Re-Thinking Geographical Exploration as Intelligence
Among geographers and historians of ideas there has been increased attention in recent years to the processes brought to bear in the construction of knowledge about distant places by the Western powers, particularly during two periods, the Age of Exploration and the Enlightenment. Producers of geographic and cartographic knowledge – that is, authors and compilers of travel accounts, atlases, maps, and other geographic texts – were not always direct participants in voyages of exploration. Consequently, the ways in which trust and credibility were established between those gathering geographic information and those consuming it have come under scrutiny.1 Moreover, scholars have observed that the texts produced through geographical exploration amount to “power-knowledge,” after Foucault, who posits that bodies of knowledge are necessarily tied to systems of social control.2 Maps are one such form of power-knowledge,3 but so are virtually any texts produced through geographical exploration from the late sixteenth century through the end of the Enlightenment, “when much of the world was made visible for the first time to educated Europeans.”4 Common themes in the recent work on the construction of geographical knowledge through exploration have been the related concepts of vision and observation and an epistemology of trust and witness. Dorinda Outram states this succinctly by noting that, “The essence of the explorer’s claim was to be trusted as an eyewitness to a world that few or no others had seen.”5
Surely another form of knowledge that accords closely with Foucauldian power-knowledge is intelligence. Although Western specialists during the Cold War assigned intelligence a variety of definitions that are both broad and vague, the contemporary understanding seems uniformly to involve information sought by a state and used to advance some state objective.6 Themes emerge from these definitions that are similar to those that undergird the production of knowledge through geographical exploration: vision, witness, and observation. Frequently described as the “second oldest profession,”7 intelligence-collection in its most basic form is reconnaissance of territory, especially of territory associated with an enemy. Ancient examples of reconnaissance are appealed to in twentieth century writing about the intelligence profession.8 Examples of this include The Art of War, a text credited to ancient Chinese military theorist Sun-Tzu, which describes how informants should be dispatched to unknown territories to collect and report firsthand descriptions of enemies; Old Testament accounts of Moses, who, according to Numbers 13, sent men to explore the land of Canaan and return to give an eye-witness description of the territory and its people and what sort of adversaries they might be; or accounts in Joshua 2 of men, sent secretly by Joshua into the city of Jericho, who were to observe and bring back firsthand reports, so that battle against the city could be conducted more effectively. These and other illustrations from various ancient settings (ancient Greek and Roman conquests also offer many vignettes used by Dulles) provide the modern intelligence profession with an epistemology of reconnaissance, which is the term I assign to the assumption that truth can be ascertained through the direct observation and description of the traveler or dispatched informant. The logic of this epistemology is understood to speak for itself, and nowhere does the literature of the contemporary intelligence profession contain any critical examination of these epistemological assumptions.
It is my intent in this essay to argue that because intelligence collection and geographical discovery share the same epistemology of reconnaissance, it is possible to rethink geographical exploration generally as a type of intelligence collection activity. I will point to several instances from the “Age of Reconnaissance,” a term often applied to the period during roughly the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries of concentrated geographical and navigational discoveries by the West,9 as instructive. Additionally, I will note that as exploration continued during the Enlightenment, and as the aim of systematic advancement of scientific knowledge replaced religious aims to stand alongside economic and political motivations for exploration, the same epistemology of reconnaissance prevailed. Following the recent scholarly attention to the Enlightenment’s emphasis upon trust and credibility embedded within a travel narrative to develop knowledge about the world, I have chosen, as a useful exemplar of geographical exploration as intelligence collection, an Enlightenment expedition which tends to be overlooked by geographers. Lewis and Clark’s “Corps of Discovery” set out in 1804 to explore the Louisiana Purchase in western North America, to describe and catalogue its natural features, to negotiate with its natives according to President Jefferson’s geopolitical aspirations for the young United States, and to discover a mostly water route to the Pacific Ocean.10
By pointing to the shared epistemologies between geographic exploration and intelligence, I hope to contribute to the emerging literature on the production of geographical knowledge by highlighting the extent to which states promoted exploration not only for “God, gold, and glory,”11 but also to gather information which we would today regard as intelligence, as part and parcel of complex security and geopolitical strategies. By looking to Lewis and Clark as exemplar, I hope to draw geographers’ attention to an Enlightenment voyage of discovery whose aspirations for contributions to science, natural history, geopolitics, and national security were arguably no less than those of any other Enlightenment exploration venture,12 although others have received vastly more attention by contemporary scholars. Also, I hope to suggest a starting point for an examination of the historical commonalities between the essential knowledge claims undergirding both the geographic and intelligence professions.
God, Gold, Glory…and Intelligence
One need only look at dictionary definitions to see the language of intelligence as generally understood in its Cold War context brought together with the language of geographical discovery. Webster’s defines intelligence as “information concerning an enemy, a possible enemy, or an area” (emphasis added). The Oxford English Dictionary meaning that accords with the Cold War understanding of intelligence is “knowledge as to events, communicated by or obtained from another…information of military value, especially applied to the communication of spies, secret or private agents, etc.” Significantly, the OED’s literary example of “intelligence” in this particular context is taken from the 1613 text, Pilgrimage, by popular English travel-writer Samuel Purchas: “I suspend [belief] till some eye-intelligence of some of our parts have testified the truth.” Here the linkage between intelligence and visual observation is clearly conveyed.
Purchas’ Pilgrimage is discussed at length by E.G.R. Taylor, whose Late Stuart and Early Tudor Geography devotes a full chapter to Samuel Purchas.13 Taylor argues that Pilgrimage was underestimated in its lasting importance relative to other geographical texts of the period, (such as Hakluyt’s Principal Navigations). The fact that Purchas himself never traveled more than 200 miles from his place of birth, but constructed this influential text relying entirely upon the compiled, firsthand accounts of more than 700 people, demonstrates that methods recognized today as those associated with the intelligence profession – that is, assessing the credibility of firsthand informants’ reports – were vitally important in the construction of geographical knowledge. Purchas’ work was deemed credible, and, owing to the uniqueness of the firsthand accounts he used, it was especially useful in constructing early English impressions of Japan.14
A convincing claim that geographical exploration of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, as well as some later Enlightenment explorations, amounted to intelligence gathering ought to demonstrate that explorations tended to be promoted by European state elites or governments themselves, and that state interests – commercial, military, and political – were at stake. Recent works have pointed to the centrality of trade networks, and maps of those networks, to state power and security, reminding us that states’ desire for their actors to extend and control commercial networks across new territory was as much an impetus for exploration as simple acquisition of wealth.15 And literary theorist John Scattergood recently argued that as early as the fifteenth century, English voices were expressing a sophisticated geopolitics. A popular mid-fifteenth century poem, “The Libelle of Englyshe Polyce,” discerns that national power depended upon the state’s strategic ability to connect with transportation networks and trade routes, and this poem has been cited as perhaps the earliest written assertion of an English “sea power” strategy, wherein global navigation as directed by a merchant class becomes the source of state power.16 The poem’s impact on public perception is indicated by the fact that it was reprinted often during the succeeding two centuries, most notably by Richard Hakluyt in his second edition of Principal Navigations. For Hakluyt, the poem was useful in bolstering the notion that geographic exploration with an eye towards developing colonial sources of commodities was preferable to state dependence for commodity trade upon rival foreign powers. But it would be difficult to separate commercial from state security concerns, recognizing that the Age of Reconnaissance “regarded foreign trade as another form of war,” with religious motives fading in importance relative to economic ones.17 Thus, geographical exploration was deeply integrated with states’ senses of vulnerability, and the information developed through the exploration process was key to state prestige and security.
Another reason to see the information developed through geographical exploration as essentially intelligence information lies in the notion that, with the Protestant Reformation largely coinciding with the height of global exploration by the West, one can read the political situation in Europe as a kind of Cold War, with the same powers engaged in intense political-religious rivalry – the Protestant powers of England and the Netherlands against the Catholic powers of Spain and France – also engaged in rivalry over distant territories for colonization and resource extraction.18 Of course, just as the twentieth century Cold War “heated up” from time to time, so did the rivalry between Protestant and Catholic powers, with Spanish Armada’s attempted English invasion of 1588 being the best example. It is impossible to ignore that Francis Walsingham, who directed the collection of military and political intelligence in support of Queen Elizabeth’s government,19 also was a key patron of various exploration ventures.20 Indeed, Walsingham’s patronage of geographical exploration ranged from overt to covert. On the overt side, one sees Walsingham’s interest in the elder Richard Hakluyt’s manuscript Discourse of Western Planting, as well as the younger Hakluyt’s dedication to Walsingham of his 1589 Principal Voyages and Navigations of the English Nation, as evidence of his interest in exploration.21 And Walsingham’s view of the importance of exploration to political strategy is suggested by his direction of a censorship of the younger Hakluyt’s work, to ensure that no “state secrets” relative to geographic knowledge were compromised. Covertly, Walsingham’s spy network and his penetration of diplomatic correspondence ensured that he kept abreast of the exploration ventures of foreign rivals.22
In addition to Walsingham, Francis Drake is another Elizabethan figure whose reputation as a military and political figure overlapped his renown for geographical exploration. Geographic writers who were his contemporaries noted his shortcomings in not providing detailed intelligence reports on his circumnavigation of the globe, arguing that such a written account would serve the interests of the state as well as of the general public:
“But if it please Sir Francis to write a perfect Diary of his whole voyage, showing …what Ports and Havens he found,…what manner of people, what trade of living, what kind of building and government…, whether the ground were fertile or barren …In thus doing, the said Sir Francis, I say, should greatly profit his countrymen and thereby deserve immortal fame.”23
However, Drake’s case points to the double-edged sword of geographic information as intelligence. Drake’s prestige was already assured, through his circumnavigational feat as well as his successful confrontation with the Armada. As his behavior during his explorations amounted to piracy, he was hardly motivated to provide a detailed written account for the monarch or the public to scrutinize, and rather he “rested on his laurels.”
Following close upon the heels of Drake’s defeat of the Armada, the return of Thomas Cavendish from a global circumnavigation that was intended as an emulation of Drake’s earlier voyage reminded English statesmen of the potential for exploration to develop “material suitable for denigrating Spanish achievements and revealing the vulnerability of Spain’s empire.”24 Exploration could produce “state secrets,” such as we see with Walsingham’s effort to censor Hakluyt’s work or in early Portuguese attitudes of secrecy relative to voyages of exploration.25 Alternately, it could be used as “disinformation,” to employ a term from twentieth-century intelligence vernacular: propaganda that is intended to mislead, as seen in the case of the Dutch, who “became expert in the issue of propaganda relating to overseas and other ventures.”26 And Cavendish’s return also highlighted the value of native people as informants, or, to use intelligence vernacular, sources of “human intelligence.” In addition to returning with captured Spanish booty, Cavendish also brought back to England two Asian men, who were “borne naturalles of Japan and the Philippinaes” and were capable of “speaking our language and informing us of the state of their Easterne habitations.”27 Richard Hakluyt “debriefed” these men personally, and used information from their “interrogations” in preparation of his Principal Navigations.28 Moreover, Cavendish’s letter to the English Lord Chamberlain detailing the geopolitical significance not only of his completed voyage, but also of his capturing of Spanish riches and foreign “eye-witnesses” alike, was reprinted by Hakluyt and elsewhere, in pamphlets and pedagogical materials in no fewer than six other European languages.29
The notion of secrecy, which is a commonplace feature of the twentieth-century intelligence profession, was likewise present to varying degrees in many accounts and texts of geographical exploration in the Age of Reconnaissance. Bailey W. Diffie explores the controversial theme that from the early fifteenth century Portugal suppressed news of its own navigational achievements so as to prevent rival powers from learning about them. That Diffie questions the practicality of maintaining secrecy about navigational practices and intentions in a Portuguese setting that was so cosmopolitan, filled with foreigners all participating in various aspects of navigation and trade, simply points to the assumption that foreigners would have been viewed as potential conduits of information among rival state elements. Likewise in intelligence discourse, such assumptions are always present. We see a similar example in the Enlightenment-era explorations of Siberia by Sir Samuel Bentham, an Englishman employed by the court of Catherine the Great to explore and map the territory, as well as to gather intelligence on Russia’s Chinese frontier.30 Harley notes a growing role for secrecy and censorship in the production of maps “as the emergent nations struggled as much for self-definition as for physical territory,” and he states that “by the early modern period, cartographic secrecy was clearly widespread.”31
One variation on secrecy relative to geographical exploration is the tendency to contain reports of voyages in closely-guarded correspondences, including diplomatic dispatches, often using code or cipher. Taylor cites the “discovery” of key facts about Drake’s circumnavigation, located in obscure and damaged fragments of letters, including one sent by a member of Drake’s crew to powerful relatives who were among the voyage’s sponsors.32 And Allaire and Hogarth argue that the Spanish court was able to keep track of the progress of Martin Frobisher’s expedition to North America through the reports of a spy who was secretly operating as a member of Frobisher’s crew. Observing that dissemination of information about voyages commonly involved coded dispatches from diplomats, especially for states whose geographical explorations touched upon sensitive aspects of foreign or military policy, they suggest that full details of many explorers’ voyages remain obscure, due to modern inability to translate the codes and ciphers of the period. In the case of the Frobisher expedition, during which a spy relayed to the Spanish ambassador to England reports of Frobisher’s attempts to locate valuable mineral deposits, Allaire and Hogarth not only speculate on the identity of the spy, but also hypothesize that he may have actually been a “double agent,” feeding the Spanish ambassador with sufficient information to satisfy him without endangering Frobisher’s mission. The same ambassador kept well abreast of the movements and progress of Sir Walter Raleigh in the New World.33 Haynes notes relatedly that Elizabethan diplomatic dispatches were never entirely secure, as Walsingham’s network of agents included individuals who intercepted diplomatic correspondence.34 Thus, the use of codes and ciphers by diplomats was imperative and was of course practiced by Walsingham himself in most of his correspondence, including that which concerned his promotional interests in New World exploration (Figure 1).
Finally, an intriguing example of the epistemology of reconnaissance shared by geographic and intelligence discourses can be found not in an actual seventeenth-century exploration, but rather in a fictional one, as described by Francis Bacon in his New Atlantis of 1626. Writing at the height of interest in exploration of the globe, Bacon suggests that political discovery exists alongside scientific discovery and both can be accomplished through the same process of relying upon first-hand accounts from eyewitnesses. Upon arriving in the New Atlantis, Bacon’s fictional voyagers learn that its inhabitants are fully aware of Europe, its various cultures, politics, religion, and languages, because they have sent explorers as intelligence agents to reside among Europeans “undercover” for regular intervals. Bacon’s characters validate the epistemology of reconnaissance for gaining knowledge about remote parts of the world:
“This we found wonderful strange; for that all nations have interknowledge one of another, either by voyage into foreign parts, or by strangers that come to them; and though the traveller into a foreign country doth commonly know more by the eye than he that stayeth at home can by relation of the traveller; yet both ways suffice to make a mutual knowledge, in some degree, on both parts.”35
Enlightenment Exploration: Lewis and Clark’s ‘Corps of Discovery’ as Intelligence Mission
There is little doubt that the epistemology of reconnaissance continued as a foundation for the geographical projects of the Enlightenment. Outram observes that “the eighteenth century believed perhaps more strongly than any other that travel makes truth.”36 Characteristic of the Enlightenment, global exploration and scientific discovery were promoted by the nationally organized “philosophical” societies, such as the Royal Society in London and the Scottish Royal Society in Edinburgh, Scotland.37 As Daniel Carey has recently observed, absent direct sponsorship, these Societies sought and carefully scrutinized reports from travelers, sailors, and ships’ captains. Only lately have scholars begun to investigate the social processes in which credibility was established in the Enlightenment’s quest for scientific knowledge.38
It would be a mistake not to recognize Lewis and Clark’s Corps of Discovery as the culmination of an Enlightenment-inspired scientific project fully integrated with the aims of the American Philosophical Society. Founded in Philadelphia by Benjamin Franklin in 1743, that Society was explicitly modeled after London’s Royal Society.39 An impressive circle of scientists and thinkers, its members included David Rittenhouse, acclaimed internationally for his invention of a mechanical orrery, Joseph Priestly, who discovered oxygen, and Charles Wilson Peale, the founder of the first public museum in the United States (Figure 2).40 Another famous member was Thomas Jefferson, elected a member in 1780, and who in 1796 succeeded Franklin and Rittenhouse as the Society’s third president and remained its president even during his service as President of the United States. Jefferson’s interest in exploring and charting routes across sparsely inhabited lands, primarily those of North America, but also those of Russia, was developed largely within the intellectual context of the American Philosophical Society and discussions among its members.41
Allen notes that Jefferson’s first interest in sponsoring an exploration of western North American was expressed in 1783, when he wrote of his suspicions of English plans to do the same (“they pretend it is only to promote knowledge”) and of his wish that America could undertake it first.42 By the mid 1780s, Jefferson had become acquainted with John Ledyard, an American who had accompanied Captain Cook. Ledyard obtained Jefferson’s support for a scheme to mount a land expedition eastward out of Paris, across European Russia and Siberia, across the Bering Strait, and through North America eventually to Washington, D.C. This would be seen as a great navigational achievement across uncharted land, corresponding to treks across uncharted waters, and tying the Old World to the New through an alternate land route. Ledyard’s attempt failed when he was arrested in Siberia, despite Jefferson’s attempt at diplomatic intervention to secure his passage across Imperial Russia. However, Jefferson continued to promote the idea of trans-continental exploration of North America. In 1792 he convinced the American Philosophical Society to sponsor an exploration up the Missouri River to establish the shortest and most practical route to the Pacific Ocean.43 This was to be undertaken by a French botanist, Andre Michaux. However, the venture was problematic, as the territory to be crossed was not a U.S. possession, the Louisiana Purchase still being ten years in the future; and the expedition had to be aborted when Michaux was shown to be also functioning as an intelligence agent of the French, who were considering an attack on Spanish possessions in North America.44
Once the Louisiana Purchase was virtually assured, Jefferson saw it as a victory as much for the advancement of “philosophical” inquiry as for the territorial aggrandizement of the United States. As president of the American Philosophical Society, he noted the Purchase as the “enlarged field of unexplored country lately opened to free research.”45 And once Jefferson chose his young secretary Meriwether Lewis to lead the “Corps of Discovery,” he personally supervised Lewis’s scientific training for the expedition.46 This process took about a year, during which he required Lewis to study the published narratives and maps of James Cook, George Vancouver, and Alexander Mackenzie, among others.47 Additionally, Jefferson had invited other members of the Society to provide Lewis with background material to assist his preparation on everything from conducting celestial observations to confronting medical emergencies to identifying plants and animals. Members also furnished Lewis with vast lists of questions and topical areas to guide his observations of various phenomena.48 Prior to embarking for Clarksville in Indiana Territory, where he would rendezvous with William Clark, and St. Louis, where the group would spend the a winter before embarking in the spring of 1804, Lewis spent time in Philadelphia where, under the guidance of Society members, he amassed a collection of science texts to carry on the journey to the Pacific, including works on botany and mineralogy, as well as a two-volume work by Linnaeus. It was hoped that the “Corps of Discovery” would go far in addressing the most pressing research questions of America’s Enlightenment community of scientists.
A visit to Philadelphia by Alexander Von Humboldt in the summer of 1804 was an exciting event for Jefferson, though it could arguably have been better timed had it occurred prior to Lewis’s departure. Jefferson would doubtless have pressed Humboldt into service to help prepare the inexperienced would-be explorer. In any case, Jefferson was an ardent admirer of Humboldt, who was just concluding his famed exploration of South America. Jefferson had invited Humboldt to be his personal guest: “A lively desire will be felt generally to receive the information you will be able to give. No one will feel it more strongly than myself…”49 During his stay with Jefferson between May and August of 1804, Humboldt was named an honorary member of the American Philosophical Society, one of very few non-Americans to be accorded that distinction.
A reassessment of the entire Lewis and Clark Expedition as an intelligence mission on behalf of the United States government and pursuant to Jeffersonian geopolitics would be an undertaking far beyond the scope of a short essay. However, to make the argument effectively, and to suggest that the general epistemology of reconnaissance, which is shared between geographic and intelligence discourses, sustained the Expedition, one need look no further than the following: Lewis’s instructions from Jefferson and other American political and scientific elites; Lewis’s initial response to those instructions; coordinated procedures regarding secrecy and security of certain communications; and a few key decisions made by Lewis during the first several months of the Expedition. All of these matters have been well documented through the vast Jeffersonian literature, as well as Lewis’s journals. The Corps of Discovery bears one unmistakable footprint of an Enlightenment exploration project: the determination to record written narratives of eyewitness accounts as the journey progressed. Outram points to the emphasis upon written narrative as one key distinction between early modern explorations and later Enlightenment-era ones.50 Jefferson’s instructions to Lewis stressed the importance of daily journals, not only by the two Captains themselves, but also by several of the literate members of the party.
Immediately apparent when one looks at the political climate in the United States around the time of the Louisiana Purchase is the complexity of European political and commercial designs on various parcels of North American territory. As far as the powers of Britain, France, and Spain were concerned, Jefferson tried to minimize the importance of the Lewis and Clark mission, representing it as only a “literary” operation to satisfy the effete interests of a few intellectuals.51 In reality, Jefferson was immensely concerned about Britain’s likely expansion of its fur trade in the Pacific Northwest, which he saw as provocative. But at the same time he also wished to avoid antagonizing Britain, in the case an armed conflict with France over its strategic possession of New Orleans required the United States to appeal to Britain as an ally. Moreover, as Knott has noted, Jefferson was concerned over conflict in North America between France and Spain, and he was aware that French fur traders in the area of St. Louis and the lower Missouri River might well be informants for France. However, French traders were a force to be reckoned with in the west, because of their relative familiarity with the native tribes and their skill in native languages. And the indigenous tribes inhabiting the Louisiana Purchase, as far as Jefferson was aware, were at odds with one another as well as with the various European groups and trading concerns. Finally, even Lewis’s instructions to study the geography of the Missouri River drainage had geopolitical implications: Jefferson determined that if the any of the Missouri tributaries flowed from above 50 degrees latitude, this would extend America’s territorial claims into present-day western Canada.52
Jefferson schooled Lewis on all these geopolitical concerns and more, so that Lewis was not only prepared to act as Jefferson’s “agent,” but was also prepared to develop his own informants during the course of the expedition so as to acquire intelligence that addressed Jefferson’s national security concerns. During his stay in St. Louis over the winter of 1803-04, Lewis busily “networked” and developed close relationships with several men who were in excellent positions to provide him with information about what the Expedition was likely to face in terms of the native groups and their attitudes towards the various nationalities of “white men.” Among these was a pair of French brothers who were prominent in the St. Louis fur trade, an American postmaster who spoke French, and a Scottish fur trader employed by a Spanish trading company.53 And once the Expedition was well underway, the party added the now famous figures of Charbonneau and his “wife” Sacagawea, because of Charbonneau’s familiarity with the tribes and tribal languages of the upper Missouri, as well as Sacagawea’s alleged kinship (which turned out to be correct) with an Indian tribe about which the Captain’s knew nothing firsthand, but from whom they hoped to purchase horses.54 In terms of a contemporary intelligence operation, Lewis developed a range of informants with firsthand knowledge to address various aspects of his mission.
Additionally, Lewis used his St. Louis area informants during the winter of 1803-04 to begin to fulfill some of the topical information requirements conveyed to him by Jefferson, Treasury Secretary (and map enthusiast) Albert Gallatin, and American Philosophical Society members. He posed masses of questions to his acquaintances, and through them to a wider circle of less lettered individuals. But Lewis wrote to Jefferson of the limitations of his informants in providing succinct information, and he described a questionnaire he had designed with a grid for tabulating informants’ responses.55 Clearly, the use of specially designed formats for the organization of intelligence information, as well as questionnaires for informant debriefing, are practices widespread in the twentieth-century intelligence profession. Ronda reports that none of these questionnaires, either blank or completed, seem to have survived.56
The concern for strategic secrecy that is a persistent feature of geographic exploration, in addition to being normal procedure in the intelligence profession, can be observed in correspondence between Jefferson and Lewis during 1803. Large and Jackson have noted that the two men agreed on a particular cipher system (Figure 3) to be used to encode any communications “that might do injury if betrayed.”57 Jefferson had designed the system, modifying a mechanical cipher machine that he had invented and used during his diplomatic service in France. No actual examples of ciphered communications remain, however.
Two things should emerge clearly from this discussion of Lewis and Clark’s Corps of Discovery. First, it counts among the most complex manifestations of American Enlightenment thought, although it is generally not understood as such. Second, just as earlier European explorations had served multiple purposes of scientific discovery, establishing access to natural resources, and advancing geopolitical goals, exploration of the uncharted land of western North America had likewise long been seen as having critical implications for America’s geopolitics, her territorial security, and her intellectual community. Other European powers were competing with the United States for access to the vast western portion of the continent. Rivalries over access to New World lands could invite more conflicts among European powers. Moreover, the indigenous “nations” of the western regions were an unknown quantity, and had to figure into the geopolitical equations of Jefferson and his contemporaries, just as the Iroquois Confederation had been an important consideration for the British and French in their earliest colonial designs on the American and Canadian northeast. All these factors suggest that Lewis and Clark’s mission clearly rested on an epistemology of reconnaissance: as trusted agents of the state, they were sent into potentially hostile territory to observe according to proscribed instructions and to collect information necessary to ensuring territorial security and negotiating North American geopolitics.
Ironically, the one feature of the Corps of Discovery that I earlier called the “footprint” of an Enlightenment geographical venture – namely, the expedition journals – is also responsible for the Corps of Discovery being generally overlooked in recent geographical scholarship and in literature on geographical discovery more generally.58 I am referring to Lewis’s personal failure to prepare the journals for publication and the long delay before they were finally published in 1814, eight years after the Expedition’s return and five years after Lewis’s suicide. Although Lewis’s, and indeed Jefferson’s, intent was to publish a multi-volume account of the journey,59 as was the style of Europe’s Enlightenment expeditions, which Jefferson was still consciously trying to emulate, instead Lewis deteriorated into a series of delays and procrastinations, which the late Stephen Ambrose insightfully calls “the great mystery of Lewis’s life.”60 Meanwhile, one of the Corps’ enlisted members, Patrick Gass, published his diary, which was eagerly devoured by the public, reprinted at least four times, including one London edition, and was inexpensive to purchase. Additionally, other sensationalized counterfeit accounts appeared, which were eagerly read by Americans who may not have realized they were forgeries. All the while Jefferson kept assuring his scientific and intellectual acquaintances, both in America and abroad, that the full and genuine account would be published soon. When the Nicholas Biddle edition finally appeared in 1814, not only had the public largely forgotten that it was overdue, but its limited printing and high cost (some 1400 copies at six dollars apiece) ensured limited readership. Consequently, many of Lewis’s “discoveries” went totally unrecognized and were re-discovered by other western explorers, cartographers, and naturalists.61 Additionally, many of the names that Lewis and Clark gave to natural features were unknown until long after other western adventurers had given new names to the same locations.
Allen argues more recently, in relation to the probable origins of Romantic imagery of the American West, that Lewis and Clark began as an Enlightenment venture and ended as a Romantic one.62 I would add that the Expedition would have had a better chance of being remembered by geographers as a significant project of Enlightenment geographical exploration if publication of the Expedition’s results had been more systematically and expeditiously handled. Allen’s earlier work mentions the delay in publication as being the reason that “the initial American response to the expedition focused on glamor and romance of the feat” rather than on the scientific value of the venture.63 He stops short of asserting that the ramifications of not only the delay in the Biddle edition, but also its expense and limited dissemination, relative to the popular Gass account and other fictitious versions, were much farther reaching, even impacting contemporary impressions of the Expedition.
I have attempted to highlight examples of geographical explorations that appear to resemble intelligence collection, drawing largely upon twentieth-century works by geographers, such as E.G.R. Taylor, and articles appearing in Terrae Incognitae and other geographic publications. Most of these examples are self-evident, because they contain features that are commonplace in the intelligence profession: concern for secrecy; use of coded communication; use of diplomatic communiques for passage of information; interrogation of eye-witnesses to obtain credible information; placement of ‘agents’ among exploration parties; emphasis upon multi-faceted information about an area, to include topographical and natural features as well as descriptions of inhabitants and their ways of life; and, clear connection of an expedition’s goals to a state’s geopolitical or security concerns.
Examples from Terrae Incognitae alone demonstrate the intelligence element of many exploration ventures from both the early modern and Enlightenment periods. However, Terrae Incognitae has never published any article dealing with Lewis and Clark’s Corps of Discovery, and the Expedition is similarly absent, except for a few scant references, from other major geography journals, including the entire corpus of the Annals of the Association of American Geographers. Apart from the work of John Logan Allen, whose work is uniformly praised by the historians and literary scholars of Lewis and Clark, the silence from geographers, particularly from American geographers, has been deafening. Although this is difficult to explain,64 the approaching bicentennial of the Expedition will no doubt generate a resurgence of interest across all disciplines.
Finally, in examining the shared epistemologies of intelligence and geographical exploration, perhaps one key to understanding the origin of the relationship between these two, as modes of knowledge, lies in the term, “intelligence collection,” a ubiquitous phrase in contemporary intelligence vernacular. “Collection” brings to mind an important ancillary function of early modern and Enlightenment exploration – the collection of artifacts and specimens that could be brought back, categorized, and displayed. Like geographic knowledge, intelligence is objectified and systematized; it “stands for” some distant reality that we attempt to know through the representation or through the eyewitness. The geographic community is actively critiquing this mode of knowing; but the intelligence community is not. One need only look at current geopolitical events to discern the consequences of that oversight.
1 See Daniel Carey, “Compiling Nature’s
History: Travellers and Travel
Narratives in the Early Royal Society,” Annals
of Science 54 (1997): 269-292; Dorinda Outram, “On Being Perseus: New Knowledge, Dislocation, and
Enlightenment Exploration,” in Geography
and Enlightenment, ed. David J. Livingstone and Charles Withers (Chicago
and London: The University of Chicago
Press, 1999), p. 281-294; and Charles Withers, “Reporting, Mapping,
Trusting: Making Geographical Knowledge
in the Late Seventeenth Century,” Isis 90 (1999): 497-521.
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