A large gathering of Yakuts link elbows and dance in a circle at a festival in Siberia in 1902.
Yakuts dancing at Ysakh festival, Siberia, 1902 (detail). Image #1803 American Museum of Natural History Library


Location: The North American Pacific Northwest and Siberian Pacific Coast
Dates: 1897-1902
Format: Wax Cylinders
Accession Numbers: 54-149-F, 54-128-F, 54-127-F, 54-139-F

The Jesup North Pacific Expedition is an excellent example of philanthropic and anthropological efforts to learn more about indigenous peoples at the turn of the 20th century. The expedition was funded, in full, by Morris Jesup, president of the American Museum of Natural History. Jesup made his fortune in banking and railroads and eventually focused his philanthropic  efforts on cultural preservation. He was the president of the American Museum of Natural History for 27 years, until his death in 1908. Jesup took a chance on young anthropologist Franz Boas who, after being hired at the museum, wasted no time in asking Jesup to fund a grand expedition to the Northwest which would investigate the origin of humans in North America by way of the Bering Strait. Boas enlisted a diverse ethnographic team to research both the Northwestern Territories of Canada and the Coast of Siberia.

The expedition, which lasted from 1897 to 1902, was deemed a great success, even though the data that was collected had little to do with the original research goals pitched to Morris Jesup. From the beginning, Boas and his team were not particularly interested in establishing the movement of ancient humans to North America, rather these ethnographers used their resources to document and collect information about indigenous peoples on both sides of the North Pacific region. Many of the Russian ethnographers working in Siberia, including Waldemar Bogoras and Waldemar Jochelson, faced generally poor conditions and life-threatening situations in their pursuit of traditional culture, while Boas and his North American team faced their own ethical challenges and competitive struggles with other institutions that were trying to capitalize on the work of the Jesup Expedition.

The Jesup North Pacific Expedition was one of the most important anthropological expeditions of its time, and is documented at the ATM through four collections from both sides of the Pacific Ocean.  Siberian Coastal peoples are recorded in a collection of 132 cylinders (54-149-F) by Waldemar Bogoras and Waldemar Jochelson from 1901 to 1902. The recordings in this collection are diverse and include Koryak, Tungus, Yakut, and Chuckhee tales, various folk music, and shaman songs. The North American side is represented by three collections. Two of the collections were recorded in 1898 in Washington state by Livingston Farrand and correspond to essays in “Memoirs of the American Museum of Natural History: Volume 4” about the Quinault (54-128-F) and Quileute (54-127-F) tribes. The fourth collection (54-139-F), recorded by Franz Boas and James Teit in 1897, includes 43 cylinders from the Thompson River Indians of British Columbia.

The Jesup North Pacific Expedition recordings are the property of the American Museum of Natural History, but are preserved and made accessible by the Archives of Traditional Music through an agreement with the museum. AMNH holds manuscripts as well as a large collection of photographs from the expedition which are available online. The phonograph cylinders were digitized by Indiana University’s Media Digitization and Preservation Initiative with funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Sample: Tungus; Tungus shaman song with animal imitations. Russia, Siberia, Yakutskaya, Kolyma. ca 1901-1902. [03:16]. Recorded by Waldemar Bogoras (1865 - 1936) and Waldemar Jochelson (1855 - 1937) (54-149-F, SCY 4580).


Highlight Contributor: Ross Brillhart