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In 1909, Ellsworth Huntington (1876-1947), Yale instructor in geography, led The Yale Expedition to Palestine. It was his mission to determine "step by step the process by which geologic structure, topographic form, and the present and past nature of the climate have shaped man's progress, moulded his history; and thus played an incalculable part in the development of a system of thought which could scarcely have arisen under any other physical circumstances." He explained the results of his research in Palestine and Its Transformation published by Houghton Mifflin in 1911 and in a series of articles which appeared in Harper's Magazine in 1910, titled A Canvas Boat on the Dead Sea, Beyond the Dead Sea, The Fallen Queen of the Desert,and Across the Ghor to the Land of Og.Huntington's expeditions to remote areas of Asia and the Americas, trips throughout the world, and other research interests led to the publication of 28 books, parts of 29 others, and over 240 articles. After his death, Time magazine stated that Huntington, "an authority on practically everything concerning the human species ... may be best remembered for his theories about the influence of climate on civilization." Supplementing his published works, the Ellsworth Huntington Papers in Manuscripts and Archives provide extensive primary research material in a variety of forms including his field notes, photographic negative files, prints, and logs, lectures, teaching materials, maps, and related correspondence.

The main focus of Huntington's expedition was the Dead Sea. As he reported in the Yale Alumni Weekly (October 15, 1909): "Operations on the Dead Sea began with soundings to ascertain whether old strands occur under water. The chief work, however consisted in a study of the numerous old strands which lie above the present water level. These furnish abundant evidence that the Sea stood higher than now some two or three thousand years ago. This fact confirms the theory that in Biblical times the climatic conditions of Palestine must have been more favorable and the fertility of the land much greater than is now the case."

After studying the Dead Sea for a month, Huntington spent three months traveling through the Holy Land and its immediate environment, including the Philistine coastal plain, Edom, Moab, Gilead, Bashan, Damascus, Palmyra, the Syrian Desert, the Lebanon Mountains, and the coast of Syria. He then returned through Samaria and Galilee to Jerusalem "in order to see Judea in its dry summer garb of dead vegetation as well as in its spring dress of green."

Postcards collected by Ellsworth Huntington during the expedition. A sampling of the hundreds of photographs taken by Huntington on the expedition. All are catalogued by number and described in his field notebooks. (Note: Huntington's usage and spelling of place names is followed in the labels.)


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Portrait of Ellsworth Huntington

March 15, 1909. Hut of salt gatherers at Mehellah on shore of Dead Sea. Behind the hut of reeds & the tent lies a lagoon 4-5-6 ft. Deep." (A9-27)
April 29, 1909. Arab woman and girl drawing water from a well, Ali and Abdullah. Between En-gedi and Bethlehem. (A9-206)
May 1, 1909. Looking down on the Temple enclosure from the Dome of the Rock, Jerusalem. (09-100)
Port of Jaffa
Damascus Gate Jerusalem
Elizabeth E. Smith's journal of a trip through the Holy Land in the spring of 1885. This vivid personal account of a family tour beginning in England in May 1883 and ending in the Near East in May 1885 fills twenty-seven thick volumes in Manuscripts and Archives. Describing in detail the daily life and customs of the people she observed as well as the art, architecture, and geography of the Holy Land, Smith profusely illustrates her writings with her own watercolor drawings and collected photographs and prints. The journal is opened to the entry on her first view of the Sea of Galilee, including her drawing and a print of the ruins of Tiberias.

Manuscript of Ellsworth Huntington's lecture The Untamed Girdle of Palestine, illustrated with lantern slides made from his expedition photographs. "The greatest problem of geography: - to estimate the part played respectively by phys. environment & by psychological & spiritual forces in moulding the character & ideas of a race. Palestine, the greatest source of ideas to the Xian & Moslem worlds is also the most unique of all lands physically. How far are these two facts connected?

As time passed some of Huntington's research notes and photographs became even more valuable as the original sites disappeared. Fighting between Ottoman and Allied forces during World War I and the Arab Revolt of 1936-39 destroyed many archaeological sites. In 1938, H. Dunscombe Colt, leader of the Colt Archaeological Expedition in Beersheba, Palestine, asked Huntington for documentation on the ruins at Auja: "I notice in Palestine and its Transformation you refer to the remains of a colonnaded street. Do you remember just where this was? Now unfortunately, nothing remains of any ruins on the plain, all were swept away during the war." Huntington sent typed transcriptions of his notes and loaned his original notebook to Colt.