• Amazonia;
  • documentary film;
  • exploration;
  • local knowledge;
  • Orinoco River;
  • Alexander Hamilton Rice


In this article I reexamine Alexander Hamilton Rice's seventh expedition to Amazonia (1924–1925) in order to highlight the ways in which the image of the modern explorer was constructed through various technologies of visualization, including maps, still photography, and film. The Rice expedition was equipped with the latest surveying instruments, among them a hydroplane especially adapted for taking aerial photographs, and it was the first to attempt shortwave radio communication in the Tropics. However, the expedition's efforts to reach the headwaters of the Rio Branco ended in failure. I investigate Rice's heavy investment in making a visual record of the expedition in the context of his academic ambitions. Despite his influence in learned societies in the United States and Europe, his questionable reputation within academic circles was difficult to overcome: His reliance on publicity to enhance his academic career had adverse consequences. The retelling of Rice's tale here also sheds light on the role of indigenous local knowledge and agency in the history of exploration. All the modern surveying technology employed notwithstanding, local support remained crucial for Amazonian exploration.