Towards the end of October, Charlotte, Sophie, Bryan and I attended the inaugural conference of the Polar Museums Network (PMN), an initiative launched last year to strengthen and spread the knowledge of polar history, science and exploration, and to build relationships between museums with polar collections. The conference was held at the Fram Museum in Oslo, which houses Fridtjof Nansen’s and Roald Amundsen’s famous ship, Fram. We were joined by 35 delegates from 18 museums from across five continents, as well as by academics and independent researchers.
Over the three days we heard lots of engaging and informative presentation on a wide range of subjects such as exhibitions, conservation and cataloguing. We learned about the challenges of operating museums on the Antarctic continent, about the heroes and anti-heroes of polar exploration and how their flaws can help us connect with them, and the mystery of the pinstriped textiles found on Scott and Amundsen’s South Pole expeditions. Particular highlights for me included learning about the 3D laser scanning of Scott’s Discovery and a chance to go inside the James Caird with footage taken by its conservator. Lots of people tweeted the conversations that were happening at the conference, which we’ve collected in a ‘Storify’ so take a look here to find out more about the papers.
A wide range of museums – big and small, national and local, public and private were represented – but we were able to find many commonalities in our three main areas of focus, Arctic exploration, Antarctic exploration, and peoples of the North. And a surprising number of museums have ships (and share many of the challenges associated with them).
We also dedicated an afternoon to planning the activities of the PMN and how to build on the momentum generated by the conference. Hopefully, we’ll be holding another conference in two years time with even more people attending. You can find out more about the PMN and how to join here.
The conference was followed by a study tour which took us around the beautifully autumnal Oslo fjord to visit Uranienborg, Amundsen’s home which is almost exactly how he left it when he disappeared in 1928; the Ski Museum at Holmenkollen, where we saw many objects from Amundsen’s South Pole expedition, along with a pair of Scott’s skis and Nansen’s branch boat – not to mention the enormous ski jump (!); and Polhøgda, Nansen’s home and office which is today home to the Fridtjof Nansen Institute.
Geir Kløver and the Fram Museum were fantastic hosts, and even treated us to a conference dinner on the deck of the Fram – definitely something to remember. We also had plenty of opportunity to look around the museum and brush up on our Norwegian polar history.
It really was a brilliant few days – I don’t think I’ve ever been to a conference where I’ve found every single paper so engaging and relevant to what I’m doing. For me, it was also great to share our Antarctic collections and the work of the Antarctic Cataloguing Project with the wider polar museums sector. Needless to say, we’ve all come away buzzing with enthusiasm and with lots of leads and connections to follow up.