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14 posts categorized "Arctic"

10 August 2015

Over the Ice: Polar Exploration from the Air

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In case you missed Friday's lecture, we're re-posting this piece from our BL Science colleagues' blog. Over the summer the British Library Americas Blog and U.S. Studies Online will be publishing a series of posts as part of the Eccles Centre’s Summer Scholars 2015 series of talks. The articles are based on talks given by a range of writers and scholars conducting research at the British Library thanks to generous research fellowships and grants awarded by the Eccles Centre. This post is by Marionne Cronin, University of Aberdeen, on how aviation changed the nature of polar exploration. A schedule for the remaining Scholars talks can be found here]

Richard_Evelyn_Byrd
Richard Evelyn Byrd (Image: Wikimedia Commons)

For Americans, the spring of 1926 was an exciting time in long-distance aviation.  The newspapers were full of thrilling tales of pioneering flights, including three aerial expeditions aiming for the North Pole.  The excitement came to a head on 9 May 1926, when Richard E. Byrd, a young American naval aviator, returned to his expedition’s base at King’s Bay, Spitsbergen (Svalbard), after a flight of just over 15 hours, proclaiming that he and his co-pilot Floyd Bennett had become the first people to reach the North Pole by air.  Byrd’s announcement triggered a patriotic outpouring in the American press, with headlines trumpeting the United States’ polar conquest.  Byrd returned home a national hero, where he was met by cheering crowds and public accolades, including the Congressional Medal of Honor.

But what exactly were these crowds cheering? 

In part, they perceived Byrd’s feat as evidence of America’s technological progress and as a symbol of their nation’s modernity.  Celebrating the mechanical triumph, however, also risked undercutting the heroic nature of exploration, particularly when the flight was compared to previous expeditions, which had produced images of intrepid fur-clad explorers battling their way across the dangerous polar ice.  By lifting the explorer high above the ice and shielding him within the body of a machine that carried him towards the pole, the airplane seemed to make the process far too easy to be considered heroic.  Much as it jeopardized the explorer’s heroic status, the airplane also threatened to domesticate the Arctic, thereby destroying its imaginative potential as a space for heroic adventure.  In particular, the use of aircraft seemed to shatter the Arctic’s image as a theoretically untouched wilderness cut off from the modern industrialized world.

How was it, then, that Byrd continued to be seen as an exceptional man, even when ensconced in the machine’s protective shell soaring high above the polar ice?  The process of creating a polar hero in this context was not straightforward and the result was not a single stable image.  This heterogeneity, however, offers a window into how Americans in the interwar period sought to reconcile a celebration of mechanical progress with ideas about heroic masculinity.

Fokker_F.VII_plane_of_Byrd-Bennett_in_flight_in_1926
Fokker F.VII plane with Byrd-Bennett in flight in 1926. (Image:Wikimedia Commons)

On the one hand, many narratives rehearsed various longstanding romantic images of polar exploration in order to buttress Byrd’s heroic status.  But, perhaps more interestingly, several of these narratives also reimagined the practice of exploration itself.  These accounts extended the landscape of exploration vertically, imagining the skies as a new field to explore.  By underscoring the dangers present in the Arctic atmosphere – its extreme temperatures, unpredictable weather, and unknown aerial currents – newspaper stories created a new environment that could test both the polar explorer and his machine.  Much as the deep oceans and space would emerge as new frontiers later in the century, in these accounts the air became a new wilderness for a modern society to explore.  These stories also drew on popular interwar images of aviation, which imagined it as a technology of wonder and grace that enabled aviators to escape the quotidian mundaneness of everyday life and to enter a new, transcendent world.  Thus, much like the polar explorers of earlier eras, the pilot became a daring pioneer who stepped into the unknown and was transformed into a heroic figure.

To remain a polar hero, however, Byrd needed to be more than a mere passenger on this aerial adventure.  Instead, his ability to control the machine, to bend its power to his will, became a key component of what it meant to be an aerial explorer.  In particular, coverage emphasized the flight’s mental challenges, specifically the intense concentration demanded by the mathematical calculations required to navigate over the polar ice.  Thus, aerial exploration became as much a mental as a physical challenge.  By demonstrating the mental ability necessary to control the machine, Byrd acquired the power to penetrate previously inaccessible areas, to see further than terrestrial explorers, and therefore to pierce the Arctic’s secrets.  At the same time, risks from technology itself, in the form of mechanical failures, offered a new set of hazards for the technological explorer to overcome.  The technology itself thus became a site of exploration as the venture into new arenas tested both the explorer’s and the machine’s limits. The explorer’s willingness to brave these dangers and his ability to control the machine under difficult conditions became important signs of his heroic masculinity.

Coolidge_awarding_Medal_of_Honor_to_Byrd_and_Bennett_1927
Coolidge awarding Medal of Honor to Byrd and Bennett 1927 (Image: Wikimedia Commons)

Through the newspaper stories covering Byrd’s flight, we can see their authors exploring the question of how to successfully incorporate the machine into exploration narratives without abandoning the hero’s central place.  By reimagining the nature of exploration and reconceiving of the air as a new frontier, these authors sought to create an image of heroic exploration that could accommodate the presence of the machine.  In doing so they articulated a vision of the technological explorer that would influence later depictions of figures such as Charles Lindberg and the first astronauts, and would continue to influence perceptions of heroic masculinity across the 20th century.

Dr Marionne Cronin is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow in the Northern Colonialism Programme at the University of Aberdeen, where her research investigates the place of technology in the culture of polar exploration. She is currently working on a book examining how interwar polar explorers’ use of new technologies – particularly airplanes – was incorporated into popular images of heroic exploration, masculinity, and modernity. She will be an Eccles Centre Visiting Fellow in North American Studies in June-August 2015.

If you want to learn more about science in extreme environments you can watch the video of our recent TalkScience event here.

22 July 2015

The Future of the Written Word... and the Arctic

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Arctic

The written word, as we all know, is a bit passé. But Team Americas is keeping with the now, and putting some spoken-word Americana on Soundcloud, thanks to the Eccles Centre (they were all recorded at various events organised by the centre).

The latest is the Future of the Arctic, marking the United States' 2015 role as Chair of the Arctic Council with a panel discussion on this now precarious region. 

[MJS]

13 April 2015

Discovering the Northwest Passage

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Gallery image

Above: a lightbox from Lines in the Ice [image by PJH]

Two things you won't find in 'Lines in the Ice: seeking the Northwest Passage' are a map showing the route of the Passage and an authoritative statement as to who, in the end, discovered this fabled path. As for the map, this is because there is no one route that can be rightly called the Northwest Passage, instead there are myriad channels scattered throughout the archipelago of northern Canada. Similarly, discerning exactly who discovered the Passage is akin to navigating a path through an archipelago of competing claims and achievements.

First things first, a rhetorical question; who do you think discovered the Northwest Passage? If you're British you probably think of Franklin himself, lost in the twilight years of his career in an attempt to fill in the last few blanks on the map of the Canadian Arctic. The evidence for what Franklin did or didn't discover is patchy but by reaching the north of King William Island Franklin did connect the exploration done in the Melville Sound with that done on the north Canadian coast (in which he too was involved). As a result, Lady Jane Franklin felt able to argue he and his crew should receive the honour. However, this is not the whole picture and, indeed, a story lies behind Lady Franklin's motivations.

Simpson and Dease (map)

Above: the work done by Simpson and Dease for the hudson's Bay Co. up until 1839 [BL: 1424.h.2]

Before we discuss this, mention must be made of an oft-forgot expedition instigated not by the Navy but by the Hudson's Bay Company. The expedition of Simpson and Dease was an attempt to fill in the blanks on Canada's north coast and it did so very differently from the Navy's standard practice; meaning they travelled overland and lightly in small teams. Thomas Simpson, cousin of the director of the Hudson’s' Bay Company, Sir George Simpson, made great strides in completing the charting of Canada's north coast and also claimed, after an expedition in 1839, to have, 'secured for our ... Company the indisputable honour of discovering the north-west passage...'. Closer analysis suggests Simpson may have been referring, peculiarly, to the completion of the western part of the passage, especially as he wished later to finally complete the survey of the Passage over land. Ultimately Simpson was denied the chance as he died in mysterious circumstances but his and Dease's work, which came so close to completing a charting of the Passage, reminds us how many endeavours were involved in the completion of this work of centuries. 

Investigator (Banks Island)

Above: HMS Investigator to the north of Banks Land, from where McClure would spot the Melville Island [BL: 10460.e.10]

Two other names of note in the final chapters of the discovery of the Northwest Passage are those of Captain Robert McClure and Dr. John Rae. McClure, at this time a Commander, was involved in the search for Franklin and ended up being the first commanding officer to complete the Passage. Having entered from the Pacific and reached Banks Island (before being frozen into the ice) McClure could see Melville Island and the site of Parry's furthest west of 1819. By travelling overland McClure linked the two points of exploration in 1851 and his expedition was the first to connect together a complete Northwest Passage. As a result, on his return home, overlooking having lost a ship and disobeyed the orders of his superior officer, McClure was given a hero's welcome and awarded £10,000 by Parliament.

Rae (map)

Above: a map from the account of Rae's 1848 and 1849 voyage. The blank area to the east of 'King William Land' would be charted as sea by Rae in 1854 [BL: 2370.e.4]

Despite the efforts of McClure and his crew, the Northwest Passage discovered in 1851 was, for all intents and purposes, useless due to the amount of ice found there each summer. An ice free route was discovered by Dr. John Rae in 1854, the same year as he discerned the fate of Franklin and his crew from the accounts of Inuit he encountered. Rae discovered that 'King William Land' was actually King William Island. Franklin had become stuck in the ice attempting to navigate the western side of this landmass but the strait discovered by Rae is frequently free of ice and was used by Amundsen during his navigation of the Passage from 1903-1906

Amundsen route

Above: the route of Amundsen's navigation between 1903 and 1906, using the areas charted by Rae, Franklin, Simpson and Dease [BL: 2352.f.4]

Both McClure and Rae's discoveries can be regarded as phenomenal achievements and each are regarded, by various historians, as being the true pioneers of the Northwest Passage. And yet, their names are less well-known than Franklin's. This is, in part, because of the political and popular agency of Lady Jane Franklin who, after McClure's award and Rae's return with a story involving death and cannibalism, sought to salvage what she could of her husband's reputation. While discrediting McClure and Rae, Lady Franklin also set about developing the popular idea that Franklin perhaps navigated the Passage first or at the very least connected together its few remaining dots through his overwintering at King William Island.

Franklin (statue)

Above: Franklin's statue in Waterloo Place [image by PJH]

Such ideas would subsequently be set down in print and memorialised in statues. Franklin's statue today stands tall in Waterloo Place, a site of memorialisation for some of the British Empire's most notable apostles and martyrs, where the accompanying plaque reads, 'They forged the last link [of the Passage] with their lives'. While the inscription does not explicitly state that Franklin and his crew discovered the passage that could instead be interpreted as a testament to the efforts of both Franklins and the many other individuals who, in these last years, navigated the archipelago and charted, 'a Northwest Passage to the sea'.

‘Lines in the Ice’ is, sadly, now in its last week. To see more items from the expeditions of Franklin, McClure and Rae, not to mention myriad rare maps and unique historical accounts, be sure to visit the Library before closing on April 19th.

[PJH]

08 April 2015

The Man Who Ate His Boots

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Franklin overland camp

 Above: A winter camp during Franklin's famously hungry first expedition [BL: 10460.c.34]

When we first pitched Lines in the Ice as an exhibition idea one thing was clear from the start, this could only ever hope to be an introduction to the Library's polar and even Northwest Passage related collections. As a result all the individual stories that form the whole of the exhibition are notes in wider narratives which could be further expanded by looking deeper into the Library's collections. Even Franklin, who receives so much attention on the gallery floor and was one of the drivers for putting on the exhibition, has a larger story to tell through the Library's collections.

As the exhibition draws to a close (we've now got less than a fortnight to run) I'm thinking about Franklin again and all that the collections here can tell us about his role in the search for the Northwest Passage. As a result of his fate and the humorous sound bites about his overland expeditions Franklin is often popularly remembered as a failure. Lines in the Ice has sought to raise questions about this perspective and my recent work on our materials relating to Franklin has only affirmed my opinion that a man (and a team) of such determination and who achieved such monumental feats of endurance cannot be so easily dismissed.

Inuit boats (Franklin Second Journey)

Above: Franklin's team are approached by Inuit kayaks during his second overland voyage [BL: G.7398]

The appendices to Franklin's published accounts illustrate the fact. Not only did he and his team chart large tracts of the Arctic coast of North America while enduring some of the worst weather on record they also recorded the climate, geological observations and the flora and fauna of the areas they crossed. The result is a detailed record not just of the expedition but of the ecology and climate of northern Canada in the early nineteenth century. On top of this, other members of the expedition left behind records of the individuals and cultures they encountered on the journey, most notably in the form of Lieutenant Back's translation of voyageur songs, 'Canadian Airs'.

Sabine appendices (flower)  Sabine appendices (lichen)
Above: some of the illustrations from the zoological appendix to Franklin's first account, compiled by Joseph Sabine [BL: 569.f.16]

In the context of the first expedition all of this was achieved in the face of not only extremely bad weather but an ongoing feud between the North West and Hudson's Bay companies that all but deprived Franklin and his team of the required support. While the expedition was a disaster and this led to a high rate of death (and unsavory incidents) amongst the men the significance of factors originating outside of the expedition must be noted, as should the achievements the expedition managed to make. That men survived and produced an insightful record of the journey makes it less easy to dismiss Franklin's overland expeditions just as poorly-conceived follies. Instead, we should perhaps view them within the context of Franklin's life as a whole, one marked by distinguished service, postings around the world and an ability to survive the worst war and exploration could throw at him. At least until his later, fateful, journey.

Canadian Airs (Back)

Above: Frontispiece of 'Canadian Airs' produced from songs compiled and translated by Lieut. George Back during Franklin's first overland expedition [BL: G. 416]

With this in mind, why not pop on your boots and come to see Lines in the Ice before it closes on April 19th? You'll not only learn more about Franklin and the search for the Northwest Passage, you'll hopefully get a taste to find out more in our reading rooms too.

[PJH]

20 March 2015

Symposium: Alaska, the Arctic and the US Imagination

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Above: illustration from 'Alaska, its history and resources...' [BL: 10460.dd.17].

On Monday the Library hosted scholars from the US, Canada and Europe for a day-long discussion on the significance of Alaska and the Arctic to the United States. As you'll see from the programme (at the bottom of this post), the day covered a lot of ground, with discussion ranging from Alaska in film, to the artwork of William Bradford, the USS Nautilus and much more in-between.

The diversity of the day was drawn together by our keynote speaker, Dr. Michael Robinson, who provided a fascinating overview of American interest in the Arctic, charting its growth through the Alaska purchase, the press mania of the search for Franklin and the Cold War geopolitics of the DEW Line. The talk also intersected with some of the Library's wider work, most notably our Digital Curators' innovative research in the digital humanities. Dr. Robinson charted the rising use of the term 'Arctic' in nineteenth century publications, with early results showing how events, such as the search for Franklin, caused imaginative interest (in the form of writing and publishing) in the area to spike.

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Above: illustration from 'Alaska, its history and resources'. Courtesy of the BL Flickr pool.

The day was inspired by the change of Chair for the Arctic Council, coming later this year, as Canada hands over to the United States. Lines in the Ice has been lucky in the amount of relevant events that have fallen around its time in the Entrance Hall Gallery, what with HMS Erebus being found in the summer of 2014, and we were keen to draw connections to this event in Arctic politics too. As a result, we wound up the day with a public panel called, 'The Future of the Arctic', which hosted representatives from the Canadian High Commission, the Lords Select Committee for the Arctic, the US Embassy and the scientist Dr. Gabrielle Walker in conversation with the public, all chaired by Professor Klaus Dodds.

Excellent audience questions and thoughtful answers from the panel made this an engaging and insightful event. It also drew together the strands of the day. Mention of the Canadian High Arctic Research Station tied in with a paper by Team Americas' own Rosanna White while discussions about the agency of Arctic indigenous peoples in global politics connected to an earlier paper on the Harriman Expedition by Jen Smith

Overall the day articulated a core point similar to that of Lines in the Ice, that our contemporary interest in and experience of the Arctic does not exist in isolation of the area's history. At a time when the challenges facing the area are immense we must not be bound to this history but learn from it to create a viable future for all of those who live in Alaska and the wider Arctic regions.

Thanks to all our participants who took the time and effort to be part of this discussion, Team Americas hopes to keep in touch with you in the future.

[PJH]

Symposium programme:  

ALASKA, THE ARCTIC AND THE US IMAGINATION
Monday 16 March 2015
The British Library Conference Centre

Session 1: Emerging research on the Polar Regions

  • Claire Warrior (Cambridge and National Maritime Museum), ‘Museums, families and the continued creation of Arctic histories in Britain’
  • Michaela Pokorná (University of Tromsø - The Arctic University of Norway), ‘The Old Frontier in a New Garment: The Last American Frontier in Charles Brower’s Fifty Years Below Zero (1942)’
  • Rosanna White (Royal Holloway, University of London/Eccles Centre), ‘Ceremonies of Possession: Performing sovereignty in the Canadian Arctic’
  • Johanna Feier (TU Dortmund University, Germany), ‘North to a Greener Future: The Filmic Construction of Alaska’s Far North’
  • Kim Salmons (St Mary’s University, Twickenham), ‘The Greely Arctic Expedition: A New Source for Joseph Conrad’s short story “Falk”’


Keynote:

  • Michael Robinson (Hillyer College, University of Hartford), ‘American Visions of the Arctic, 1815-2015’

Session 2: Bringing the Arctic home

  • Judith Ann Schiff (Chief Research Archivist, Yale University Library), ‘Yale’s Arctic Archives’
  • George Philip LeBourdais (Stanford University), ‘An Aesthetics of Ice: William Bradford’s Arctic Regions and America’s New Ecology’
  • Susan Eberhard (University of California, Berkeley), ‘Panther Adrift: Loss, Commemoration and William Bradford’s Arctic Landscapes’
  • Jen Smith (University of California, Berkeley), ‘(Re)imagining Race, Nature, and the Colonial Frontier in Northern Spaces through the Harriman Alaska Expedition Archive, and the Harriman Retraced of 2001’


Session 3: The Arctic and US politics

  • Matthew Kahn (Northwestern University), ‘The North Hope: Energy Development, Environmental Protection, and Competing Visions for Alaska’s North Slope’
  • Charlotte Hille (University of Amsterdam) and Ruud Janssens (University of Amsterdam), ‘National Security and Polar Profits: United States government perceptions of the Arctic from USS Nautilus to NSPD 66’
  • Dawn Alexandrea Berry (Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Hickam Air Force Base, Honolulu, HI), ‘Greenlandic Resources and the Future of American Security Policies in the Arctic’
  • Klaus Dodds (Royal Holloway, University of London), ‘Re-imagining Alaska: Building scientific bridges with Beringia (c.1967-2014)’

18 February 2015

Perspectives on the Passage: encountering the explorers

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John-ross-and-the-inuit (1)

Above: a first encounter between Ross and the Inuit of Prince Regent Bay [Shelfmark: G.7399]

One of the themes Lines in the Ice draws out, across the length of the exhibition, is that the story of exploration does not occur in an empty land. It can be easy to forget this, we still often imagine the Arctic as a remote and hostile place and the narratives of explorers that were left to us often treat the indigenous people they encountered as an aside from the grand adventure at hand. This overlooks the crucial role Inuit and other indigenous peoples have played in the exploration of the Northwest Passage and other areas of the Arctic. Indeed, even exploration of the Antarctic owes a debt to indigenous knowledge; Amundsen used many techniques he learned from Arctic Inuit on his quest for the South Pole (although it's worth noting Amundsen always stressed how much his success owed to Inuit knowledge).

As well as Amundsen there are other expedition leaders who buck the trend of underplaying Inuit culture and agency. Sir John Ross, captain of the 1818 expedition to chart the Northwest Passage, took a great deal of interest in the cultures he encountered, especially the Inughuit. Ross was the first European the Inughuit had encountered and he spent a large amount of time in his published account detailing this encounter and what he learnt about a group he called the, 'Arctic Highlanders'. Indeed much of Ross's account was devoted to discussing the cultures, landscapes, animals and plants he came across, much to the chagrin of Sir John Barrow. Barrow thought Ross had given up his quest for the passage too early, perhaps even spuriously, and so Ross's fascination with the people and ecology of the Arctic was mocked by Barrow for years to come.

Polarlge

Above: Ross and his crew also took an interest in Arctic flora and fauna, although a more invasive approach was taken in the 19th century [Shelfmark: G.7399]

Adding interest to this story is the fact that another historic perspective of Ross's expedition still exists. Playing on a sound point in Lines in the Ice is an account of Ross's arrival told by Lena Kingmiatook, a 20th century resident of Nunavut. This account is an oral history handed down over the generations and it tells us how disorientating contact with these outsiders and their gigantic ship was. We are also reminded that culture clash is not one sided, with the Inuit account focussing on the odd smell that came with the kabloona (white people), and that both groups attempted to mediate first contact in a friendly and productive way, as the local shaman and elders worked to generate a productive first meeting.

Kingmiatook's account stresses to us the strength of Inuit oral history as a means of passing information across generations, something the 2014 finding of Erebus, in an area local Inuit long claimed the ship lay, also reminds us of. For Lines in the Ice we have been fortunate to be able to tell these two stories together as the result of a loan from the Canadian Museum of History. More on this collection can be found here, there is also a book on Inuit-explorer interaction, 'Encounters on the Passage', held at shelfmark: YD.2009.a.764. 

[PJH]

10 February 2015

Forgotten histories of the Passage: the whalers

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Scoresby frontispiece 2

Above: frontispiece from vol. 2 of Scoresby's, 'An Account of the Arctic Regions' [copy on display in Lines in the Ice, G.2602 & G.2603]. Image from Archive.org

By now daily life of Lines in the Ice is well into a rhythm of showing tours around the gallery and responding to the most frequently asked question, 'what is your favourite item?' In truth, the question is impossible to answer as I love everything on display and some of my absolute favourites didn't make the cut for narrative reasons (see this previous piece on Equiano). However, there is one piece that tells a story I always like to dwell on, that of William Scoresby.

Scoresby is often marginalised in the history of the search for the Northwest Passage but his long running disagreement with Sir John Barrow is a key part of the narrative. Even in the nineteenth century there were some (like Barrow) who still believed that open sea water could not freeze. Scoresby argued the opposite; he knew it could as he had seen it with his own eyes - as the captain of a whaling vessel.

Scoresby sea fauna

Above: sea life illustrations from Scoresby's 'An Account of the Arctic Regions' [copy on display in Lines in the Ice, G.2602 & G.2603]. Image from Archive.org

The days when whaling was an important form of British employment and commerce are, thankfully, long gone. Nonetheless, for hundreds of years whaling was an important part of people's diets, local economies and, indeed, the very working of England, Europe and America's cities. Before fossil fuels came along it was the fluids and fats of whales that lit London, not to mention underpinned its highest fashions. As a result whaling was big business and whaling parties were some of the first groups to make commercial use of the finds of Arctic explorers.

Those who ran the gauntlet, year in, year out, to the Arctic built up a body of experience about the sea ice that was far superior to the skills held by sailors from the Navy, such as Parry or Franklin. This meant whaling captains were often employed as ice-masters on expeditions searching for the Northwest Passage and some, such as Scoresby, even published their own research on the properties of snow and ice.

Scoresby snow and ice

Above: Scoresby's detailed drawings of snow and ice structures, from 'An Account of the Arctic Regions' [copy on display in Lines in the Ice, G.2602 & G.2603]. Image from Archive.org

Our forgetting of the importance of whalers in the history of Arctic exploration, as well as the knowledge, skill and artistry that went into publications such as William Scoresby's, 'An Account of the Arctic Regions' is what makes this item so intriguing to me. If people like Barrow had listened to those like Scoresby, who provided evidence and their own hard-won opinions to argue for the unfeasibility of the Northwest Passage, a very different history of Arctic exploration would be discussed today.

More importantly, by forgetting how involved whalers were in this process we are also at risk of ignoring the fact that where explorers went, traders, trappers and whalers inevitably followed and did huge amounts of damage to the areas they worked in. In many ways they reshaped the ecology of a significant part of the world and they also instigated massive changes within indigenous societies. Therefore, while we may no longer need the work that was once done by these commercial crews their role in creating the world we know today, as well as in charting and using the Northwest Passage, should not be forgotten.

[PJH]

23 January 2015

Polar publishing (Locked in the Ice pt II)

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North georgia gazette (front)

Above: 'The North Georgia Gazette and Winter Chronicle', image from Archive.org. BL copy at: P.P.5280.

January may be almost over but, just in time, here is Team Americas' first blog post of 2015 (and so Happy New Year to you all). This lapse is despite writing, just before Christmas, about the positive health benefits of spending the winter creatively - especially when stuck in the ice. So, with that in mind, let's pick up where we left off, with more on the power of print in the Arctic and the Antarctic.

While the last post focussed on the 'Illustrated Arctic News' this was far from the only publication assembled near the poles. Some were even printed and formally published. One early item that almost made it into Lines in the Ice was, 'The North Georgia Gazette and Winter Chronicle' written, assembled and circulated on board Capt. W. E. Parry's 1819 voyage in search of the Northwest Passage. Parry was actively concerned about the mental well-being of his crew during the over wintering and convinced his officers and surgeon that a newspaper focussing on events and entertainments would be a good way to alleviate the boredom.

As well as warding off boredom and stimulating the mind these papers also provide a record of the voyage, one that is markedly different in content and tone from the official narratives published upon a ship's return to home. Humour, poetry, some irreverence and, later, whimsical illustration were all hallmarks of these publications, as shown by the 'Illustrated Arctic News' on display in the Lines in the Ice gallery.

South Polar Times (Midwinter Day Spet 1911)

Above: 'The South Polar Times', September 1911, copyright British Library. Manuscript and print copies held at the British Library.

Since Parry's time these newspapers and magazines have become a permanent feature of polar exploration and have subsequently featured in the search for both Poles. 'The South Polar Times' was arranged during both the expeditions of Capt. Scott. Meanwhile, in a feat of imperial splendour Shackleton took a letterpress to Antarctica in order to publish the continent's first book, 'Aurora Australis'.

The act of publishing on Antarctica is significant too. It fixes the British imperial presence on the continent, by noting the place of publication in the book, and as such makes a claim to some sort of limited mastery of the space. As with the planting of flags the publication of this book has overtones not just of claiming the space but of bringing British civilisation to and further developing its culture from the ice of Antarctica.

Aurora Australis (cover)

Above: 'Aurora Australis', cover, 1907, image from Wikipedia. BL copy at: C.175.h.11

Needless to say, this was not a new idea either. As writing and publishing had long been done in the Arctic so the idea that these acts somehow laid claim to space were also implicit within the act. Instead, Shackleton's method merely takes this process to a new level. This short history of writing on the ice reminds us how much is shared between Arctic and Antarctic exploration, as individuals, ships and methods of survival were transferred between the Arctic and Antarctic circles. The prsence of 'Aurora Australis' also provides an opportunity for a neat(ish) nod towards Australia Day, rapidly approaching on Sunday 25th. 

 

P.S. one last thing, Lines in the Ice is now extended until April 19th! So even more time for you to come and enjoy the show.

[PJH]