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Floes and Flows: Geographical Societies and Knowledges of Greenland, c.1880-1914

RGS-IBG - Peter Martin (September 2015 start; University of Oxford: PI Dr Richard Powell)

This project aims to shed light on the Royal Geographical Society's intriguing involvement in the exploration and scientific recording of Arctic Greenland in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Little was known of the Polar Regions at this time, and expeditions into Greenland's icy interior were set against continuing narratives of mythology, mystery and speculation. Importantly, this period also saw an intense period of transition for the Society, as it began to look outwards for guidance and inspiration on how best to continue ‘the promotion and diffusion of that most important and entertaining branch of knowledge.’ Of particular interest to the project then are the networks and connections that were established between the Society and other international scientific societies at this time, and the ways in which the Arctic was explored using a 'cosmopolitan’ approach to science are being examined.


Key Resources

  • Correspondence Collections – Hand-written and type-written letters between key figures in the Society (Presidents, Secretaries etc.) and numerous international geographers/explorers. They contain everything from funding requests, expedition reports and scientific data, through to personal correspondence, requests for help in the field and even postcards.
  • Proceedings of The Royal Geographical Society/The Geographical Journal – A vital resource for understanding the Society’s history, particularly in examining how the it presented itself to its Fellows and members and to the public.
  • Council & Committee Minutes – Collections of the RGS Council and Committees Minutes. Useful for understanding key decisions made by the Society, e.g. top priorities, funding grants, medals awarded etc.
  • Library/Manuscript Collection – A vast collection of manuscript materials, published texts and research articles. The collection includes travel accounts, guidebooks, scientific reports, textbooks and other literary materials, many of which are difficult to source elsewhere.
  • Artefact Collection – A wide range of possessions, relics and curiosities can be found in the Society’s collections. Highlights for this project include a gas stove used by Robert Peary during his 1909 expedition and the medals presented to the crew of Fridtjof Nansen’s 1893-96 Fram expedition.
  • Photograph & Lantern Slide collection – A large collection of various images from across the world, often showing explorers carrying out surveys and other forms of geographical practices. The lantern slides were used to illustrate lectures, so are useful sources for understanding how geographical science was communicated and disseminated to the audiences at the Society. (For more information see Emily Hayes's CDA project, Geographical Projections)
  • Map Collection – The Society’s collection of over 1 million maps is a vital resource for any project using the collections. Many maps trace the routes taken by various explorers, and observing differences in the maps and changes over time can be a particularly useful way of understanding the evolving nature of exploration and geographical knowledge.

 Initial Reading

  • Mill, H. R. (1930). The Record of the Royal Geographical Society, The Royal Geographical Society, London
  • Ryan, J. R., & Naylor, S. (2010). New Spaces of Exploration: Geographies of Discovery in the Twentieth Century, I.B. Tauris, London
  • Riffenburgh, B. (1994). The Myth of the Explorer: The Press, Sensationalism, and Geographical Discovery, Oxford University Press, Oxford
  • David, R. G. (2000) The Arctic in the British Imagination 1818-1914, Manchester University Press, Manchester
  • Bravo, M. & Sörlin, S. (2002) Narrating the Arctic: A Cultural History of Nordic Scientific Practices, Science History Publications, Canton, MA
  • Kaplan, S.A. & Peck, R.M. (2013) North by Degree: New Perspectives on Arctic Exploration American Philosophical Society, Lightning Rod Press, Philadelphia
  • Robinson, M.F. The Coldest Crucible: Arctic Exploration and American Culture, University of Chicago Press, Chicago.
  • Sörensen, J. [translated by Watkins, J. B. C.] (1932) The Saga of Fridtjof Nansen, George Allen and Unwin Ltd., London
  • Nansen, F. (1896) The First Crossing of Greenland, Longmans, Green, London
  • Nansen, F. (1898) Farthest North: The voyage of exploration of the Fram and the fifteen month's expedition by Fridtjof Nansen and Hjalmar Johansen 1861-1930, Gibson Square, London
  • Peary, R. E. (1907) Nearest the Pole; a narrative of the Polar expedition of the Peary Arctic club in the S.S. Roosevelt, 1905-1906, Doubleday, Page & Company, New York
  • Peary, R.E. (1986) The North Pole: Its discovery in 1909 under the auspices of the Peary Arctic Club, Dover Publications, New York
  • Mikkelsen, E. (1913) Lost in the Arctic: Being the story of the 'Alabama' Expedition, 1909-1912, George Doran, New York

External Links

Peter's university page: http://www.geog.ox.ac.uk/graduate/research/pmartin.html

Follow Peter on Twitter: @Peezza (https://twitter.com/Peezza)

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