0089The Records of the Lang-Chapin Congo Expedition, 1909-1915Katherine E. Caiazza05/2004
American Museum of Natural History
Division of Anthropology Archives
Central Park West at 79th Street
New York, New York 10024
(212) 769-5879
The Records of the Lang-Chapin Congo Expedition, 1909-1915
Descriptive Overview
Index Terms
Scope and Content Note
Container Listing
Descriptive Overview
Creator: Lang-Chapin Congo Expedition
Dates: 1909-1915
Catalog Number: .L3643
Size: .52 cubic feet
American Museum of Natural History, Division of Anthropology Archives
Expedition to document the biology and culture of the Congo. Field notebooks and drawings.
Index Terms
American Ornithologists Union
Belgian Institute for Scientific Research in Central Africa
Boulton, Rudyard
Bumpus, Herman
Chapin, James Paul
Chapin, Ruth Trimble
Columbia University
Goelet, Robert W.
Julliard, A.D.
Keim, Curtis A.
Lang, Herbert
Morgan, J.P.
Musee royal de l'Afrique centrale
Musee royal du Congo
Rockefeller, William
Schildkrout, Enid
Tjader, Richard
Transval Museum
University of Zurich
Vanderbilt, William K.
Cultural Groups
African Reflections exhibit
Carl Akeley Hall of African Mammals
Lang-Chapin Congo Expedition
Geographic Locations
British Guiana
Portuguese West Africa
South Africa
Association Object Collections
When the president and director of the American Museum of Natural History approached the colonial administrators of the Congo in 1907, they sought to begin cataloging one of the least understood biological regions on Earth. A deal was completed a year later; Belgium offered to provide access and some funding, and requested that the American Museum expedition give duplicate specimens to the Musee royal du Congo (now the Musee royal de l'Afrique centrale) in Tervuren, near Brussels. Money for the project was raised among some of New York's most influential philanthropists, including William K. Vanderbilt, A. D. Julliard, Robert W. Goelet, William Rockefeller, and J.P. Morgan, who was a personal friend of King Leopold II. Mammalogist and photographer Herbert Lang was chosen to lead the expedition.
The expedition was originally funded for two years, but in the end, took six. The mission, in the minds of the leaders and the Museum's administrators, was to capture as broad a picture of the Congo's biota and cultures as possible. The Congo Expedition focused on a pair of rare animals: the okapi and the square-mouthed rhinoceros, also known as the white rhinoceros.
As their experience in Africa deepened, Lang and Chapin became increasingly interested in the African people they were living and working with. Lang, although not formally trained in anthropology, wrote the field catalog for the ethnographic collection and collected material ranging from grain samples to head measurements, household items, and finally, at the end of his stay, works of commissioned art. Lang's commitment to empirical observation led him to collect masses of information about material culture and the people who produced it. Although the Lang-Chapin ethnographic collections include objects from regions all along the expedition's route, the largest and most important part of their collection is from the Mangbetu.
With the outbreak of World War I, Lang and Chapin made their way back to New York. 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 triennial award for Best Book on African Art.
Below are biographical notes on the Expedition's two leaders, Herbert Lang and James P. Chapin.
Herbert Lang, 1879-1957
Herbert Lang was born in Oehringen, Wurttemberg, Germany in 1879. He turned a childhood interest in the natural world into a job as a taxidermist in Wurttemberg, and then, later, went to work for the natural history museum at the University of Zurich. Lang emigrated to America in 1903 at the age of 24 and joined the American Museum staff as a taxidermist. For the next three years he developed dioramas and other exhibits of North American birds for the Museum. In 1906, he left for Africa, representing the American Museum on a big-game collecting expedition to Kenya led by the wealthy hunter Richard Tjader. In part, because of Lang's experience in Africa, and partly because of his expertise preparing and preserving animal specimens, the Museum's Director, Herman Bumpus, offered Lang the job of leading the Congo Expedition in 1908. Upon his return to New York in 1915, Lang was made an assistant in Mammalogy and assigned to the preparation, arrangement, and description of the thousands of specimens he and Chapin had collected on the Congo Expedition. Four years later, Lang was made an Assistant Curator in the Museum's Department of Mammalogy, where he continued to work on the fauna of British Guiana, making comparisons between the African and the South American forests and savannas. Lang never lost his taste for fieldwork and later he and Rudyard Boulton went to Portuguese West Africa where they traveled 4,000-miles in pursuit of mammals to complete the Carl Akeley Hall of African Mammals. Lang remained in Africa after the Angola expedition, eventually settling into a job at the Transvaal Museum in South Africa. He continued his association with the American Museum, however, and worked on several joint projects. Lang was probably one of the best ethnographic and wildlife photographers of his day. In 1935, Lang married Mrs. Sherwood and took over the management of Sherwood's Eaton Hall Hotel in Pretoria. Lang died there on May 29, 1957 at the age of 78, having collected tens of thousands of animal specimens over his lifetime.
James Paul Chapin, 1889-1964
James Paul Chapin was born only a few blocks from the American Museum of Natural History in 1889. After high school, he began what would become a 59-year career at the Museum in the Preparatory Department. Chapin had an interest in birds and a talent for scientific illustration. Chapin was studying biology at Columbia University in 1908, when Herbert Lang approached him about assisting him on an expedition to the Congo. Chapin was nineteen at the time. The Congo Expedition was to last only two years, but Lang and Chapin were in Africa for six, returning to New York in 1915. Fifteen volumes of scientific findings were eventually published documenting the specimens Lang and Chapin brought home, four of which, together titled Birds of the Belgian Congo, were by Chapin. This work fixed Chapin's place among the great ornithologists of the twentieth century. When he returned to New York in 1915, Chapin finished his undergraduate degree at Columbia and went on to earn his doctorate there in 1919. Chapin went back to Africa several times in the following years. From 1953 to 1958, Chapin and his wife, Ruth Trimble Chapin, lived in the eastern Congo where they studied birds and trained others to do so under the auspices of the Belgian Institute for Scientific Research in Central Africa. Chapin also published his research on the birds of Europe, the Canadian Rockies, Panama, Polynesia, and the Galapagos Islands. He received many awards during his long career, including the Elliot Medal of the National Academy of Sciences. Chapin served as vice president of the American Ornithologists Union from 1934 through 1939 and as its president from 1939 until 1942. Chapin died at his home on the Upper West Side of Manhattan on April 7, 1964. At that time he was a research associate in Ornithology and curator emeritus at the Museum. He was 74 years old.
Scope and Content Note
Found here are three field notebooks (originals and photocopies) and several of drawings relating to the anthropological work of the Congo Expedition. The original field notebooks were treated and boxed by the Preservation Department in the library after they were scanned for the digital library project.
Container Listing
Box 1
• Folder 1Field notebook, 1909-1912
• Folder 2Field notebook, 1911-1912
• Folder 3Field notebook, 1914
• Folder 4Drawing of toy top (90.1/3290 ABC)
• Folder 5Drawings - Plans of Okondo's Big House
Box 2
• Folder 1Photocopy of field notebook, 1909-1912
• Folder 2Photocopy of field notebook, 1911-1912
• Folder 3Photocopy of field notebook, 1914
For more information on the Lang-Chapin Congo Expedition, including photographs, maps, and publications, see the library's website at http://diglib1.amnh.org and the exhibition catalogue, African Reflections: Art from Northeastern Zaire by Enid Schildkrout and Curtis A. Keim, published by the University of Washington Press and the American Museum of Natural History, 1990.
Additional James Paul Chapin papers can be found at:
Staten Island Institute of Arts and Sciences
Museum of Staten Island
Related Material
Additional field notes can be found in the other scientific departments of the Museum. The photographs and negatives from the expedition can be found in the Museum's library.
Alternate Form Available
Scans of the Lang and Chapin field notebooks can be found on the library's website, at http://diglib1.amnh.org.
Preferred Citation
.L3643, The Records of the Lang-Chapin Congo Expedition, 1909-1915, American Museum of Natural History, Division of Anthropology Archives.