American Museum of Natural History Logo link: Congo Expedition Main Page

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When, in July 1914, word of World War I made its way to Lang and Chapin, they hurriedly began the mammoth task of getting their collections back to the coast of Africa and then on a ship for New York City. After months of hauling crates through the rain forest and along the Congo River, Chapin made the journey home with the collections by way of Liverpool, running a German blockade of the harbor. For Lang, who was born in Germany (which, in 1915, was an enemy of the U.S.), the return to New York was more complex and time consuming. He went by way of Angola, Lisbon, and a Portuguese steamer to New York. Back home, Lang became an Assistant in Mammalogy at the American Museum and spent the next few years processing his African specimens.

By the end of their six years in the Congo, Lang, Chapin, and their assistants had collected spectacular specimens of okapi and square-lipped rhinos (still on exhibit in the Museum's Carl Akeley Hall of African Mammals). More importantly, they had collected the most complete record of the plants, animals, and cultures of the Congo Basin up to that time, including 5,800 mammals, 6,400 birds, 4,800 reptiles and amphibians, 6,000 fish, over 100,000 invertebrates, and 3,800 anthropological objects. In addition, they had 9,890 photographic negatives, more than 300 watercolor paintings, and many volumes of field notes. At least fifteen volumes of scientific findings were later published based on the expedition's work, many of which continue to stand as both seminal and definitive works in their fields.

In 1990, the museum mounted an exhibition called African Reflections, documenting the expedition, the ethnographic collections, and the impact that the Lang-Chapin expedition had on the art and cultures of the region. The exhibition traveled to five museums throughout the United States and its catalogue won the Arts Council of the African Studies Association trienniel award for Best Book on African Art.

The Lang-Chapin collections are still used by scientists who come to the American Museum of Natural History from around the world. Lang, Chapin, and their thousands of African assistants never could have imagined that their collections would one day be digitized and made universally and instantaneously accessible on the Web. They would surely be pleased to see the Digital Library Project breathing new life, reach, and power into their work.

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More Expedition Readings

(click images for larger view)

thumbnail link to larger image: AMNH 227134

Tents near the Ituri River

thumbnail link to larger image: AMNH # 111651

Azande porters

thumbnail link to larger image: AMNH # 112248