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The Harriman Alaska Expedition Retraced

A century ago, railroad tycoon Edward H. Harriman, one of the most powerful men in America, decided to take a little vacation - in the form of one of the most ambitious scientific expeditions the world had ever seen.

He invited the top authorities in the country: geologists, botanists, foresters, ornithologists, paleontologists, zoologists, painters, photographers, writers - at least two of each, like a private Noah's Ark of knowledge - to join him on a 9000-mile exploration of the coast of Alaska. Many were famous -- John Muir, John Burroughs, and George Bird Grinnell -- and a few were still obscure - the young painter Louis Agassiz Fuertes and the unknown photographer Edward Curtis. For many of these brilliant men, the journey would alter their destiny.

Over a century later, Thomas Litwin of Smith College organized an expedition to follow the path of the original one. Again, it was stocked with a constellation of scientific brilliance, though this time they were both men and women. It was called the Harriman Expedition Retraced, and its purpose was simple: to go to exactly the same places and see what the effects of the 20th century had wrought on Alaska. 'What we are doing,' said historian William Cronon, 'is seeing this landscape at two moments in time. We're seeing it through that expedition in 1899 and seeing it at the beginning of the 21st Century and we're asking, 'What's the change? What are the dynamics of history that have brought us here, and what do they tell us about where we are headed?'

The film uses both expeditions as a vehicle for understanding subtle as well as dramatic changes in Alaska's environment, economy, and society. While thoroughly researching very specific and specialized issues that surface in Alaska's history - such as the Exxon-Valdez oil spill, the separation of kinfolk during the Cold War, the prosperity of Alaskan natives, and the repatriation of indigenous artifacts - the film also addresses the boom and bust of industry, global warming, endangered species, the state of natural resources, and the influx of tourism to the pristine edges of the world.

It was produced by the award-winning team of Larry Hott and Diane Garey of Florentine Films/Hott Productions, Inc., producers of 'The Boyhood of John Muir', 'The Wilderness Idea', 'The Adirondacks', and 'Wild by Law'. It presents a unique look at 100 years of change in Alaska, and in American attitudes towards the environment and indigenous peoples.

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