerial photos of places along the trail. I am so jealous.

The principal impression one get from these photos is how completely the landscape of 200 years ago has vanished--dammed up, paved over and plowed under. The rivers of Lewis and Clark's time (and it was mostly a river journey) are drowned under the slack water of dozens of dams, and where they are not drowned they are often channelized, straightened and otherwise "improved." So it is no surprise that many of the best photos here are of the mountain crossing: Beaverhead Rock, Tobacco Root Mountains, Bitterroot Mountains.

This would be a good resource for a class about Lewis and Clark or western exploration. A possible assignment could focus on the changes in the landscape between the explorer's time and our own.

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