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An Empire of Ice

An Empire of Ice: Scott, Shackleton and the Heroic Age of Antarctic Science

Copyright Date: 2011
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 288
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  • Book Info
    An Empire of Ice
    Book Description:

    Published to coincide with the centenary of the first expeditions to reach the South Pole,An Empire of Icepresents a fascinating new take on Antarctic exploration. Retold with added information, it's the first book to place the famed voyages of Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen, his British rivals Robert Scott and Ernest Shackleton, and others in a larger scientific, social, and geopolitical context.

    Efficient, well prepared, and focused solely on the goal of getting to his destination and back, Amundsen has earned his place in history as the first to reach the South Pole. Scott, meanwhile, has been reduced in the public mind to a dashing incompetent who stands for little more than relentless perseverance in the face of inevitable defeat.An Empire of Iceoffers a new perspective on the Antarctic expeditions of the early twentieth century by looking at the British efforts for what they actually were: massive scientific enterprises in which reaching the South Pole was but a spectacular sideshow. By focusing on the larger purpose, Edward Larson deepens our appreciation of the explorers' achievements, shares little-known stories, and shows what the Heroic Age of Antarctic discovery was really about.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-15976-9
    Subjects: History, General Science

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-vii)
    (pp. ix-xv)
  4. CHAPTER 1 “Three Cheers for the Dogs”
    (pp. 1-25)

    He stood in triumph and trepidation. It was the evening of November 15, 1912. A proud, plain-speaking Norwegian adventurer, Roald Amundsen rose to address a packed house at London’s elite Royal Geographical Society after having bested better-equipped and better-funded British explorers in attaining a long-prized goal. He had reason to tremble. Some in the audience saw him as a jackal in a den of lions.

    His talk would be modest, focused more on technical details of the journey than on the end accomplishment—but it could not be modest enough to please many of his British listeners. They, in turn,...

  5. CHAPTER 2 A Compass Pointing South
    (pp. 27-59)

    “Whereas it has been represented to us that the science of magnetism may be essentially improved by an extensive series of observations made in high southern latitudes,” the lords commissioners of the Admiralty, the Second Earl of Minto and the Third Baronet of Paglesham, wrote in 1839 to Captain James Clark Ross, “you will proceed direct to the southward, in order to determine the position of the magnetic pole, and even to attain it if possible, which it is hoped will be one of the remarkable and creditable results of the expedition.”¹ The commissioners’ orders went on to specify the...

  6. CHAPTER 3 The Empire’s Mapmaker
    (pp. 61-93)

    Science carried authority in the english-speaking world at the timeDiscoverysailed, andDiscovery’s sponsors claimed the mantle of science for their work. Yet Victorians contested the meaning of science by ascribing it all manner of means and ends. In late-nineteenth-century Britain, virtually anything might be called scientific by someone interested in touting its virtues.

    Although there was some common ground over what constituted good science in the context of Antarctic exploration, as drafted by its sponsors, theDiscoveryexpedition’s instructions gave equal emphasis to two forms of research from different scientific traditions. The Royal Society, which increasingly was composed...

  7. CHAPTER 4 In Challenger’s Wake
    (pp. 95-131)

    “The sea covers nearly three-fourths of the surface of the earth, and, until within the last few years, very little was known with anything like certainty about its depths,” the Scottish naturalist Wyville Thomson wrote in 1873. “The popular notion was, that after arriving at a certain depth the conditions became so peculiar . . . as to make life of any kind impossible, and to throw insuperable difficulties in the way of any attempt at investigation. Even men of science seemed to share this idea.” Because no one saw any use for the oceanic depths, Thomson explained, everyone ignored...

  8. CHAPTER 5 Taking the Measure of Men
    (pp. 133-171)

    “This must be our most northern camp. With five out of our little force totally prostrate, and four others exhibiting decided symptoms of the same complaint, it would be folly to persist.”¹

    Albert H. Markham wrote these lines in May 1876 at latitude 83° 20′ north. Leader of the Northern Sledge Party for the first British naval expedition dispatched since 1827 with the stated objective of reaching the North Pole, Markham with three man-hauled sledges and a seventeen-person team had beaten the forty-nine-year-old Farthest North mark of William Edward Parry by 40 miles—yet fallen 460 miles short of his...

  9. CHAPTER 6 March to the Penguins
    (pp. 173-209)

    Discoverysailed for science. All involved said as much. One of the expedition’s two sponsors was the Royal Society, the British Empire’s leading voice for basic research in science. In discussing government support for the venture, First Lord of the Treasury Arthur Balfour commented, “It would not be creditable to an age which flatters itself, above all other ages, to be a scientific age, if without reluctance we acquiesced in the total ignorance which now envelopes us of so enormous a portion of the southern hemisphere.” King Edward VII, in his sendoff speech fromDiscovery’s deck, told the explorers, “I...

  10. CHAPTER 7 Discovering a Continent’s Past
    (pp. 211-245)

    Although the english had long valued certain substances from the earth, such as minerals, peat, and coal, rock collecting was more of a hobby than a science in Britain before 1800, and fossils carried little meaning. A century beforeDiscoverysailed, most British naturalists assumed that organic species, each perfect in its original creation, never died out. Fossils represented mere sports of nature or still living types. They offered no clues to the past except perhaps as evidence of the global reach and deadly impact of the biblical Deluge. On the basis of the Genesis account, many British naturalists believed...

  11. CHAPTER 8 The Meaning of Ice
    (pp. 247-285)

    Ice featured prominently in the thinking of all early Antarctic explorers. James Cook returned from his 1772–75 circumnavigation of the south polar region with the saga of a Great Southern Ocean blockaded by a field of sea ice. “This immense field,” he wrote, “was composed of different kinds of ice; such as high hills; loose or broken pieces packed close together, and what, I think, Greenlandmen call field-ice. A float of this kind of ice lay to the S.E. of us, of such extent that I could see no end to it, from the mast head.” From his 1839...

  12. EPILOGUE: Heroes’ Requiem
    (pp. 287-294)

    When they learned that amundsen had beaten Scott to the South Pole, British commentators typically took solace in science. Their national expedition, they stressed, was more than a dash to the pole; its triumph lay in the findings that Scott would bring back with him. Scott presumably foresaw this, which may explain his decision to geologize on the return trip once he lost priority at the pole. The British saw Scott’s effort as more modern and substantive than Amundsen’s. After word came that all members of the Polar Party had died on their way back still dragging their field notes...

  13. NOTES
    (pp. 295-316)
  14. INDEX
    (pp. 317-326)
  15. [Illustrations]
    (pp. None)