John W. Hessler

Explorer, Curator, and Professor in Baltimore, MD

John W. Hessler

Explorer, Curator, and Professor in Baltimore, MD

Read my Alpinist articles

When not climbing in the Alps, botanizing in some jungle, or racing in the saddle of a Cerlevo, I am the curator of the Jay I. Kislak Collection of the Archaeology and History of the Early Americas and a Specialist in Geographic Information Science (GIS) at the Library of Congress in Washington, DC. I am also on the faculty of the Johns Hopkins University and the Rare Book School at the University of Virginia.

An avid mountaineer, I am a frequent contributor to Alpinist Magazine where I write on high-altitude physiology, glaciology and climate change.

Formerly of the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History, where I studied high-altitude lepidoptera and the butterflies in the jungles around Tikal, my current research focusses on the ethnobotany of the ancient Maya and Nahua and on traditional plant classification schemes in the Amazon. I am also researching the ethnobotanical language of the Cahuilla, or Iviluqaletem culture, in the deserts of southwestern California & Joshua Tree National Park, and the botanical cognates of the languages of the Uto-Aztecan family.

Interested in the theory and applications of aDNA and eDNA, I have participated in archaeological and paleobotantical studies of ancient flora assemblages, including a recent investigation of the remains of ancient agave.

The author of more than one hundred articles and books, including the New York Times selection, MAP: Exploring the World, my writing and work has been featured in many national media outlets including the New York Times, Washington Post, Discover Magazine, WIRED, the Atlantic’s CITYLAB, the BBC, CBS News and most recently on NPR’s All Things Considered. I am the author of the recent book Collecting for a New World, which outlines the provenance and history of the archaeological collections at the Library of Congress.

Like the great French anthropologist, Claude Levi-Strauss before me, who bought every volume, except one, in the bookstores of New York's Lower East Side, I am making my through, the flawed, but amazingly detailed, 48 volume treasure house of indigenous languages and culture, the Annual report of the Bureau of Ethnology to the Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution...all for my new book, Becoming Levi-Strauss: one curators struggle to find a lost America.

  • Work
    • Library of Congress / JHU