Jesup North Pacific Expedition (1897-1902)

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1897 - 1902

Biographical or Historical Note

The Jesup North Pacific Expedition (1897-1902) was sponsored by the American Museum of Natural History in New York City to investigate the links between the people and the cultures of the Pacific Northwest Coast of North America and the Eastern Coast of Siberia. Ostensibly the goal of the expedition was to prove the Bering Strait Migration theory which postulated that the North American continent was populated by the migration of Asian peoples across the Bering Strait. However, Franz Boas, the leader of the expedition was more concerned with documenting the cultures on both sides of the Northern Pacific that he and many other anthropologists feared were soon to be lost to colonialism and acculturation.

Because many northern peoples had been decimated by disease and were under pressure to assimilate to Russian or North American society, members of the Expedition also believed that they were making a final record of vanishing cultures.

With a sense of urgency, they observed social practices, made wax-cylinder recordings of folktales and oral literature for linguistic analysis, collected artifacts, amassed data on physical "types," and made numerous photographs, producing a detailed record of life in the Greater North Pacific Region one hundred years ago. Although the expedition did not yield a precise ethno-history of the first Americans, it provided a wealth of data on variations and connections between populations on both sides of Pacific that scholars still draw on today. This record is an equally valuable resource for northern peoples today.

Expedition scientists systematically studied the cultural, racial, and linguistic attributes of peoples living in the Greater North Pacific Region. This huge area which extends like a giant arc from the Northwest Coast of North America to the Bering Strait and along the Pacific Coast of Siberia to the cultural borderlands of China, Korea, and Japan.

Morris K. Jesup, then president of the Museum, financed the expedition. On the North American Side, Boas, with Livingston Farrand and James Teit, studied the Lillooet, Shuswap, and Chilcotin of British Columbia. Teit would also work with the Nlaka'pamux. At the village of Bella Coola, Boas joined his principal assistant and collaborator, George Hunt, to work with Nuxalk informants and Kwakwaka'wakw (Kwakiutal) texts. In the expedition's second year, he visited Alert Bay to continue his life-long research with Hunt on Kwakwala'wakw culture. John R. Swanton researched the Haida of the Queen Charlotte Islands.

The Siberian team covered a far larger area under much more difficult conditions. Berthold Laufer studied the Nivkh, Evenk, and Ainu of Sakhalin Island. He then crossed over to the Siberian mainland to study the Nanai and related peoples of the Amur River region. Waldemar Bogoras began his research on Chukotka at the mouth of the Anadyr River, spending four months with the Chukchi who made their summer camps along the seacoast. Leaving his wife behind to continue expedition work in Marinsky Post, Bogoras spent the next year journeying through a territory ranging from Indian Point and Saint Lawrence Island in the northeast to Kamchatka in the southwest.

Traveling mostly by dogsled, he continued his research in communities of Chukchi, Even, and Asiatic Eskimo. Waldemar Jochelson and Dina Jochelson-Brodskaya worked with the Maritime Koryak of Kamchatka and the Yukagir in the vicinity of the Kolyma River, traveling by sled, river raft, or on foot when a navigable river unexpectedly froze. On their westward journey home, the Jochelsons traveled through Yakutia, where they researched and collected from the Sakha. Correspondence from the field gives a vivid picture of the conditions under which these several scientists worked.


    American Museum of Natural History Library, "A Brief History of the Jesup North Pacific Expedition," accessed December 19, 2017,
    Library of Congress Name Authority File: n80035873

Related Corporate, Personal, and Family Names

American Museum of Natural History
Berthold Laufer (1874-1934)
Berthold Laufer researched and collected among the peoples of Sakhalin Island--the Nivkhi (Gilyak), Evenk (Tungus ), and Ainu--and the Amur River Region--the Nanai (Goldi) and Evenk.
Buxton, Norman G., 1872-1947
Dina Jochelson-Brodskaya (1862-1941)
Dina Lazareevna Jochelson-Brodskay a medical scholar, worked with her husband, Waldemar Jochelson, in Siberia. Brodskaya handled all the physical measurements and medical work and most of the photography during the fieldwork conducted with her husband. She used some of her anthropological measurements for her doctoral dissertation at the University of Zurich and also wrote on the women of northeastern Siberia.
Franz Boas (1858 - 1942)
Franz Boas organized the Jesup Expedition as an ambitious comprehensive project on the cultures and history of the North Pacific region focused on the question of human migration from Asia across the Bering Strait. Between 1897 and 1903 Boas secured funding, fielded research teams, and over the next three decades, edited and supervised Expedition publications in addition to his other writing.
George Hunt (1854-1933)
George Hunt, the child of a Tlingit mother and an English Hudson's Bay Company father, was raised in the Kwakwaka'wkw community of Fort Rupert. Much of Boas's Kwakwaka'wkw research depended on Hunt's knowledge of the language and community. Boas trained him to transcribe Kwakwaka'wkw texts. He was also Boas's principal collector and made many remarkable purchases for the museum.
Harlan I. Smith (1872-1940)
Harlan I. Smith was an archeologist on the staff of the American Museum of Natural History at the time of the Jesup Expedition.
James Teit (1864-1922)
James Teit, a Scotsman, was married to Lucy Antko, a Nlaka'pamux. He impressed Boas with his detailed knowledge of Northwest Coast Peoples. Teit wrote on the Nlaka'pamux, Lillooet, and Shuswap groups.
John R. Swanton (1873-1958)
John R. Swanton, who was to produce a prodigious number of publications on the North American Indians, participated in the Jesup Expedition early in his career while a member of the Bureau of American Ethnology, with the Bureau and the American Museum dividing both the financing and the information that he collected on the Haida.
Livingston Farrand (1867-1939)
Livingston Farrand of Columbia University accompanied Boas on the initial thrust of the Expedition in 1897 and subsequently wrote on the Chilcotin and Quinault and on the basketry designs of the Salish.
Morris K. Jesup (1830-1908)
Morris K. Jesup financed the expedition which bears his name, the most ambitious American ethnological expedition of all time.
Waldemar Bogoras (1865-1936)
Recruited to the Jesup Expedition, Bogoras worked among the Chukchi, Even, Maritime Koryak, and Yupik. He also collected material from "Russified Natives" as examples of cultural borrowing and assimilation. His expedition publication, The Chukchi, is considered an ethnographic classic.
Waldemar Jochelson (1855-1937)
Waldemar Jochelson was in charge of the Siberian leg of the Jesup North Pacific Expedition. Under Expedition auspices, he worked with Even, Koryak, Yukaghir (including "Russified Natives"), and Yakut.

Related Resources

Waldemar Jochelson collection, 1899-1979 (bulk 1899-1942)
Manuscript collection consisting of correspondence, clippings, photographs and memorablila. Correspondence with members of the Jesup North Pacific expedition. AMNH Library, Mss .D66
The Thompson Indians of British Columbia. Memoirs of the AMNH; volume 2, part 4, 1900
Electronic version available on AMNH Library Digital Repository,
Jesup North Pacific Expedition [image] collection
Contains images from the expedition and artifacts collected. Curated in AMNH Library's Digital Special Collections website using material sourced from various analog collections.

Written by: Iris Lee
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