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Education

From Westminster to the Antarctic: meet our new Shackleton Education and Outreach Assistant

Friday, December 11th, 2015

Corinne picHello! My name’s Corinne Galloway. I joined The Scott Polar Research Institute at the start of November as an Education and Outreach Assistant for our By Endurance We Conquer: The Shackleton Project, having spent the last five years working at The Houses of Parliament where I worked in a variety of roles focused on public engagement and learning projects.

In 2014 SPRI received a generous grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund for By Endurance We Conquer: The Shackleton Project, which will unite the collections at SPRI (Archive, Museum, Library and Picture Library) through new acquisitions and interpretation of material relating to Sir Ernest Shackleton.

It focuses on all three expeditions which Shackleton led to the Antarctic: the British Antarctic (Nimrod) Expedition (1907-09), The Imperial Trans-Antarctic (Endurance) Expedition (1914-17) and the Shackleton-Rowett (Quest) Expedition (1921-22), during which Shackleton died. It will also allow us to expand upon our existing material on Shackleton’s life outside of his major expeditions, including his family life and his involvement in Captain Robert Falcon Scott’s British National Antarctic (Discovery) Expedition (1901-04).

My role in this project will be to help bring this to life for schools, colleges, and the wider public though a mixture of events, education and outreach sessions, and online resources.

So far I have been spending my first few weeks getting to know the Institute, brushing up on my Shackleton knowledge, and shadowing some of the education and outreach work developed and delivered by the Education and Outreach team, Naomi and Rosie. I particularly enjoyed watching a special Shackleton themed Little Explorers story session, especially getting to see the tactile map and knitted explorers!

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After exploring Shackleton’s amazing history and the great collections that we have here at SPRI, I am excited to get started. We are hoping to blog regularly about the By Endurance We Conquer: The Shackleton Project, so please keep an eye on this blog to see how it’s all progressing.

You can also find out more about events commemorating the centenary of the Endurance expedition at SPRI and across the world at the Shackleton 100 website.

Corinne

“Please touch the objects”: planning our first touch tour

Tuesday, November 17th, 2015

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A couple of weeks ago, the Polar Museum held its first touch tour for people with visual impairments. This was a subject particularly dear to my own heart: my own son is registered blind and I’ve become increasingly aware that museums are not always the most accessible places for blind and visually impaired visitors. But it’s also interesting to me because it ties in with a current dilemma for museum conservators: balancing access to the collections with preservation.

Several weeks before the tour, Sophie, Rosie and I went down to our stores to look for suitable objects. We were looking for things that were robust enough to be handled, that had enough tactile detail to be interesting to people with little or no vision, and that told the story of the polar regions and the people who have lived and worked there. Here’s what we came up with:

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Our objects fell into two groups: items related to polar art and crafts (Inuit sculpture and carved scrimshaw), and items related to survival and everyday life (including boots and a primus stove used on the Terra Nova expedition). We tried to cover a wide range of themes: Arctic and Antarctic, exploration and science, domestic life, art and crafts, objects old and new, different materials, textures and sizes … all in just seven objects! We also made sure that we had plenty of items available from our education handling collections, including a full suit of modern polar clothing:

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We were very lucky to have two conservation interns (Ronja and Megan) and three brilliant volunteers (Alex, Lenny and Claire) helping out, so we ended up with a team of ten people in all. A week beforehand, we got together to plan the tour. An important part of that was training: Rosie showed us how to support visually impaired visitors to the museum, and we all took turns to guide blindfolded colleagues around the museum. It was a very illuminating experience to be in a familiar space but without sight, and also to think about kinds of information are useful to visitors who cannot see the objects.

We then tried out some blindfolded handling. Here are Sophie and me presenting some objects to Willow and Alex … and then having a turn on the other side of the table:

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We also tried out a tour of our outdoor sculptures, many of which are gorgeously tactile – and one of which encourages some rather “intimate” encounters:

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After that, we were ready for the touch tours! We had about 15 visitors over two sessions, and they all had a chance to handle several objects and to talk to conservators, collections staff and volunteers at the Polar Museum. One of the most popular objects was an Inuit carving called Unexplainable Joy of Becoming Grandparents:

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Although the sculpture is mainly made from serpentine, the faces are inlaid in reindeer antler. The tactile contrast between the cool, smooth stone and the warm, slightly ridged antler is wonderful. The subject (the bond between grandparents and their grandchildren) is also a universal one and led to interesting discussions and recollections from the visitors.

We all really enjoyed putting together our first touch tour of the Polar Museum collections, and look forward to running more next year – watch this space!

Christina

Friday fun: homemade hats for heroes

Friday, October 9th, 2015

We’ve been celebrating National Knitting Week at the Polar Museum all week! On Monday, I blogged about a pair of balaclavas that were knitted by the Empress Eugénie and her ladies for the crew of the British Arctic Expedition of 1875-6.

On Tuesday, we welcomed some new woolly residents to the museum: a set of three miniature knitted explorers from the Heroic Age of Scott and Shackleton, together with six huskies, a pony, two sledges and lots of skis and ski poles. These have all been knitted for us by the immensely talented Eileen, and are full of accurate detail:

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You can read more about our new woolly team members and what they will be doing in a new blog by our Education Officer, Naomi.

One of the great things about these figures is that everything they’re wearing has been hand-knitted – including the hand-knitted items! I tied myself in knots this morning, thinking about the meta implications of this (and the possibility of knitting a knitted figure that was wearing a knitted hat…) before deciding that recursive knitting was probably too silly a topic even for a Friday Fun blog post.

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If you’ve been inspired by these pictures to try out some Heroic Age fashions, then you’ve come to the right place, especially as today is also Woolly Hat Day! While Greta was at the Science and Society conference in Durham recently, she picked up a flyer for an exhibition about Antarctica that is currently on at the Palace Green Library. As part of the exhibition, they are encouraging people to knit hats based on ones worn by Ernest Shackleton and Tom Crean, in order to raise money for the charity Walking with the Wounded. If you would like to join in, you can download the patterns from the website here.

When I saw the pattern, I thought that Tom Crean’s hat in particular looked very familiar. It’s exactly the same hat that he’s wearing in one of our archive photos:

Tom Crean. SPRI Picture Library P66/19/6A
Tom Crean. SPRI Picture Library P66/19/6A

It’s a curious style of hat, more like a snood or hood than a traditional bobble hat. With its decorative tassels at the corners, the designer suggests that it might work equally well as a tea cosy – I’ll report back if I ever get round to knitting one!

A few weeks ago, I came across the Spring 2015 issue of Knitting Traditions magazine, which contains an entire section devoted to knits inspired by the poles. Among the many intriguing and historically-inspired designs are a headband, a pair of socks and a hat. But best of all, there is a pattern based on a pair of mittens belonging to Edward Mackenzie that is in the Polar Museum:

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I have previously blogged about these mittens, and look forward to comparing this pattern with the actual mittens in our collection!

If you fancy a more modern hat, albeit one that’s still focused on Antarctica, this one allows you to display the entire continent on your crown:

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It was designed and knitted by Ken Mankoff, a geoscientist at Pennsylvania State University, during a long season of fieldwork in Antarctica. The long days (and nights) at the poles, not to mention the isolation, seem to be conducive to knitting: while researching this article, I discovered the Antarctica Knitters group, who spend their downtime on the ice creating beautiful patterns inspired by the landscape around them.

So, if you’re a knitter, I hope this post has inspired you to knit something polar-themed … and if you’re not a knitter, I promise that the blog will be free of woolly things next week. Happy Knitting Week!

Christina

Summer at the Polar Museum

Tuesday, September 8th, 2015

As if on cue, the sun disappeared and a chill was in the air as the summer holidays ended. It is amazing to think it was only weeks ago that we were enjoying a summer of ice experiments to keep cool!

We launched the summer with the Big Weekend back in July where hundreds of children joined the University of Cambridge Museums in the ‘Make and Create Tent’ on Parkers Piece to discover how Polar Bears keep warm in icy conditions and make an origami penguin or two.

Inspired by the our summer exhibition ‘Ice Limit’ a series of works by artist Emma Stibbon, the main activities of the summer focused on the joining of art and science. On the 5th August we opened our doors to the ‘Drawing Out Science Activity Day’ where the children of Cambridge learnt all about the science and mythology of the Polar Auroras and even drew their own with hidden pictures below in UV pens for other to uncover their Aurora stories.

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And our Polar Science Lego was used to make photo stories too.

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As well as producing our summer exhibition, Emma Stibbon also ran art workshops with children aged 7 – 13, introducing the art of science observation drawing using rocks and fossils from ours and The Sedgwick Museum’s collection.

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But the summer could not be over without a mention of Shackleton’s Endurance expedition during the centenary. Our very own storyteller Naomi Chapman told the story of the crushing of ship in the ice using a ‘model’ Endurance made out of yellow foam and pink pipe cleaners to demonstrate the effects of ice on the boat. Every child and parent got together to help ‘push’ the ship out of the ice, but alas to no avail.

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But now, although the summer might be over, there are still more activities to come with the Festival of Ideas only just over a month away. Hopefully see some of you then.

Rosie

All things Shackleton…

Friday, August 14th, 2015
SPRI P66/18/36. Frank Wild (left) and Ernest Shackleton (right).

SPRI P66/18/36. Frank Wild (left) and Ernest Shackleton (right).

This year we are in the midst of commemorating the centenary of the Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition 1914–17 (Endurance and Aurora), led by Sir Ernest Shackleton. It’s a tale that hardly needs retelling: Shackleton and his men survived one of the worst disasters in Antarctic history – their ship was crushed and sank, and they were forced to make an open boat journey to Elephant Island where they lived for over four months before they were rescued.

With just under six weeks to go until the opening of our new exhibition, By Endurance We Conquer: Shackleton and his Men, we’ve got Shackleton very much on our minds. The exhibition will commemorate all the men that sailed with Shackleton aboard the Endurance, and will also honour the Ross Sea Party (three of whom lost their lives), which laid the supply depots for the planned crossing of the Antarctic continent. This week saw the arrival of some of the objects we’re borrowing for the exhibition, including a pannikin which belonged to Shackleton himself and is marked with his initials, ‘E.H.S.’, and a yachtsman’s cap belonging to James Mann Wordie, expedition geologist.

New arrivals for By Endurance We Conquer: Shackleton and his Men

New arrivals for By Endurance We Conquer: Shackleton and his Men

We’ve spent several months drawing together information about all of the men from the Endurance expedition to create biographies for use in the exhibition and in touch-screens in the galleries. And we’ve just launched a volunteer project to put these biographies (and others) into our database, which has proved highly popular and has had an impressive sign-up.

However, we’re not just concerned with the Endurance expedition – our Shackleton focus extends to his other expeditions: the British National Antarctic Expedition 1901–04 (Discovery), led by Captain Robert Falcon Scott; the British Antarctic Expedition 1907–09 (Nimrod); and the Shackleton-Rowett Expedition 1921–22 (Quest), on which Shackleton died.

In 2014 SPRI received a generous grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund for By Endurance We Conquer: The Shackleton Project, which will unite the collections at SPRI (Archive, Museum, Library and Picture Library) through new acquisitions and interpretation of material relating to Sir Ernest Shackleton.

Photographing objects from the British Antarctic Expedition 1907-09 (Nimrod) for the Antarctic Cataloguing Project.

Photographing objects from the British Antarctic Expedition 1907-09 (Nimrod) for the Antarctic Cataloguing Project.

The museum collection contains material from all of Shackleton’s expeditions, including foodstuffs, goggles, medals and a thermometer from Nimrod; and crampon shoes, a sledging flag and a clock from Quest; as well as boots, Shackleton’s goggles, and the sextant used by Worsley during his extraordinary feat of navigation on the crossing from Elephant Island to South Georgia. Over the past few weeks as part of the Antarctic Cataloguing Project, we’ve been looking carefully at all of these objects and getting them photographed in order to produce detailed records for our forthcoming online catalogue. We’ve also been condition assessing them to highlight any future conservation needs. In addition, the education and outreach team have been working to create new Shackleton-related educational resources and a programme of events.

The Archives contain Shackleton’s diaries from all of his expeditions, as well as correspondence, lecture notes, poetry and papers written by Shackleton himself and his wife Emily. The collection also includes the diaries and papers of members of Nimrod, Endurance and Quest expeditions. These are currently being added to the database so that they will be a searchable resource in the future.

By Endurance We Conquer: Shackleton and his Men will open on Tuesday 22 September 2015 and run until 18 June 2016. To find out more about events commemorating the centenary of the Endurance expedition at SPRI and across the world, take a look at the Shackleton 100 website.

Greta

Sewing Antarctica

Tuesday, August 11th, 2015

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Trying to communicate the sheer scale of the Antarctic and what the landscape actually looks like can be a tough job… The continent is more than fifty times the size of the UK and there are ice sheets, mountain ranges, crevasses, active volcanoes and lakes – lava lakes, meltwater lakes and huge lakes under the ice. We frequently use paper maps in our education and outreach sessions, but have been wanting to get our hands on something far more exciting and interactive. For some time, we’ve been wanting a tactile map which could be used as a multi-sensory resource for a range of people, and we’ve finally been able to commission local artist Jenny Langley to make us a textile map!

Keen to be as accurate as possible, we roped in a host of friendly academics from SPRI and beyond to advise. Dr Gareth Rees provided us with scale maps (winter and summer), and worked with us to look at lichen, the structure of ice and the colour of penguin guano (poo). Professor Julian Dowdeswell shared his knowledge about the Transantarctic Mountains, ice shelves and crevasses. Professor Clive Oppenheimer talked us through photos of strange lava tunnels, rock formations and vivid mineral colourings of Mount Erebus. It’s illegal to buy rocks and fossils from the Antarctic continent so Dr Peter Clarkson helped us source some plausibly Antarctic specimens. And we spent a lovely day at the British Antarctic Survey talking to Dr Katrin Linse and Dr Huw Griffiths about some of their exciting deep sea finds. All of this information will be added to the map.

Word spread and soon a number of interested people were asking about progress and sharing ideas, which led to a fun Friday evening with Jenny and a group of staff and volunteers. Fuelled by a glass or two of wine, we stitched krill, starfish, rocks, ice, lichen, penguin guano and sea – all of which will be added to the mat.

The map will be delivered at the end of August. We know there’ll be three-dimensional mountains; we know there’ll be pockets in which to hide treasures such as rocks and fossils; we know there’ll be flaps which will lift up to reveal deep sea creatures and hidden parts of the continent; and we know there’ll be a secret lake. But what we don’t know is just what the final result will be – and we can’t to see it! We do know that it will be extremely beautiful and we will definitely be sharing the finished map so that everyone can begin to marvel at the sheer size and incredible geography of the Antarctic!

Naomi C.

A big thank you to all our volunteers!

Wednesday, June 3rd, 2015
Martin, one of our front of house volunteers, ready to welcome visitors in to the museum.

Martin, one of our front of house volunteers, ready to welcome visitors in to the museum.

This week is National Volunteers’ Week – an annual celebration of the fantastic contribution of millions of volunteers across the UK – so we wanted to take the opportunity to highlight some of the work that our volunteers at the Polar Museum do and to say an enormous thank you to them! Like many museums, The Polar Museum relies on its team of volunteers to carry out many of its day to day activities.

It’s fair to say that without our front of house volunteers, we wouldn’t have a museum open to the public! The front of house volunteers are the first people visitors encounter when they enter the museum – they welcome visitors to the museum, explain what visitors can see in the galleries, answer any questions visitors may have and help out in the museum shop.

Our education events volunteers are essential to running events at the museum. We run educational events for over 5000 people of all ages each year, and we wouldn’t be able to cater for anywhere near those numbers if we didn’t have volunteers doing everything from stewarding and assisting visitors to running activities themselves.

Volunteers also help out with research into the collections – one of our volunteers is currently researching the relatively unknown Norwegian-British-Swedish Antarctic Expedition 1949-52 in order to create a summary of the exhibition and biographies of the expedition members for the Antarctic Cataloguing Project.

In the past we’ve also had conservation volunteers who have helped to re-house the Inuit and Siberian archaeological and ethnographic material in the museum store.

But it’s not just in the museum where you can find volunteers! Over the years volunteers in the Archives have carried out a number of projects, from transcribing polar diaries to listing hut plans. Current volunteers are assisting in a complete review of the collections, which involves looking at the original documents and comparing them to their catalogue entries ready for our new database. And in the Library, volunteers are sorting the polar press clippings into categories and cataloguing the map collections.

If you would like to find out more about volunteering in the Museum email museum@spri.cam.ac.uk; for volunteering in the Archives email archives@spri.cam.ac.uk; and for volunteering in the Library email library@spri.cam.ac.uk.

I still haven’t had the chance to meet all of our volunteers, but I really do want to say a huge thank you for the brilliant work that you do – we really really really appreciate it!

Greta