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SPRI Review 2006: Director's Introduction

Director's Introduction

The Director, Julian Dowdeswell, beside a helicopter on the Greenland Ice Sheet
Image as described adjacent

The research work of the Institute has received considerable attention in both the academic and wider world during 2006. Almost forty papers on the Arctic and Antarctic were published by our staff and students in international journals covering the sciences, social sciences and humanities. This is a very strong performance, and is built upon our continuing success in attracting grants from the UK research councils that fund many of our polar field programmes and laboratory-based investigations. Early in the year, a paper in Science on the response of the Greenland Ice Sheet to environmental change attracted much media attention in Europe and North America. In the humanities, Piers Vitebsky's book, Reindeer people: living with animals and spirits in Siberia, also won the prestigious Kiriyama Prize for the year's outstanding work of non-fiction on the Pacific and Asia regions.

In coordination and organisation of national and international research in the polar regions, many members of staff have also made important contributions. The European Science Foundation's BOREAS programme, Histories from the North -environments, movements, narratives, is one of the largest ever in the area of Arctic humanities and social science research and involves scholars from fifteen countries. It was initiated by Dr Vitebsky and launched at SPRI in October. Dr Ian Willis co-edited a volume of the Annals of Glaciology comprising more than 60 papers that focused on Arctic glaciers and environmental change, and the Director concluded his five-year term as chair of the UK National Antarctic Research Committee.

Staff at the Institute continue to contribute to teaching at both undergraduate and graduate level, emphasising the translation of our research in both the sciences and humanities into lectures within the University. New courses in 'Arctic Peoples' and 'Glacial Processes and Sediments' have both attracted large numbers of undergraduates. Our graduate students continue to be appointed to academic posts at home and abroad, and undergraduate and masters level teaching is one important route by which emerging scholars enter our doctoral programmes. Dr Poul Christoffersen, an expert in glaciology, specifically in the processes taking place at the interface between glaciers and their beds, has also been appointed to a University Lectureship to augment our senior academic staff.

The collections of our polar library and archive continue to grow by both purchase and donation. We are most grateful to the Scott family for the gift of the collection of personal letters written by Captain Scott and his wife Kathleen. These letters, including Scott's poignant last letter to his wife from Antarctica, were presented by Lady Philippa Scott. The camera taken by Scott to the South Pole was also gifted to the Institute and presented by Scott's grandson, Falcon. Donations such as these are invaluable to the continued building of our scholarly collections.

Our documentary collections are being used with such frequency by visitors that our two reading spaces in the archives room are often booked months ahead. The collections are also used regularly by Institute staff and students. An example of the links between such historical material and contemporary science is the use of the meteorological records in ships' logs from the Navy's search for the Northwest Passage and Sir John Franklin to reconstruct the climate of the Canadian Arctic islands during the mid-nineteenth century. This is more than one hundred years before modern weather stations were established.

Bust of Captain Scott on the Institute's historic building
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The Institute's first ever exhibition dedicated to the material culture of Arctic peoples took place during the year. Many artefacts, paintings and items of clothing were on public display for the first time, with sketches and lithographs of the earliest encounters between the Canadian Inuit and European explorers being of particular significance. The exhibition was the culmination of a project funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council, during which visiting curator Judy Hall catalogued the Institute's collection of Inuit artefacts. This catalogue is also available online, accompanied by photographs of each artefact, and provides an important pilot project for cataloguing our entire museum collection in digital form to increase access and awareness for both the public and scholars. Our exhibition of Herbert Ponting's photographs of Scott's last expedition also had an extended period on display at Addenbrooke's Hospital, Cambridge, after being viewed by both international diplomats and the general public at the Antarctic Treaty Consultative Partners meeting in Edinburgh. Public outreach and educational activities were augmented further from the summer with the appointment of Ros Wade, who is responsible for liaison with schools and the production of educational material for the Museum.

The Diamond Jubilee of the foundation of the Friends of SPRI was celebrated in the spring. The Friends, whose membership is now more than 600, presented the Institute with an oil painting of polar bears by Keith Shackleton, filling a major gap in our collection of works by contemporary polar artists. It was delightful to meet Michael Gilkes, one of the few remaining founding members, at the '60th Birthday Party'. It is also a great pleasure to record my personal thanks to Dr David Wilson, who has for the past four years chaired the Friends organisation with great enthusiasm - the gift of more than £20,000 in grants to the Institute during 2006, mainly for museum, library and archive activities, is a particular mark of his success. We welcome Robin Back as his successor.

During the 60th anniversary events, the sum of £52,299 was also presented to establish the Mills Fund in memory of William Mills, Librarian and Keeper of Collections at the Institute for many years. The income from this fund will be used to augment the acquisitions fund of the SPRI library, helping to retain its reputation as the most comprehensive polar library world-wide. We also record with sadness the deaths of Dr John Heap, Director of SPRI during the 1990s, and Dr Ray Adie, former Chair of the Friends. Both contributed much to the Institute and, indeed, to the wider understanding of the polar regions over long and distinguished careers.

The Institute's Appeal, a part of the University's 800th Anniversary Campaign, continues to gather momentum. I thank those who have contributed so generously to the Appeal this year. Our aim is to enhance our museum, library and archival activities, including public outreach work, and to endow academic posts to build on our scholarly reputation concerning the scientific and human issues that affect the polar regions. Profits from the recently completed book, The Antarctic Paintings of Edward Seago, will also go towards the Appeal, specifically in support of our museum activity. We look forward to a further exhibition of Seago's splendid Antarctic oils in the galleries of Bonhams in New Bond Street, London, during the coming summer, which will be a major fundraising event for the Institute in 2007.

Professor Julian Dowdeswell