Project Reviews

Lewis and Clark Across Missouri
James D. Harlan and the Department of Geography, University of Missouri, 2002

Lewis and Clark Across Missouri is a site that mostly delights, but sometimes frustrates. With "primary goals to geo-reference, digitize, and map all of the retrievable information from the Lewis and Clark journals and the 18th and 19th-century land survey notes along the Big River Corridors of the state of Missouri" the site offers complex integrations of GIS data, visualizations, and the texts of the Lewis and Clark journals to develop a picture of the explorersÂ’ movement up the Missouri and the size and appearance of the Missouri River in the early nineteenth century. In many ways, it is useful for Corps of Discovery scholars and fans and provides a good basic model for future projects of this type, but assumes a certain degree of previous knowledge of the Expedition to make it a useful site, as well as some static images that could be dynamic and a few crowded pages -- things that may keep it from thrilling the casual user.

With explanatory text that sets up different functions and features on the site, the main draw are the maps and visualizations. Users can access GIS data sets to create interactive maps of the Missouri with various criteria including campsites, modern county boundaries, historic botany, Landsat images, and historic landgrants. As one would expect, loading the data and images takes a few seconds, but on a digital connection it did not create impatience; users on dial-up would likely have problems with the GIS features. Users can also view maps of Lewis and Clark's campsites on the Missouri day-by-day with the Missouri River's modern course laid over the historic course Lewis and Clark would have used -- these are static and based on page images from the book Atlas of Lewis and Clark in Missouri, which means they are not zoomable and become difficult to use in comparison to the rest of the site.

The same data used to create the GIS features and the campsite images was folded into the creation of visualizations of Missouri River landmarks and the landscape of the Missouri River in 1804. These visualizations add to the whiz-bang sense of the site, the "feel" of the River, and a sense of the wonders experienced by the Corps of Discovery, but do not seem to offer substantial research benefits to persons not already deeply familiar with the Lewis and Clark journals and their descriptions -- including journal text where appropriate would add to the quality of these sections.

Of course, the focus of the site is not the textual representation of the journey, but the geography of the Missouri River and ways it can be spatially and visually represented as it was experienced in 1804; asking for such text likely reveals a reviewers bias towards the word. The geographic bent of the site is no surprise, since it is a product of the Geographic Resources Center at the University of Missouri. Most of the site's content is the result of work done by numerous professors and graduate students at the University of Missouri and the result of much of the mapping work are featured in the book Atlas of Lewis and Clark in Missouri, by James D. Harlan and James M. Denny (see above).

The Missouri State Historical Society provided a few images for use on the site, primarily nineteenth-century renderings of the Missouri River and its environs. These images add to the visuals-heavy feel of the site, but, because there are so few, they add little substantive information. Expanding this section would enhance the site, particularly given its focus on re-creating the visual as well as the spatial.

A generally stable left-hand navigation keeps the user moving through the sections with ease and drop down or button menus within each section facilitate use of the data and maps on the site, directing the user back to the Homepage when the left hand bar is absent as a result of large images. Image size is another problem -- several of the visualizations would benefit from larger frames on the screen. With the exception of the GIS maps, everything loads quickly, even image files, and (with a little use) movement through the site and use of its main features becomes easy.

Leslie Working
University of Nebraska-Lincoln
Reviewed: April 2007