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SPRI Review 2004: Director's Introduction

Director's Introduction

Professor Julian Dowdeswell, Director, in Antarctica
© J.A. Dowdeswell
Image as described adjacent

This year has seen considerable successes for the Institute and its staff in both academic research and our role in projecting the history and environmental significance of the polar regions more widely. In the physical and social sciences, and in our library, archival and museum activities, we have secured a wide range of external grants. The acquisition of significant external funding for research in the social sciences and humanities, and for museum activities, represents an important addition to our continuing strong portfolio of competitively won research council grants relating to high-latitude environmental change. Institute staff hold grants of almost £2.5 million, and it is this external funding that has supported polar field programmes in both the natural and social sciences during 2004 in Antarctica, Greenland, Svalbard and the Russian Far East. The information collected, using methods ranging from airborne lasers deployed over glaciers to informal discussions with native Siberian reindeer herders, will provide the basis for a number of forthcoming publications in academic journals and books accessible to a wider readership.

The year has also been a notable one for our heritage and public outreach activities. First, we achieved the full registration of our polar museum under the national scheme operated by the Museum, Libraries and Archives Council. This provides formal recognition that we operate at the appropriate national standards for access, display and curatorial care of our very significant polar collections. Registration will also allow us to apply to new sources of funding in support of our heritage and outreach activities. Secondly, a major new exhibition, 'Shackleton: the Hidden Collections', was opened in May by the Hon. Alexandra Shackleton, Sir Ernest's grand-daughter. The event was celebrated with a reception for about 100 guests. The exhibition included Shackleton's personal diaries from each of his four Antarctic expeditions, together with much other material being displayed publicly for the first time. Thirdly, the Institute was awarded a grant of £530,000 from the Heritage Lottery Fund to enable the purchase of Herbert Ponting's photographic collection of over 1,100 large-format glass-plate negatives of Scott's last and fateful Antarctic expedition. This is a very important acquisition for both the picture library and for the Institute as a whole - the photographs were very influential in forming early perceptions of Antarctica in the public mind.

The Institute has hosted a number of major international meetings, workshops and seminars over the year. Topics ranged broadly, reflecting the wide interests of our staff. Examples include Antarctic environmental variability, the possibility of using the Northeast Passage above Siberia as a commercial sea route in a warming world, the interactions between northern native peoples and their physical environment, and the economic development of the Canadian North. Such events have brought several hundred international scholars to the Institute, and most have also visited our polar library and museum.

The whole polar community was saddened by the untimely death of William Mills, Librarian and Keeper of Collections, 1989-2004. As a mark of William's achievements in the polar world, the UK Antarctic Place-Names Committee named the Mills Glacier after him and the US National Science Foundation presented a posthumous award. Two former Directors of the Institute, Colin Bertram and Gordon Robin, also died during the year. Both had made outstanding contributions to the Institute over long and fruitful careers.

The Institute's Appeal, for £5 million, is aimed at securing and enhancing our museum, archival and library activities, and increasing our public outreach work, relating to both the contemporary environmental and historical significance of the Arctic and Antarctic. I thank those who have contributed so generously to the Appeal this year. The continuing support of the Friends of the Scott Polar Research Institute, chaired by Dr David Wilson, is also acknowledged. A special fund, The William Mills Memorial Fund, has been established by the Friends in support of acquisitions for our polar library. We have also benefited from the generous donation of a number of items to the polar museum and archives. This is clear evidence that the Institute is seen as a major international centre for the curation and exhibition of polar artifacts, manuscripts and works of art.

I should also like to note and acknowledge several other Institute activities. Our academic staff and students work hard to project the research of the Institute at many national and international meetings, and members of our senior academic staff continue to play important roles in setting the agenda for polar research through their participation on international committees and working groups. The work of the Institute in general also benefits greatly from the excellent assistance that our academic staff and students have received from the support staff of the Institute - in particular our administrative and maintenance teams. The staff of our library also made outstanding contributions to keep the library and information Services running effectively over an extensive interregnum. It is a pleasure to welcome Heather Lane, appointed from November, as our new Librarian.

We look forward to new programmes of field data acquisition over the coming year in the polar regions, and to several major events in Cambridge. From May, the museum will host an exhibition of oil paintings of Antarctica by Edward Seago, kindly loaned from the private collection of HRH The Duke of Edinburgh, Chancellor of the University. Later in the year, following conservation of the glass negatives, the Antarctic photographs of Herbert Ponting will be put on public display.

Professor Julian Dowdeswell