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SPRI Review 2001: Director's Introduction

Director's Introduction

It hardly seems possible that this is the last Director's Introduction that I write during my term of office, but it is indeed the case. To mark the occasion, I have tried to encourage a change in the style of SPRI Review, with the reports of research activity being rather less 'blow-by-blow' accounts of the year's events, and more a series of short, interesting pieces on specific areas of 'research-in-progress,' some with illustrative material. This change may not have succeeded entirely in its first airing, but I hope that successive issues of SPRI Review will adapt to this model and make the document more clearly indicative of the contribution made by my colleagues to the understanding of polar regions, in all their environmental and social diversity.

The past year has been an eventful one, with a wide range of successes for the Institute to celebrate. Firstly, it has been a year in which the considerable contributions of members of the Institute to the University's reputation for teaching and research have been recognised. Peter Wadhams has been awarded a personal professorship, and will henceforth be the Professor of Ocean Physics. Gareth Rees has been promoted to a senior lectureship, and William Mills has been promoted to a higher grade Librarian post. The latter advancement is noteworthy in that very few University departments even much larger ones than the Institute have senior Librarian posts, and it is clear that the University recognises the unusual nature of the Institute and its Library, as well as William's particular role, in approving this development. It is unusual, and a great pleasure, to be able to report such a number of successes in a single year.

The year has also been an exceptionally successful one for the Archives, with a series of major acquisitions resulting in a great strengthening of our holdings for materials relating to Sir Ernest Shackleton in particular. In September, generous grants from the National Heritage Memorial Fund and the Antarctic Heritage Trust enabled the Institute to purchase the Endurance diary of Dr A.H. Macklin and the Quest archive at a major sale of polar artefacts and papers held at Christie's, London. In December, we were able to announce the still more important acquisition of a large collection of papers and artefacts previously held by the Shackleton family. This includes Sir Ernest's diaries for his three Antarctic expeditions, as well as much else of the highest interest. On behalf of the Institute, I wish to express my deepest appreciation to The Hon Alexandra Shackleton and her fellow executors, at whose wish this collection was presented to the Institute. The Institute is also very much indebted to Michael Watt for depositing on long-term loan four other lots purchased at the Christie's sale, so as to be available for consultation by scholars. Throughout the year, the Institute has been pleased to be able to assist the National Maritime Museum in extending its polar exhibition South: the race to the Pole, in response to widespread public interest and further demonstrating the national importance of the Institute's Archives and Museum.

In order to sustain this role in the future, it will be necessary to acquire additional funding for the Institute. The international importance of the Library, Archives, and Museum is sustained only by funding obtained from outside the University, which inevitably has to support primarily the teaching and research functions. This 'soft-money' funding, which is often only secured on an annual basis, is unreliable and increasingly unstable, and this is hardly a sound basis for maintaining these important aspects of the Institute. Accordingly, we have launched an Appeal to raise £3.5m to sustain in a more secure, 'hard-money' sense the important work of these three closely linked aspects of the Institute, by underpinning the costs of employing the excellent staff the Institute relies upon to maintain and develop the Library, Archives, and Museum. This Appeal is now a University Priority Project. It was launched at the annual meeting of the Friends, and Friends have already responded in a magnificent way by making many generous donations.

The Institute's links with the Department of Geography have continued to develop, and four of its academic posts are now held jointly. The Department of Geography has also continued to contribute to the maintenance of the Institute's infrastructure, both through its physical installation (for example, the computer network), and through shared support posts. These include a computer technician and a new, full-time web-site manager, whose task will include sustaining and developing the information content and design of the Institute's excellent web-site. The MPhil in Polar Studies has been restructured, and shares some elements with other MPhils in Geography. The course is now well-positioned to seek Research Council recognition in the future, and the number and calibre of students are both high. This is a great testimony to the hard work of Neil Arnold and Michael Bravo. The Institute can only continue to benefit from further strengthening of the links with Geography, and is moving gradually to a restoration of the relationship between the two institutions that existed before 1980. However, Geography is sensitive to the need for the Institute to retain its own, unique identity.

There is yet more important news to report about the connection with the Department of Geography, however. In 2001, the University sought to fill a newly established Professorship of Physical Geography, and was fortunate in being able to elect an excellent candidate. This was also very fortunate for the Institute, as the new holder of this chair is Julian Dowdeswell, a polar scientist of considerable repute (and a former member of the Institute). Julian takes over his post in Geography in October 2001, and he will be my successor as Director from 1 October 2002. Thus, the future of the Institute has been secured by a wide range of events.

And thus I conclude my final Director's report. It has been a pleasure to be involved with the Institute, and all of its staff and friends, during the last four years. I think that the above evidence suggests that the Institute is well-placed to thrive in the future, and I shall look forward to continuing to be associated with it.

Keith Richards