• Distant vistas: Bradford Washburn, expeditionary science and landscape, 1930-1960

      Sfraga, Michael P.; Pearson, Roger (1997)
      Bradford Washburn is primarily known for his Alaskan mountaineering accomplishments and mountain photography. Between 1930 and 1960, Washburn led 19 expeditions to Alaska and Canada's Yukon Territory on which he surveyed, photographed and mapped some of the last unexplored mountain regions in North America. This study, however, analyzes Washburn's lesser known role in directing interdisciplinary field research involving high altitude physics, glaciology, cartography and geology, which he accomplished by linking such disparate entities as the motion picture industry, geographic organizations, the U.S. military, and prominent U.S. scientists. Washburn's career can be viewed as an intersection of nineteenth and twentieth century geographic traditions. He combined emerging technologies with new and innovative vehicles of exploration to more accurately study geological, geographical and environmental phenomenon in mountainous regions. During the Second Great Age of Discovery, which began with the Renaissance, explorers ventured into the heart of the world's continents by utilizing various vehicles of exploration such as canoes and pack animals. This style continued into the middle of the twentieth century when the present day Third Great Age of Discovery, characterized by the use of remote sensing platforms and space age satellites, allows for a more accurate geographic study and inventory of our planet. Washburn's interdisciplinary field work reflects the fundamental goals and patterns of expeditionary science found in both ages of discovery. In this study three important themes are examined: Washburn's role as innovative field scientist; geography as a disciplinary bridge; and the work of the independent geographer. By analyzing Washburn's work in the pre World War Two and Cold War era, we gain an understanding of the ways in which expeditionary science was funded and carried out within two fundamentally different political and economic frameworks. Moreover, this study provides an important window into our understanding of interdisciplinary earth sciences in the mid twentieth century. It also explores the often unappreciated link between environmental science and geography in the American context.