A Sven Hedin Chronology

compiled by

Daniel C. Waugh
University of Washington (Seattle)

[For an annotated bibliography of Sven Hedin, click here.]

Sven Hedin dressed for the Inner Asian winter. (Frontispiece, Through Asia, Vol. I)

late 18th century Sven Anders Hedin, great-great-grandfather of the explorer, a student of the famous naturalist Linnaeus, was court physician to Swedish King Gustav III.
February 19, 1865 Sven Anders Hedin born to the Stockholm city architect Ludvig Hedin and his wife Anna, daughter of a wealthy brewer Abraham Westman.
April 24, 1880 Triumphal return of Adolf Erik Nordenskiöld and the Vega from pioneering voyage through the Northeast Passage to the Pacific, an event which Hedin cites as the key moment inspiring him to become an explorer.
1885-1886 Hedin's first major trip, as a tutor, through Russia to the Caucasus and Baku, and then through Persia and Ottoman Turkey on his own. Result was his first travel book, Across Persia, Mesopotamia, and the Caucasus, published in 1887 with a foreword by the famous Hungarian orientalist Armenius Vambery.
1889 Second book published, an abridged translation of the travels of a famous Russian explorer of inner Asia, Nikolai Przhevalskii; foreword to the book written by Nordenskiöld.
Oct. 1889-April 1890 Studied at University of Berlin under distinguished geographer Ferdinand von Richthofen, who is known for having coined the phrase "The Silk Road."
1890-1891 Member of Swedish diplomatic mission to Persia and then independent traveler through Russian Central Asia and in the winter across the mountains to Kashgar in Xinjiang. Resulted in two publications: King Oscar's Embassy and the two-volume Across Khorasan and Turkestan.
1892 Received Doctor of Philosophy degree at the University of Halle, with "dissertation" on Mt. Demavend in Persia.

Floating down the Tarim River in 1899. A later artist's depiction. (Central Asia and Tibet, I, facing p. 106)

1893-1897 Third trip to Asia, this time a real expedition, via Russia and the Pamirs to get to China. Attempted to climb 24,700-ft. Mt. Mustagh Ata, nearly died crossing western Taklamakan Desert to the Khotan River, discovered abandoned ancient settlements in the desert, studied region around the "wandering lake," Lop Nor, and crossed northern Tibet, arriving in Beijing in March 1897. Returned home via Russia. Described expedition in a popular two-volume book, Through Asia, and a volume of scientific reports. 1898 Recipient of various medals for his accomplishments from European geographical societies. Among the awards were the Founders' Medal from the British Royal Geographical Society and the Vega Medal from the Swedish Geographical Society.
1899-1902 Fourth expedition to Asia. Floated down Tarim River, studied Lop Nor area (including visit to ancient Silk Road settlement of Lou-Lan), explored and mapped in Tibet but prevented from reaching Lhasa. Returned via Ladakh and Kashmir in India. On return ennobled by King Oscar II, the last Swede to be so honored. Published results of travels in 2-vol. Central Asia and Tibet and then several volumes of scientific results. Subsequently, honored by award of Victoria Medal from the British Royal Geographical Society.

Map showing Hedin's explorations around Lake Manasarovar and Mt. Kailas in 1907. (Transhimalaya, II)

1906-1908 Fifth expedition. Crossed Persia to India and from there entered Tibet despite British opposition. Result was detailed observations of SW Tibet and controversial claims to have discovered a previously unknown Transhimalaya range and the sources of the major Indian rivers. Greeted triumphantly on return to Stockholm in 1909 but encountered increasing skepticism and criticism from some members of Britain's Royal Geographical Society. Results of expedition published in popular 3-vol. account, Transhimalaya, and a decade later a 9-vol. collection of scientific results.
1911-1914 Involved in Swedish politics as an advocate for rearmament. Published best-selling book on world geography, From Pole to Pole.
1914-1915 War correspondent writing pro-German reportage from the Western and Eastern Fronts. As a result, removed from the rolls of the British Royal Geographical Society.
1916 Traveled to Middle East and wrote two books about area.
1923 Traveled to United States, one result being a book on the Grand Canyon, and returned via Beijing, Mongolia and Moscow. Described this part of his travels in From Peking to Moscow.
1926-1935 Last major Asian expedition, involving substantial German and Chinese participation and scientific studies across a variety of disciplines. On it spent significant time in Mongolia and en route to the Tarim Basin, was held captive by the forces of the rebellious Dungan warlord General Ma, and studied the historic shift of Lake Lop Nor back into its former location. While expedition was still underway wrote several popular books on it and then launched publication of the scientific results, which appeared in 54 volumes down into the 1980s.
1936 Gave speech at opening of 1936 Olympics in Berlin, in a period during which he frequently traveled to Germany and interacted with Nazi leaders.
1939-1943 Involved in various "personal" diplomatic missions to Germany and in pro-Nazi publishing activities, notably a book, America in the Struggle between Continents, which blames Roosevelt for World War II.
November 29, 1952 Death of Hedin at age 88, followed by establishment of the Sven Hedin Foundation at the Royal Academy of Sciences and Museum of Ethnography in Stockholm. During his last years, he had published an unapologetic memoir of his wartime diplomacy, a two volume collection of reminiscences about great men he had known, and a book about his canine companions in his Asian adventures.

© 2001 Daniel C. Waugh
Last updated January 8, 2001

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