The Journey Continues

The College Commemorates the Bicentennial of the Lewis and Clark Expedition

Nearly 200 years ago, Meriwether Lewis and William Clark embarked on an epic journey into an unknown wilderness.

President Thomas Jefferson commissioned the two army captains in 1803 to explore the uncharted West and find a navigable water route to the Pacific Ocean. Although they found no such “Northwest Passage,” their 7,680-mile, 28-month journey yielded vast new knowledge that inspired a century of westward exploration and defined a nation. Lewis and Clark’s Corps of Discovery surveyed an unfamiliar landscape, documented hundreds of native plants and animals, and encountered more than four dozen Indian tribes—many of whom had never before laid eyes on a white person.

Theirs was a journey of self-discovery, of first encounters, of unprecedented exploration. Today that journey continues at Lewis & Clark College, where an ambitious, multidisciplinary roster of events will commemorate the journey’s 200-year anniversary and highlight the College’s varied and ample resources on the expedition. Scholars will delve into topics ranging from the legacies of the American Enlightenment to the legal doctrine of discovery to the post-expedition plight of native cultures through exhibits, lectures, symposia, and other forums.


During the early 19th century, expedition-related books were well received abroad. A digest of Patrick Gass' Journal appeared as Volume 4...

“As a leading undergraduate center for the historical study of American values and home to the most extensive collection of expedition-related writings in the world, Lewis & Clark College is uniquely suited to examine the context and consequences of the expedition,” says President Michael Mooney.

The events at the College and elsewhere will commemorate a seminal event in American history—one that continues to capture the imagination of Americans through literature, film, travel, and popular culture. To honor its lasting achievements, the 2003-06 Lewis and Clark Expedition bicentennial will be marked around the country by historic reenactments, artistic performances, museum exhibits, and other commemorative events.

“The College will fill a special niche by examining the intellectual precedents and legacies of the expedition,” says Sherry Manning, director of bicentennial programs.

The College’s events will focus on a yearly theme, beginning in fall 2003 with The Eve of Discovery: The World in 1803, and continuing with Encounters: The Expedition En Route to the Pacific (fall 2004 to spring 2005); Empire of the Columbia: The Expedition in the Pacific Northwest (fall 2005 to spring 2006); and Legacies and Consequences: The Significance of the Expedition (June 2006 to September 2006). These themes will connect multiple academic disciplines and anchor a rich assortment of learning opportunities for students, faculty, alumni, and the general public.

“Our commemoration will be filled with educational takeaways,” says Stephen Dow Beckham, Dr. Robert B. Pamplin Jr. Professor of History and chair of the College’s Bicentennial Planning Committee. “Each activity has clearly articulated educational objectives.”

Undergirding the College’s efforts is its unmatched library of expedition-related literature. With four private collections acquired in the last two decades, Lewis & Clark College has the most complete collection of printed materials on the Lewis and Clark Expedition ever assembled. In addition to the only copy of the Coues- Anderson manuscript—as close to an exact replica of the original Lewis and Clark journals as could possibly be imagined—and a rare first-edition set of the Biddle-Allen journal editions, the archive includes surreptitious and apocryphal works that confirm widespread interest in the expedition along with maps and editions of books carried by Corps of discovery members.

“There is no better repository of Lewis and Clark–related materials,” says humanities Scholar in Residence Clay S. Jenkinson, a leading authority on Jefferson and the expedition. “The collection is world-class, and there will be scholars coming from all over the country—even all over the world—to take advantage of it.”

The most interesting pieces will be displayed around the country as part of a traveling exhibit, The Literature of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, assembled by Beckham and Doug Erickson, College archivist and head of special collections. The exhibit will debut January 14 at the Thomas Jefferson Library in Charlottesville, Virginia, where it will spend three months before moving to Philadelphia, Louisville, and other cities.

“Lewis & Clark College is perhaps better equipped than any other institution in the world to assemble a print exhibit on expedition-related literature,” says Beckham, a noted historian of the American West. The exhibit will show the worldwide interest at that time in the North American interior, the era’s fascination with global exploration, and the then-popular genre of exotic travel literature.

Related to the exhibit is the College’s forthcoming book, The Literature of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, a bibliography with interpretive essays, coauthored by Beckham, Erickson, Jeremy Skinner, assistant archivist, and Paul Merchant, editorial assistant. The latter three, all special collections and archives staff, also will rely on the College’s wealth of material to publish a weekly bicentennial column, “200 Years Ago This Week,” which will offer contextualized quotes from the expedition journals as well as photos and maps. The column will be published on the College’s bicentennial programs Web site,, to be launched in January.

The on-campus commemoration begins in September 2003, when the College hosts the first of four annual symposia. Each three-day event will open with a nationally known keynote speaker and will include a half-day session designed to help schoolteachers apply expedition material to their classrooms. Jenkinson, who is helping design the symposia, says by exploring intellectual themes and breaking new academic ground, officials familiar with nationwide commemorative events think that “Lewis & Clark College has a very good chance of being the class act of the observance.”

Other components of the College’s bicentennial commemoration include:

  • Sponsorship of the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry (OMSI) showing of Lewis & Clark: Great Journey West, a large-format National Geographic film currently showing in Omnimax theaters around the country. College officials also are exploring partnering with OMSI on one or more exhibits on expedition-related science.
  • Integration of the expedition into the Inventing America first-year core course, with readings, papers, and special lectures.
  • An annual five-day summer institute, administered by the College’s Graduate School of Education in partnership with the Oregon Council for the Humanities, which will provide teachers with the opportunity to work with primary source documents and create grade-appropriate curricula on the expedition story in the Pacific Northwest. 
  • Three one-day conferences hosted by the School of Law in 2004, 2005, and 2006, focusing on the doctrine of discovery, the rule of capture in natural resources law, and sustainable resource management.
  • Successive fall exhibitions by the College’s Ronna and Eric Hoffman Gallery of Contemporary Art on mapping, American Indians, rivers, and journals.
  • An expanded Albany Quadrangle, featuring a great hall and several smaller meeting rooms, to host many of the lectures, symposia, and exhibits scheduled during the bicentennial.
  • A possible collaboration with the Oregon Historical Society that would bring a traveling Lewis and Clark exhibit to schoolchildren throughout the Northwest.

Jenkinson, who sees the Lewis and Clark story as a metaphor for higher education’s intellectual journeys, discoveries, and encounters, says he hopes the College’s bicentennial commemoration will lead to stronger links to its namesakes. In 1942, the names of two pioneering explorers seemed a good fit to leaders of a transformed and relocated institution.

“Is the College appropriately named Lewis & Clark College?” asks Jenkinson. “I think it should be our goal to achieve integration so that the name of the College truly informs its mission.”

 —by Dan Sadowsky