Symposium to Unveil the World in 1800

Symposium to Unveil the World in 1800

Napoleon was wielding power in Europe, Beethoven was composing symphonies, John Dalton was formulating atomic theory, and Ralph Waldo Emerson was flexing his lungs as a newborn.


Welcome to the world of the early 19th century.


In 1803, another event of some consequence was under way: the Lewis and Clark Expedition. Under the able leadership of Meriwether Lewis and William Clark, the Corps of Discovery had started its 7,680-mile journey into the uncharted American West.


Today we still marvel at the Corps’ accomplishments as we commemorate the bicentennial of the Lewis and Clark Expedition (2003-06).


Fall Symposium: September 25-27

Each fall during the commemoration of the bicentennial, the College will offer a symposium organized around a particular theme. The symposia are designed to illu-minate the Lewis and Clark Expedition in new ways, by placing it in the wider context of the explorations of the age, the philosophy and agenda of the enlightenment, and the Europeanization of the planet.


The first symposium, titled Unveiling the World in 1800, will be held September 25 through 27. It will set the stage for the expedition by surveying the world and the worldviews of 1800 and by exploring these questions:


  • What sorts of science, demographics, economic goals, and Enlightenment ideals led President Thomas Jefferson to seek authorization for the expedition?


  • What was the state of the world west of the Appalachian Mountains during this period?


  • How had American Indian cultures—even those that had so far lived without actual Euro-American contact—already been affected by European goods, systems, disease, and ideas?


  • What was the state of the North American environment in 1800?


  • What did men like Jefferson think the American West was—and what did they wish it to become?


Also each fall, the College will mount a related exhibition in the Ronna and Eric Hoffman Gallery of Contemporary Art. From September 4 through October 19, the gallery will featureArtists and Maps: Cartography as a Means of Knowing.


Featured Speakers

Award-winning writer Dava Sobel will deliver the symposium’s keynote address, “Moons and Measures: How Explorers Found Their Way,” at the Newmark Theatre in Portland on September 25.


Sobel, a former New York Times science reporter, has written more than 10 books. Galileo’s Daughter: A Historical Memoir of Science, Faith, and Love (Walker, 1999) fulfilled her ambition to plumb Galileo’s life and times and his relationship with his daughter, Suor Maria Celeste. Sobel’s book Longitude: The True Story of a Lone Genius Who Solved the Greatest Scientific Problem of His Time (Walker, 1995) was an international bestseller. It tells the story of John Harrison, who in the mid-1700s built an accurate chronometer, or timepiece, that could cope with the rocking motion of a boat and resist the great range of temperatures mariners might encounter on a long voyage.


As the Corps of Discovery ventured into the uncharted West, members followed Thomas Jefferson’s principal charge: to ascertain the latitude and longitude of every important feature of the landscape through which they traveled. Latitude was easily determined back then, but an exact method for calculating longitude remained elusive.


“Although neither Lewis nor Clark was mentioned in my bookLongitude, ” says Sobel, “they employed and depended upon the method developed during the 18th-century quest to establish accurate positions on land and at sea. As a result, Clark’s map of the expedition route, published in 1814, anchored itself on longitude determinations made by others.”


Other featured speakers include William H. Goetzmann, author of Exploration and Empire: The Explorer and the Scientist in the Winning of the American West; Elliott West, author of The Contested Plains: Indians, Goldseekers, and the Rush to Colorado; and David Peck, author of Or Perish in the Attempt: Wilderness Medicine in the Lewis and Clark Expedition.


A number of College faculty members will participate as well, including Stephen Dow Beckham, Dr. Robert B. Pamplin Jr. Professor of History, and Clay Jenkinson, humanities scholar in residence.



The event with Dava Sobel at the Newmark Theatre costs $15 for general admission, and $10 for students and seniors. Service charges may apply. Tickets are available through TicketsWest (503-224-8499) or the Portland Center for the Performing Arts (503-248-4335). The cost of the symposium is $25 for Friday and Saturday (free to Lewis & Clark students).