Carnegie Institution research mission


China’s political climate was unstable in 1903 and westerners entering China did so at some risk. Adding to the atmosphere of intrigue surrounding the mission was the interest of Western powers in territorial control and political influence in the fractured country. Eager for adventure, R. Harvey Sargent joined the Carnegie Institution research mission.

In search of fossil trilobites, remote ancestors of the crayfish, geologist and mission leader Bailey Willis and Eliot Blackwelder, a graduate student of geology, had already begun their exploration in Shandong province and in southern Manchuria. Sargent met them in Tianjin. From Beijing, the expedition moved south to Baoding, whence they launched their trek across Zhili (present-day Hebei province), Shanxi, and Shaanxi provinces.

Besides his skill as a topographer, Sargent possessed great enthusiasm and curiosity, a keen interest in humanity, an artist’s eye for composition, and a simple camera. As the explorers moved through the stark landscape of northern China, Sargent snapped whatever caught his eye.