Voyages of Discovery: Essays on the Lewis and Clark Expedition
New Book Explores Real Meaning of Lewis and Clark
Epic as the journey of Lewis and Clark was in the annals of exploration, getting there was only half the story.
A collection of essays edited and introduced by James. P. Ronda, one of the foremost experts on Lewis and Clark, explores the origins, mystery and consequences of the adventure that forever changed the face and course of the United States.
Voyages of Discovery: Essays on the Lewis and Clark Expedition , published by the Montana Historical Society Press, conveniently gathers the best and most thought-provoking essays on the Corps of Discovery under one cover.
The book already is being praised by many experts including Ken Burns, director of the popular PBS documentary Lewis and Clark: The Journey of the Corps of Discovery, and Dayton Duncan, author of Lewis and Clark: The Journey of the Corps of Discovery .
"Finally, in one place, we have a sense of the remarkable breadth of knowledge Jim Ronda, John Allen, Gary Moulton and other Lewis and Clark scholars bring to this immensely important moment in American history. All of us who follow along the trail are indebted to them," Burns said.
Divided into six sections—Genesis, The Corps of Discovery, The Journey, Mutual Discovery, Homecoming, and Looking Back—the essays explore a myriad of topics: the reasons for the Expedition, geographic knowledge before Lewis and Clark, how Native Americans interpreted their encounters with the captains, the development of an esprit de corps among the permanent party, expedition science, Lewis and Clark's reception on their return, and the reasons for the public's continuing fascination with the Corps of Discovery.
"Like the journey itself, this book provides new discoveries around each bend and proves once again how endlessly fascinating—and multi-faceted—this important American story is," Duncan said.
"Here are scholarly insights on everything from the explorers' scientific equipment to their relations with Indian tribes, from the two captains' intelligent leadership to the remarkably diverse community that crossed the continent with them," Duncan said. "A sprinkling of primary documents—from Jefferson's initial instructions to the seventeen (!) toasts raised in the expedition's honor upon their return—adds a delightful extra dimension."
The essays focus on the humanity of the expedition. "No village on the move could represent more fully the astounding diversity of American life than the Corps of Discovery," Ronda writes. "For them, as for us, the journey was to discover not only the land but themselves and each other."
From the songs expedition members used to lift their spirits to those of the Native Americans who welcomed them, from the excitement with which the public greeted Lewis and Clark on their return to the difficulty that same public had in understanding exactly what the Corps had accomplished, Voyages of Discovery paints a picture that commands respect.
"In our dreams and in our imaginations we can be like them, walking the same earth and feeling the same sense of wonder in discovery," Ronda writes. "In the Lewis and Clark journey we find an accessible past, one that—unlike space exploration—neither demands special training nor requires an esoteric language."
With five maps, twenty illustrations, and an extensive bibliography, the 368-page book sells for $19.95 in paperback. It can be found at local bookstores or ordered from the Montana Historical Society Museum Store by calling 1-800-243-9900 (shipping additional.)