Edited by Susan A. Kaplan, Professor of Anthropology and Director of the Peary-MacMillan Arctic Museum and Arctic Studies Center, and Robert McCracken Peck, Curator of Art and Artifacts & Senior Fellow of the Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University
North by Degree brings together a selection of works first presented in Philadelphia in 2008 at an international conference on Arctic exploration, co-sponsored by Bowdoin College, the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia, the American Philosophical Society, and the Philadelphia Area Center for History of Science. In organizing the conference Kaplan and Peck encouraged scholars to think beyond issues examined in most biographies of Arctic expedition leaders or overviews of the history of Arctic exploration.
Participants rose to the challenge and contributed papers that contextualized expeditions, examining the broader social, technological, and environmental settings in which these Arctic expeditions were conceived, carried out, described, and finally understood by the public. Among those contributions selected for inclusion in North by Degree readers will find papers that examine a broad array of topics ranging from nationalism, to issues of race and gender, to ways new technologies affected Arctic exploration.
Along with scholars from the U.S., Canada, and England, Arctic Museum staff members contributed a number of papers to the volume. Genevieve LeMoine, with coauthor Christyann Darwent, writes on the ways Inughuit women integrated into their lives materials brought to the north by exploration parties; Anne Witty examines the troubled maiden voyage of Robert E. Peary’s expedition vessel the SS Roosevelt; Susan A. Kaplan looks at how two-way radio communication was introduced to the Arctic; and former intern and Bowdoin alumna Emma Bonanomi explores audience reactions to Matthew Henson’s post-North Pole lecture tour. Photographs from the Arctic Museum’s historic photograph collections are featured throughout the well-illustrated volume.
In the early twentieth century two Americans, Robert Edwin Peary and Frederick Cook, both claimed to have reached the North Pole first. Thus began a long and bitter controversy over who was lying. As time went on, more critical scholars began to cast doubts on both claims, and it now appears that neither reached the Pole. This book comprises a subset of 15 papers from a symposium held in Philadelphia in 2008, to commemorate the centenary of these North Pole claims. The contents, by many leading Arctic researchers, range much more widely than the Peary-Cook controversy and provide an excellent blending of history, geography, anthropology and social studies on many of the less studied fields of the American Arctic. Despite this there are still many topics missing, like the value of science from northern exploration, the political differences between Canada and the USA over management of native people and boundary disputes, and the effects of missionary work on social structures. It would have been helpful if the editors had included a full programme list for the symposium so the full extent of the meeting was recorded. Examining how Peary s claim was manipulated by his powerful supporters club to ensure he became the American icon of the time, Lyle Dick concludes this was driven by a need to prove the superiority of Anglo-Saxon masculinity over a tide of inferior immigrants. Yet it seems to me that it might also have been a determination by the elite to protect the good name of the National Geographic Society which had been his principal backer and could not be shown to be supporting liars. The following chapter on Cook by Michael Robinson is perhaps too short but does make the suggestion that we should view Cook as the first of the adventure sportsmen, who now attack the polar regions on an annual basis, rather than as an explorer per se. Frederick Nelson provides a detailed initial history of the American Geographical Society, focusing on its now largely forgotten significant contributions to early Arctic expeditions and the importance the Society attached to science. Now that its archives are available in Milwaukee there is clearly great potential for further research here. Tina Adcock tries hard to indicate the potential for investigations of northern Canadian exploration as a cultural concept using the lives of George Douglas, Guy Blanchet, Vilhjalmur Stefansson and Richard Finnie. Karen Routledge uses contemporary whaling accounts to prove that the prevailing American stereotype of Cumberland Sound as barren and empty was not true, but that whalers often failed to adapt and learn from the Inuit. Later papers take up questions about the racism that denied Matthew Henson recognition and honours for many years after he returned with Peary in 1910 from the Arctic (as well as ignoring the vital role that Peary s Inuit companions played in survival), and the changing role of Inuit clothing in the Inuit culture of northern Greenland. David Stam s paper looks at the origins and fate of the extensive Greely library at Fort Conger whilst the paper on Josephine Peary indicates how her writings on family and feminine views helped change public perceptions of the Arctic. Robert Peck takes up the largely unworked field of Arctic imagery and the decorative arts with many unusual illustrations, and highlights just how this historical development has pervaded our more recent views of the Arctic, whilst Helen Reddick examines how Arctic exploration has been portrayed in children s books over 150 years. A final series of three papers deals with technological changes including ballooning, the design and initial deployment of SS Roosevelt in 1905 with Bob Bartlett, and the use of wireless by Macmillan s expeditions over a period of ten years. –Archives of Natural History (vol. 42, part 2, 2015)