George Kennan was one of the earliest American "experts" on Russia and the Russian Empire. Here, he poses in a Georgian military uniform.

Photograph by George Kennan, courtesy Library of Congress

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    On February 16, 1845, George Kennan was born in Norwalk, Ohio. Before he turned 20, Kennan was on a ship to the remote Kamchatka Peninsula in Russia, on an expedition to establish the world’s first telegraph line from Europe and Asia to North America. That endeavor failed, as an undersea cable was laid beneath the Atlantic Ocean before Kennan’s longer cable could be laid. Kennan’s two years in isolated Kamchatka, however, began his career as a journalist and explorer.
    Kennan returned to Russia several times, documenting the stark beauty and surprising biodiversity of the Siberian wilderness. He also wrote about the culture and traditions of Siberia’s Arctic peoples, such as the Korak, Chukchi, and Yakut. The last time he visited Russia, Kennan reported on its harsh prison system—and was promptly banned from ever returning to the country.
    In addition to chronicling life in 19th-century Russia, Kennan also wrote about the modernization of Japan and the devastating explosion of the Mt. Pelee volcano on the Caribbean island of Martinique. In 1888, Kennan was the only journalist among the 33 founders of the National Geographic Society.
  • Term Part of Speech Definition Encyclopedic Entry
    Arctic Noun

    region at Earth's extreme north, encompassed by the Arctic Circle.

    Encyclopedic Entry: Arctic
    biodiversity Noun

    all the different kinds of living organisms within a given area.

    Encyclopedic Entry: biodiversity
    cable Noun

    strong set of cords or wire ropes.

    chronicle Verb

    to report.

    culture Noun

    learned behavior of people, including their languages, belief systems, social structures, institutions, and material goods.

    devastate Verb

    to destroy.

    document Verb

    to keep track of.

    endeavor Noun

    large-scale undertaking or attempt.

    establish Verb

    to form or officially organize.

    expedition Noun

    journey with a specific purpose, such as exploration.

    explorer Noun

    person who studies unknown areas.

    harsh Adjective


    herder Noun

    person who controls and takes responsibility for a group of animals such as sheep, cattle, or horses.

    isolate Verb

    to set one thing or organism apart from others.

    modernization Noun

    theory that civilizations move from primitive to technologically advanced, and that the advanced civilizations are the wealthiest, most powerful and most democratic.

    National Geographic Society Noun

    (1888) organization whose mission is "Inspiring people to care about the planet."

    peninsula Noun

    piece of land jutting into a body of water.

    Encyclopedic Entry: peninsula
    prison Noun

    buildings that house convicted criminals and people accused of a crime and awaiting trial.

    prompt Adjective

    on time or quickly.

    remote Adjective

    distant or far away.

    Siberia Noun

    region of land stretching across Russia from the Ural Mountains to the Pacific Ocean.

    stark Adjective

    severe, striking, or clear-cut.

    steppe Noun

    dry, flat grassland with no trees and a cool climate.

    Encyclopedic Entry: steppe
    telegraph Noun

    system of communication involving devices connected through electrical wires.

    trade route Noun

    path followed by merchants or explorers to exchange goods and services.

    tradition Noun

    beliefs, customs, and cultural characteristics handed down from one generation to the next.

    volcano Noun

    an opening in the Earth's crust, through which lava, ash, and gases erupt, and also the cone built by eruptions.

    Encyclopedic Entry: volcano
    wilderness Noun

    environment that has remained essentially undisturbed by human activity.

    Encyclopedic Entry: wilderness