In 1832 Prince Maximilian, a German nobleman and naturalist, and Karl Bodmer, a Swiss artist, embarked on a voyage of discovery up the Missouri River for the purpose of documenting the flora, fauna, and native inhabitants of North America. Bodmer was employed by Prince Maximilian to make detailed, accurate drawings of what the two men saw on their expedition, to be used upon their return to Europe to generate the printed illustrations for Maximilian’s atlas, Travels in the Interior of North America, 1832 – 1834.

As they journeyed across the United States, Maximilian recorded numerous insightful observations about the young nation. His diary records the life, rituals and languages of native peoples of the Missouri River valley from St. Louis to Montana, tribes such as the Omaha, Sioux, Assiniboin, Blackfoot, Mandan, and Minatarre (commonly known as Hidatsa). Bodmer’s work vividly reflects the landscapes, wildlife, frontier settlements, Indian villages, and peoples described in Maximilian’s diaries. Together, Maximilian and Bodmer’s written and visual documentation constitute an invaluable record of the upper Missouri frontier.

Maximilian and Bodmer took their journals and images home to Europe, where Bodmer spent several years supervising the engraving and printing process. These original printing plates were later discovered by an anthropologist at Castle Wied, where they eventually found their way to the United States, and into the safekeeping of the Joslyn Art Museum.

The Maximilian-Bodmer Expedition: Travels in the Interior of North America, 1832-1834, an exhibition that will tour around Nebraska in 2013, features selections from a new 20th century edition of spectacular hand-colored engravings, printed in 1989 by Joslyn Art Museum in partnership with Alecto Historical Editions in London, struck from the original ca. 1840 plates created by Swiss artist Karl Bodmer. The show exhibits 40 framed prints, assembled from the eighty-one prints in the new edition of Bodmer’s images. The exhibition will travel to venues throughout Nebraska during 2013. Funding for this project has been generously provided by the Nebraska Arts Council, Richard P. Kimmel and Laurine Kimmel Charitable Foundation, and The Nebraska Cultural Endowment.

Click Here to view a gallery of images from the exhibition.

Relating Material to Nebraska Academic Standards
Discussion material and questions are designed to accompany school curriculum and relate directly to the Nebraska social studies and language arts academic standards. Using maps, primary sources—including Bodmer’s prints and Maximilian’s published journal—as well as hands on materials and books, students will learn about Native American life and culture, local history and geography, about important inventions and the development of exploration of the West, as well as the basic economics of the fur trade. More information regarding connecting the material with Nebraska’s academic standards can be found in this section.

Understanding the Expedition
This portion of the guide is intended to help students put Bodmer’s work in its historical context. Organized around a series of questions, this section gives background on the explorers and their expedition across North America. Included are also discussion questions to guide classroom conversations.

Map of the Journey
This map illustrates Maximilian and Bodmer's journey up the Missouri River.

The timeline of the Expedition highlights key events that took place on the journey.

Images and Descriptions
This section highlights works in the exhibition, providing historical, ethnological, and art historical details on each work. There are discussion questions listed at the end of each description in order to help students engage with individual works.

Thematic Approach
After students are familiar with Bodmer’s work and the expedition, you may want to expand the discussion using a thematic approach. This part of the packet offers two themes, River and Buffalo, as catalysts for studying the interdisciplinary elements found in the exhibition.

Printmaking Process
This section focuses on the printmaking techniques Bodmer used to create the original plates and the process by which the new edition was printed. It includes a detailed narrative and a glossary of printmaking tools, materials, and processes.

Check out the bibliography for further reading, and to see what sources were used to create this guide.