From Science in the Arctic to Arctic Science: A Transnational Study of Arctic Travel Narratives, 1818-1883
Kaalund, Nanna Katrine Luders
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This thesis examines the making and communicating of knowledge about the Arctic from a transnational perspective between 1818 and the First International Polar Year in 1882-83. By examining both well-known and hitherto neglected narratives from Danish, British, and British-Canadian Arctic explorations, I show that changes in ideas about what it meant to be an authoritative observer of Arctic phenomena were linked to tensions in imperial ambitions, national identity, and international collaboration. By framing polar surveying in the broadest sense as the ordering and quantifying of nature through travel, I analyse how abstract notions of the Arctic became tangible in the nineteenth century. I am concerned with the practices of writing the Arctic experience, especially the relationship between science, and the strategies for constructing a trustworthy narrative voice. That is, I investigate the ways in which the identities of the explorers and the organizing bodies shaped the expeditions, and by extension the representation of the ventures, the explorers, and the science they produced. In doing so, I argue that the Arctic played a key role in shaping Western science, and understandings of national and imperial identities, and that travel narratives were a significant resource for communicating this knowledge. This thesis is divided into four chapters that each considers three case studies, roughly organized according to chronology. Drawing on major themes within British and Danish imperial history, Canadian studies, studies in travel writing, history of science, transnational and global history, and environmental studies, I show how perceptions of the Arctic as a field-site for the production of scientific knowledge varied according to time and place throughout the nineteenth century, and how this influenced science in the Arctic. In particular, I show the shift from early scientific practices during Arctic explorations, to a more unified Arctic science as part of the International Polar Year. What emerges is a new and interdisciplinary look at how science was produced in the Arctic, how this information was perceived by both a specialist and general reading audiences, and how this process differed depending on national and cultural contexts at different points in the nineteenth century.