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Exploration and Explorers

Image of Columbus kneeling on the shoreline of the new world, America.
[Detail] Columbus.
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The journey is difficult, immense. We will travel as far as we can, but we cannot in one lifetime see all that we would like to see or to learn all that we hunger to know. ~Loren Eiseley, poet and essayist

In wisdom gathered over time I have found that every experience is a form of exploration.
~Ansel Adams, photographer

primary source set

This Primary Source Set includes images and analysis tools to help teach about Hispanic Exploration in America.

online resources
Especially for Teachers...

1492: An Ongoing Voyage - (Exhibition) This online exhibit focuses not only on the Northern hemisphere before 1492, but also on those who arrived from Europe and Africa in the 16th and early 17th centuries.

1562 Map of America by Diego Gutierrez, The - (Special Presentation) Learn more about this ornate 16th century map of the western hemisphere made by Spanish cartographer - Diego Gutierrez.

Atlantic World: The Dutch in America, The - (International) Learn about Dutch involvement in the exploration and settlement of North America. This collection includes a variety of maps

Cartographic Formation of The North American Continent - (Exhibition)This animated presentation depicts the emerging European world view of North America from the time of Columbus through the late 1700s.

Culture and History of the Americas: The Jay Kislak Collection at the Library of Congress, The - (Exhibition) This exhibition focuses on the early Americas from the time of the indigenous people of Mexico, Central America, and the Caribbean through the period of European contact, exploration, and settlement.

Cultures and History of the Americas: The Jay I. Kislak Collection at the Library of Collection, The - (Exhibition) This exhibition focuses on the early Americas from the time of the indigenous people of Mexico, Central America, and the Caribbean through the period of European contact, exploration, and settlement.

Encountering the First American West - (Special Presentation) The five themes presented here explore the trans-Appalachian West from the beginning of European American settlement to the end of the frontier period, focusing particularly on the Ohio River Valley and Kentucky.

Exploring the Early Americas: The Jay I. Kislak Collection - (Exhibition) This exhibition examines indigenous cultures, the drama of the encounters between Native Americans and Europeans, and the changes caused by the meeting of the two worlds. Be sure to explore the Exploration and Encounters section.

Fill Up the Canvas...Rivers of Words: Exploring with Lewis and Clark - (Learning Page Activity) Experience Lewis and Clark's journey westward through words, images, maps and other documents.

France in America - (International) This collaborative digital library explores the history of the French presence in North America from the first decades of the 16th century to the end of the 19th century.

Hispanic and Portuguese World – Encounters in America - (Special Presentation) This section of the online guide to the Library of Congress Hispanic and Portuguese is devoted to resources related to Spanish and Portuguese encounters in America.

Historial Paralelas: Parallel Histories - (International) Examine the history of Spanish expansion into North America in this international multimedia portal.

Images of Christopher Columbus and His Voyages - (Prints and Photographs) This list links to two dozen images related to Columbus.

John Bull and Uncle Sam: Exploration and Settlement - (Exhibition) This section of the John Bull and Uncle Sam exhibition examines the exploration and settlement of America from British and American points of view.

Lewis and Clark Community Center - (Community Center) Explore links to Lewis and Clark related maps, letters, documents, online resources, lesson plans and books.

Map Collections: Discovery and Exploration - (American Memory Collection) This section of Maps Collections features early discovery and exploration maps and manuscripts.

Mapping the West - (Exhibition) This animated presentation shows the routes of various expeditions from Lewis and Clark to the 1850s railroad surveys.

Meeting of the Frontiers: Exploration - (International) View documents relating to the Russian discovery of Siberia, exploration of the American West, and Russian exploration throughout the Pacific and Arctic Oceans.

Other Digitized Materials From the Rare Book and Special Collections Division - (Rare Books) Explore digitized materials including early books, children's literature, miniature books, Audubon prints, magic posters and early travel accounts. A 1493 Christopher Columbus letter is included in this collection.

Portuguese in the United States, The - (Exhibition) The Portuguese Role in Exploring and Mapping the New World outlines Portugal's role in world exploration from 15th to 17th centuries.

Reports of explorations and surveys - (Document) These 1850's reports documented expeditions made "to ascertain the most practicable and economical route for a railroad from the Mississippi River to the Pacific Ocean."

Rivers, Edens, Empires - (Exhibition) This online exhibition and virtual tour feature Lewis and Clark maps and other resources documenting westward exploration.

Sources for the Lewis and Clark Expedition Maps of 1803 and 1814 - (Exhibition) This animated presentation shows how King's 1804 map was developed and how the 1814 map became the landmark product of the expedition.

Waldseemuller 1507 Map of the World - (Special Presentation) This was the first map to depict a separate Western Hemisphere, with the Pacific as a separate ocean.

Zoom into Maps: Exploration and Discovery - (Learning Page Activity) This section of Zoom Into Maps introduces teachers and students to exploration and discovery maps.

  Especially for your Students...

American Treasures: Alaskan Expedition - (Exhibition) View pages from Edward Harriman’s souvenir journal documenting his 1899 expedition to Alaska.

American Treasures: Columbus Reports on Discoveries of Island of India - (Exhibition) Read Columbus’ report concerning his discoveries of "Islands of India beyond the Ganges."

American Treasures: Exploring the Carolinas - (Exhibition) View a map and drawings documenting John White’s travels to the Carolina coast in the 1580s.

Go West, Young Men - (Wise Guide) Link to Library of Congress Lewis and Clark resources.

He Sailed the Half Moon - (Wise Guide) Read about Henry Hudson's explorations on the Half Moon.

How Did America Get Its Name? - (Wise Guide) Read about Martin Waldseemuller's 1507 map and learn how America got its name.

Jump Back in Time: June 9, 1534 - (America’s Library) Jacques Cartier sailed up the St. Lawrence River.

Jump Back in Time: October 12, 1492 - (America’s Library) Christopher Columbus first saw land.

Jump Back in Time: October 28, 1875 - (America's Library) National Geographic President Gilbert H. Grosvenor was born on this date. Under Grosvenor

Jump Back in Time: September 3, 1609 - (America’s Library) Henry Hudson and his crew sailed into the river that would bear his name.

Jump Back in Time: September 8, 1565 - (America’s Library) On this date a Spanish expedition established St. Augustine in Florida.

Meet Amazing Americans: Adventurers and Explorers - (America’s Library) Learn about Lewis and Clark and Amelia Earhart.

Today in History (June 9, 1534) Jacques Cartier Sails Upriver - (Today in History)(Scroll down page) On this date French navigator Jacques Cartier sailed into the St. Lawrence River for the first time.

Today in History (May 6, 1856) Northward Over the Great Ice - (Today in History) On this date Robert Peary, discoverer of the North Pole, was born.

Today in History (November 28, 1520) Crossing the Pacific - (Today in History) (Scroll down page) Read about Ferdinand Magellan’s first westward crossing of the Pacific in 1520.

Today in History (September 27) The Quest of Ponce de Leon - (Today in History) On September 27, 1514, the Spanish crown granted explorer Juan Ponce de Leon the title Military Governor of Bimini and Florida. Ponce de Leon sailed for Florida in 1521.

Today in History(October 25, 1751) Kiska Island - (Today in History) On this date, Vitus Bering and a group of Russian explorers discovered Kiska Island in the Aleutian Island chain of present day Alaska.

lesson plans

Use these lesson plans (created by educators for educators) to explore topics about exploration and explorers with your students in your classroom:

Explorations - (Grades 8-12) Students are introduced to historical perspectives of nature and the environment. Early Images of the United States includes many images recorded by early explorers of the American West.

Marco Paul's Travels on the Erie Canal - (Grades 3-5, Grades 6-8) Students trace Marco Paul’s 1840s journey through the Erie Canal.

Journeys West - (Grades 3-5, Grades 6-8,) Students access primary sources to develop an understanding of westward expansion and use this understanding to complete an interdisciplinary WebQuest.

Drake’s West Indian Voyage 1588-1589 - (Grades 6-8,) Students investigate maps depicting a voyage by Sir Francis Drake involving attacks on Spanish settlements around the Atlantic. Students look closely at the details and draw conclusions about individual events as well as the entire voyage.

Waldseemuller’s Map: World 1507 - (Grades 6-8,) Students investigate this historic map by looking closely at the details of each section of the map and then draw conclusions on the revelation of this new and unusual world to the people of 1507.


Is there a title (or two) that you always read to (or with) your students when teaching about this theme? Are there invaluable reference books that you use? Staff from The Library of Congress have begun a collection of titles for the "Exploration and Explorers" theme. We hope you will contribute your favorites to our growing bibliography!

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collection connections

Create your own collaborative lesson plans using material related to this month's theme assembled from The Learning Page Collection Connections:

Westward by Sea: A Maritime Perspective on American Expansion, 1820-1890 - (Summary and Teaching Resources)

Evolution of the Conservation Movement: 1850-1920, The - (Summary and Teaching Resources) Journals and images document explorations of the American frontier.

Mapping the National Parks - (Summary and Teaching Resources)

California As I Saw It: First-Person Narratives of California - (Summary and Teaching Resources)

Pioneering the Upper Midwest: Books from Michigan, Minnesota, and Wisconsin, ca. 1820-1910 - (Summary and Teaching Resources)

Prairie Settlement: Nebraska Photographs and Family Letters, 1862-1912 - (Summary and Teaching Resources)

History of the American West: 1860-1920: Photographs from the Collection of the Denver Public Library - (Summary and Teaching Resources)

Northern Great Plains, 1880-1920: Photographs from the Fred Hultstrand and F.A. Pazandak Photograph Collections, The - (Summary and Teaching Resources)

Railroad Maps, 1828-1900 - (Summary and Teaching Resources)

Trails to Utah and the Pacific: Diaries and Letters, 1846-1869 - (Summary and Teaching Resources)

First American West: The Ohio River Valley, 1750-1820, The - (Summary and Teaching Resources) This collection consists of 15,000 pages of original historical material documenting the land, peoples, exploration, and transformation of the trans-Appalachian West from the mid-eighteenth to the early nineteenth century.

United States and Brazil: Expanding Frontiers, Comparing Cultures, The - (Summary Only)

Parallel Histories: Spain, the United States and the American Frontier - (Summary and Teaching Resources)

Meeting of the Frontiers: Siberia, Alaska and the American West - (Summary Only)

France in America - (Summary and Teaching Resources) This collaborative digital library explores the history of the French presence in North America from the first decades of the 16th century to the end of the 19th century.

Kraus Collection of Sir Francis Drake - (Summary Only)

Louisiana: European Explorations and the Louisiana Purchase - (This collection features 119 documents—from maps to newspapers to cultural artifacts - related to the inclusion of Louisiana into the nation.)

search terms

These terms may be useful when searching for items related to this theme in the American Memory collections.

Adventurers Explorers Overland journeys
Discoverers Frontiers Prospecting
Discovery and exploration Guides and scouts Trade route
Explorations and surveys Journey Trail guide
Ethnologists Maps Trails
Excursions Migrations Travelers
Expeditions Names of explorers Voyages and travels
Expeditions and surveys Navigation Westward movement

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Last updated 03/30/2004