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‘Walking on Thin Ice’ – A virtual exhibition tour

Monday, January 6th, 2020

‘Walking on Thin Ice: co-operation in the face of a changing climate’ is an exhibition put together in collaboration with twelve teenagers. In August 2019, the co-curation team met at the Scott Polar Institute (SPRI) for a week of activities. By the end of the week, they had a framework for their exhibition. They met and talked with researchers studying the Polar Regions, developing their own knowledge of the issues posed by climate change. They visited the British Antarctic Survey, for a similar series of talks with researchers there.

The co-curators worked to reach a consensus on the themes their exhibition would draw upon. This was made possible by engaging with the collection of the Polar Museum at SPRI, and thinking about the best objects and archival documents to include. In the time after their week of hard work, the Polar Museum team brought their ideas to life, and were pleased to welcome the co-curation team back to the museum at the end of November 2019, to launch the exhibition and celebrate their achievements. What follows is the text of the exhibition, with accompanying photographs of it in situ in the temporary gallery of the Polar Museum.

Lush Landscapes to Icy Continent

For the whole of human history there has been ice in the Antarctic. But when dinosaurs roamed the Earth during the Cretaceous Period 145-66 million years ago, things looked very different. Antarctica was still part of a large landmass reaching from South America to Australasia. High levels of volcanic activity were releasing carbon dioxide into the atmosphere in greater concentrations than today. Global temperatures were warmer, thanks to the ‘greenhouse effect’ of carbon dioxide trapping heat from the Sun in the Earth’s atmosphere. Some scientists estimate that the seas around the Antarctic were as warm as 30°C during this period.
The warmer Antarctic climate meant that many plants and animals flourished in sub-tropical forests similar to those in New Zealand and Tasmania today. Gingkos, Monkey Puzzle trees and ferns survived through the polar winter, when no light may have reached them for months at a time. The fossilised remains of Leaellynasaura – a small herbivorous dinosaur with large optic lobes (the part of the brain involved in vision) – have also been found, suggesting that dinosaurs may have adapted ‘night-vision’ to help them forage in the darkness of the polar night.
56-55 million years ago, Antarctica broke off from Australasia, becoming the separate continent that it is today. Around 33 million years ago, it became largely covered in ice and, although global temperatures fluctuated, they would never again be warm enough to sustain an ice-free Antarctic.

Breaking the Cycle

Understanding how Earth’s climate has changed over millennia, decades and single years can help scientists to build a big picture of our current climate and make predictions about the future.
There have always been variations in the Earth’s climate. Even in the last 650,000 years – a relatively short period in our planet’s history – there have been seven cycles of colder and warmer periods. The modern climate era is marked by the end of the last ice age about 10,000 years ago. During warmer periods, higher levels of carbon dioxide are recorded. This is because carbon dioxide traps heat from the Sun in the Earth’s atmosphere, leading to warming global temperatures.
By analysing tiny bubbles of air trapped in ice cores collected from ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica, scientists reveal the impact of fluctuating levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide on global temperature. Today measurements show unprecedented levels of carbon dioxide well above the natural cycles of the last 650,000 years. The rate at which levels of this gas are increasing is also about 100 times faster than in any previous cycles. Research by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) indicates a 90% likelihood that recent changes in global temperature are directly linked to human activity releasing larger amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

 

Impacts

The impacts of climate change are already being felt at levels that range from human lives to the planet’s smallest micro-organisms.
Arctic animals are of fundamental importance to Inuit life. Firmly embedded within cultural practices, they are also a primary source of nutritious food. Many Arctic animals, like seals, walrus and polar bears, are themselves dependent on sea ice as a place to hunt, rest and give birth. But as sea ice decreases year on year, these animals’ lives, and the futures of their species, are being threatened. The loss of Arctic species would not only deal an enormous ecological blow, but also spell the loss of the traditional ecological knowledge and cultural foundation stones of northern peoples.
At the microscopic end of the food chain, recent studies have suggested that, as global temperatures rise, some areas of the ocean will see increased evaporation from their surface waters. The resulting increase in water density will trap microplastics (plastics measuring less than 5 mm introduced into the oceanic environment by the breaking up of plastic pollutants) at the surface. Microplastics in these upper levels are consumed by micro-organisms such as plankton, which form the basis of the oceanic food chain, inevitably infiltrating the food we eat.
By continuing to support interdisciplinary research and cooperation into climate change, we can be well placed to address its wide-ranging impacts.

Climate Research Behind the Scenes

The Polar regions are often described as the ‘front line’ of climate change because change is happening there faster than anywhere else on Earth. The Antarctic and Greenland ice sheets hold 99% of the world’s fresh water. If they were to melt, global sea levels would rise by over 60 metres. As a result, scientists have been looking to the poles to help predict the effects of a changing climate.
In January 2019, a team of researchers from the British Antarctic Survey visited the Rutford Ice Stream in Antarctica – a 300 km long, 25 km wide, relatively fast-moving stream of ice which flows into the Weddell Sea. They used a technique called ‘hot water drilling’ to drill 3 holes over 2 km deep into the ice. Scientific instruments were lowered into the bore holes including sensors to determine how ‘slippery’ the sediment was underneath the ice. By determining the slipperiness of the sediment, the team can predict how the flow of the ice stream will be affected by ongoing environmental change. Will it speed up? By how much? How much more ice will flow into the Weddell Sea? These predictions can then be used to create models to estimate the rate at which sea levels will rise in the future.

Arctic Exploitation

The rich natural resources of the Arctic and the scattered indigenous groups who live there have meant that for centuries the region has been seen by outsiders as a fruitful ‘wilderness’ to be claimed by the most intrepid.
In 1576 the English explorer Martin Frobisher went north to look for a fabled trade route known as the North West Passage. He did not find it, but he did discover rocks which he thought contained gold. Frobisher believed that he had a colonial right to claim whatever he found in the Arctic, with no regard for the indigenous groups who had lived there for thousands of years. As a result, in 1578, he took 400 men to quarry 1,100 tons of rock from several mines. Frobisher had actually mined iron pyrite (also known as ‘fool’s gold’) which was worth only a fraction of the gold of his dreams.
The Inuit communities lived sustainably in their environment, taking only what they needed from it. In contrast, Frobisher and successive waves of outsiders exploited this land and its natural resources. This assumed ‘ownership’ of the Arctic by outside powers is echoed today by the behaviour of energy companies prospecting new gas and oil fields. Now that the Arctic is again becoming a place of economic interest, as melting sea ice makes it more accessible, will history repeat itself?

Expedition Research

Polar exploration in the 19th and 20th centuries is often linked to personal glory – historic heroes carrying out daring feats of bravery and claiming new territories, often fuelled by patriotism. These stories certainly have their place in the narrative of the past, but that is only a part of these expeditions. Scientific research was undertaken on most historic expeditions. The data and samples which the explorers recorded and collected can provide a valuable baseline for modern research and our understanding of how the global environment is changing.
Many polar expeditions recorded meteorological data in the form of ships’ logs and undertook first-hand research into areas as broad as air and ocean temperatures, geomagnetic conditions and geology. Modern researchers have studied datasets from John Ross’s Arctic expedition aboard Victory (1829-1833) and fossils collected from Captain Scott’s British Antarctic Expedition aboard Terra Nova (1910-1913) were used to support the hypothesis of the ancient global supercontinent, Pangea.
The changes that have occurred since these expeditions, both to the global environment and to scientific equipment, would have been incomprehensible at the time. Nevertheless, as a result of their systematic approach to observation and methodical collection of data and specimens, the explorers of the past are providing invaluable scientific knowledge to the researchers of today.

United by Nature, Guided by Science

Across the world, many different groups are finding their voices and working in their own distinct ways to combat the causes, and study the effects, of climate change.
In Alaska, Gwich’in communities have been instrumental in pushing back against plans to extract oil and gas from the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, which is home to the culturally important Porcupine caribou herd (one of the largest migratory caribou herds in North America). Although the federal government is still seeking to go ahead with these extractions, the UN has highlighted indigenous sovereignty as an important cornerstone in attempting to address climate change. The Gwich’in and other indigenous groups have spent thousands of years cultivating powerful relationships with their localities. The specialist knowledge of their environments built up over time could aid understanding of our changing climate.
Up until the 1960s, female scientists were largely excluded from undertaking research in the Antarctic. Today around 55% of the Association of Polar Early Career Scientists members are female, and women hold leading and influential positions, such as Professor Dame Jane Francis, Director of the British Antarctic Survey. The Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research (SCAR), set up in 1958 to facilitate international collaboration in Antarctic science, is also committed to promoting diversity in this field. In 2016 SCAR supported a ‘wikibomb’, to write the online profiles of over 100 female researchers and there are now more female Antarctic researchers than males on Wikipedia.
Climate change is a global issue and boundary-crossing cooperation is our best tool to slow its effects.

Climate Voices

Greta Thunberg was only 15 when she began the series of strikes which led to her international recognition. Greta chose to strike outside her school to raise awareness of climate issues and demand that the Swedish Government commit to meeting the emissions targets laid out in the 2015 Paris Agreement. The idea took off and soon she was part of a group which founded the ‘Fridays For Future’ initiative. The idea – to take strike action every Friday until change is made – struck a chord with young people worldwide.
A little over a year later, Greta has gone from striking on her own outside her school, to being the figurehead of an international movement. The Global Climate Strike from the 20th-27th September 2019 saw 7.6 million people worldwide strike to demand action on climate change. The movement has expanded to include millions of scientists, businesses, celebrities and adults from a wide variety of backgrounds joining young people on the streets.
Greta is not the only young person campaigning for change. Xiye Bastida is a Mexican activist bringing indigenous perspectives to her conversations about climate. Nadia Nazar is an Indian American activist who uses art to communicate on climate issues. Autumn Peltier, has for years been speaking up about water quality in Canadian indigenous communities. All these young people have found their voices in combating environmental crises and the changing climate.

Acknowledgments

This exhibition was developed as part of a co-curation project with twelve teenagers from around the UK who visited the Scott Polar Research Institute (SPRI) and Selwyn College for a week in August 2019. Their hard work and dedication provided the framework for the exhibition, while their passion and drive were a source of inspiration for every member of SPRI who had the pleasure of working with them. Thank you: Alice, Charlotte, Erin, JoJo, Lera, Maddie, Molly, Morgan, Nancy, Naomi, Nicolas and Sophie.
The Institute especially wishes to thank Dr Matt Wise and Selwyn College for hosting the co-curation team and for their project development work. Thanks, too, to Downing College and Dr Michael Bravo, the University of Cambridge Admissions and Environment and Energy teams. We also thank the researchers who worked with the team: at SPRI – Henry Anderson-Elliott, Dr Ragnhild Freng Dale, Rebecca Dell, Dr Frazer Christie, Samuel Cook, Sasha Montelli, Morgan Seag and at the British Antarctic Survey, Hilary Blagbrough, Professor Melody Clark, Dr Peter Davis, Laura Gerrish, Dr Huw Griffiths, Louise Ireland, Dr Robert Mulvaney, Dr Stephen Roberts and Professor David Vaughan. Thanks also to Dr Chandrika Nath and the Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research, the UK Antarctic Heritage Trust and Whippet Coaches. Finally, for their help in putting on the exhibition, our thanks go to: Paul Anker, C. Balhatchet, Beach-o-matic, Cat Cooper, Chloe Cupid, Vicky Gardener, S. Holmes, T. Kingsnorth, Laura Kissel, Dr Katrin Linse, J. Marsden, Weronika Murray and Robert Nicholls.

 

Walking on Thin Ice: co-operation in the face of a changing climate

Monday, December 9th, 2019

On the 30th November we were delighted to welcome back our twelve teenage co-curators to celebrate the launch of their exhibition ‘Walking on Thin Ice: co-operation in the face of a changing climate’.

After a week of incredibly hard work in August this year, the then year 12 students had provided our museum team with a detailed framework for their exhibition. Since then, a lot has happened – the student’s ideas have been made into a reality, and the students themselves have moved into year 13 and completed their university applications. Let’s have a catch up.

Welcoming back the student curators

The exhibition is all about climate change – current research, stories of empowerment and hope for the future. The co-curators were adamant that this should not be an exhibition to upset people, but to educate them in up-to-date scientific facts, and encourage them that co-operation is the way forward. The way they wanted this information to be presented is often striking, and there are a number of new features which have not been seen before in our temporary gallery space.

Exhibition display

A large floor sticker can be found in front of the Institute reception desk. A map of the Antarctic, it shows scientific bases located across the continent, as well as the animals which live on and around it. Small flocks of penguins bump up against McMurdo station, while the seas are filled with whales and fish. Bringing a youthful feel to this part of the exhibition, this map has already been a hit with some of our youngest visitors – allowing them to stand on the Antarctic and perhaps imagine themselves as the polar explorers of the future.

Antarctic floor sticker

The inclusion of a ‘voting wall’, with thought-provoking questions set to change over the course of the exhibition, was high on the co-curators’ priority list. With counters to make your views known, it has already sparked conversations within the Institute. Keep an eye on our social media channels for the results.

Voting wall

There is also information about the youth strikes, a topic which was very close to the hearts of our young co-curators. The ‘collage wall’ featuring posters and images from youth strikes in the UK and Inuvik in Northern Canada certainly brings home that this is a global issue, being addressed by a global community. The wall itself has already been incredibly well documented as the backdrop to hundreds of selfies using the hashtag #ThinIceExhibition.

Climate protest wall

Alongside these unusual exhibition features, there is a fantastic selection of objects from the museum’s collection, chosen by the co-curators, and a lot of information about our changing climate. From information about the historic explorers and the data they collected hundreds of years ago, to cutting-edge information about the unprecedented changes we are now recording in atmospheric carbon levels, there is something for everyone to see, read, do and enjoy.

While this has been a fantastic project to bring to life – taking the co-curation team’s ideas and making them a reality – the real highlight was seeing them all again at our launch event. This group of teenagers began the process feeling unsure as to whether Cambridge might be for them, and they all left saying that they felt as if they’d never been away. With university applications for this term now in full swing, we wish them all the best of luck with their further studies, and hope that they know they are welcome back any time!
If you’d like to come and see ‘Walking on Thin Ice’, to vote on the voting wall, stand on the floor sticker and maybe even take a selfie in front of the collage wall, it will be running until the end of March 2020.

A Special Visitor – Part Two. Willy’s Diary

Monday, December 9th, 2019

From the 13th – 20th October we were absolutely thrilled to have the opportunity to invite Willy Topkok, an Iñupiaq man and experienced artist, to visit us here at the Scott Polar ResearchInstitute for a week. It was an exciting, interesting and hugely fun experience for everyone involved so we thought we’d share a post of everything Willy got up to during his stay.

Monday 14th October
Monday was Willy’s first full day in Cambridge. After a quick hello to everyone in the Museum and Education & Outreach teams, Willy viewed our current temporary exhibition “Tikigaq:Point Hope, Life on Alaska’s North Slope” sharing his own stories of his Alaskan heritage throughout, followed by a tour of our Polar Library with Librarian Peter Lund.
Next up was lunch with members of the Museum and Library team where, still adjusting to the temperature change from the desert-like temperatures of Arizona (where he currently lives) to a far cooler Cambridge, the first thing Willy ordered was a hot tea!
After re-fuelling, it was time for Willy to have a private tour of the Polar Museum and a behind-the-scenes look in our stores at more of the Alaskan objects we have in our collection.

Willy holding a boot from our Alaskan collection

Later in the day, Willy joined everyone at SPRI for a special afternoon tea break in the temporary gallery of the Polar Museum where he met staff and students alike – all of whom were very pleased to meet him.

Tuesday 15th October
Even after a busy first day, Willy was just as eager to find out what was next in store for him during his visit. To start off his second day, Willy was accompanied by Collections Assistant Mia Surridge for some sight seeing in Cambridge, with a visit to Kings College and a stop at the famous Corpus Clock too. He was thoroughly impressed with the architecture and hearing all about the traditional Carol’s from Kings Christmas Eve service – but mostly he said he just couldn’t wait to show all the pictures to everyone at home!

Willy standing by the Corpus Clock

After working up quite the appetite from touring the streets of Cambridge, Willy then stopped for some much-needed lunch at the University Centre with Mia and Rosie Amos, Education and Outreach Assistant, before heading back to SPRI to give a talk to PHaSS (The Polar Humanities and Social Sciences Workshop) where he displayed his bowdrill and beading work which they were so fascinated by that Willy ended upextending his talk further.
A speedy tea break was had and then it was time for Willy to begin his second talk of the day, this time to a group of volunteers from The Polar Museum front of house team. Much like with PHaSS, there were laughs and gasps from all in the audience (followed by lots of questions) as Willy, dressed in his traditional clothing, demonstrated his amazing storytelling skills.

Willy giving his talk to our volunteersTo round off his day, a certainly well-deserved dinner was had by Willy with the company of Education and Outreach Assistant, Naomi Boneham. After some great food and a good old chat, he was ready to head to get some rest before his next busy day.

Wednesday 16th October
On Wednesday, Willy was accompanied to London for the day by Collections Project Cataloguer Henrietta Hammant, catching the train (or as Willy called it a ‘trolley’) bright and early from Cambridge station. First stop was the British Museum where they had a look at the North American and Asia galleries as well as the Ancient Greek collection – ever-eager to capture every possible moment of his trip, Willy found much joy in not only seeing the displays first hand but making sure he got plenty of photos to show his friends and family back at home too!

Willy standing outside the British Museum

Up next was a quick trip on the tube to Green Park where Willy and Henrietta had a scenic walk to Buckingham Palace. Willy was not only amazed by the palace itself but delighted to find out the Queen was actually at home! Of course, not wanting to waste a second of their day Willy and Henrietta then set off for a walk through St James’ park to get to Westminster Abbey and then to the Houses of Parliament before crossing the river to see the London Eye. It was certainly a day packed full of London must-sees and landmarks and both Henrietta and Willy agreed it was a successful trip indeed!

Willy standing outside Buckingham Palace

Thursday 17th October
After a morning of free time followed by lunch with Henrietta, Willy set off to visit the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology where, after a viewing of their Star Carr exhibition, he met Senior Curator of Anthropology, Dr Anita Herle and Liz Walsh, a PhD student who did her fieldwork on Alaska’s North Slope. Following tea it was then time to head up to the photographic collection to meet Manager of the Photographic Collections, Dr Jocelyne Dudding who shared some fantastic historic images from both Siberia and Alaska, he was even allowed to take some copies home as they featured people who were from his ancestral homelands.
Willy later enjoyed dinner with Liz Walsh where they both had a lovely time talking about Northern Alaska, with perhaps the highlight of all being that Willy was able to speak in a little Iñupiaq to her.

Friday 18th October
Willy started off his morning back in our Polar Library and much to his delight, whilst browsing through some of the books in our collection, he saw the familiar names of both friends and relatives as well as pictures of their artworks featured on the pages. Next, he took some time to have a look at The Polar Museum himself as, being so busy earlier in the week with activities, he hadn’t yet had chance to properly enjoy our collections in his own time!
Later in the day, Willy was due to give a talk in the temporary gallery as part of our Festival of Ideas events at The Polar Museum. Attending visitors received a private insight into the “Tikigaq: Point Hope, Life on Alaska’s North Slope” exhibition. Willy couldn’t have been happier to talk to the many intrigued visitors more personally after his talk.

Willy with a visitor at The Polar Museum

The day didn’t end there though, as Willy then attended both dinner at the University Centre and an Intelligence Seminar at Corpus Christi about ‘KGB “illegal” operations in England’ with SPRI Research Associate Bryan Lintott. Both Willy and Bryan had an enjoyable evening which rounded off Willy’s penultimate day in Cambridge.

Saturday 20th October
On his final day, Willy kindly came along to The Polar Museum’s Family Day where guests could see demonstrations of his skilled beadwork first hand and hear about his love of the Inupiat way of life whilst Willy himself was thrilled at the fact he got to meet people from all over the world – in fact we’re almost certain he spoke to every single one of the 944 visitors we had on the day!
Then before we knew it, and much to everyone’s sadness, it was time to say our goodbyes to Willy, though not without having a quick group photo beforehand of course…

Willy with Polar Museum staff

As a final treat, Henrietta took Willy for a slap-up last supper before he returned to his hotel ready for an early morning flight home to Arizona, after what was an incredibly special and memorable trip.

A Special Visitor – Part One

Monday, December 9th, 2019

One of the real joys of working in museums is being able to invite guests from our ‘source communities’ to see the museum and visit the objects in our care. Source communities are the real people and places which the objects in our collections come from. So building and maintaining relationships with these people and places is incredibly important.
The Institute was thrilled, therefore, to invite Willy Topkok, an Iñupiaq man and artist from northern Alaska, to visit the museum for a week. SPRI has many links to Alaska and to life in the northern reaches of the State, so we couldn’t wait to learn even more from him. Willy came to talk to us about his life and skills as a traditional artist, and even spoke about some of the objects in our collection. “The Polar Museum was excellent. I saw my late grandfather’s name Frank Elanna, with pictures of his beautiful ivory carvings, along with Uncle Mose Millgrock’s ivory carvings, uncle Lincoln Millergrock’s ivory carvings, my cousin Charlie Kokuluk’s ivory carvings. Paul Tiulana, Justin, Eugene Tiulana’s carvings. I was fascinated to see these beautiful names in Cambridge, UK.”

Willy outside the Polar Museum

One of Willy’s favourite topics of conversation is his Iñupiaq heritage and family history, and he charmed many people with his stories during his visit. Willy’s parents hailed from the small villages of Teller and Wales on the west coast of Alaska. This part of the US juts out into the Bering Straight – reaching towards Russia and the International Date Line just a few miles away. Willy’s life is intertwined with these two countries, so culturally different and yet so geographically close.
Willy writes, “My late mother had this tiny little picture in her Bible. She used to always show me the picture and tell me her mother was very good at sewing. This picture was taken in 1926. She [Willy’s mother] was three years old and holding on to her mother’s hand in the picture. She is the little girl on the bottom right. Louise Tungwenuk Topkok Todd, my grandmother, was born about the late 1800s or early 1900s and she did not understand English. The tall young man far left was my grandfather, my mother’s father, he was born in 1881 in Siberian Russia, on Russia’s Big Diomede Island. My grandfather’s half-brother, Spike Millergrock, was from Little Diomede Alaska.”
Willy’s family had a big impact on the direction his life would take, “When I was about eight or ten years old I was forced to learn my native arts like carving walrus ivory, skin sewing. I did not want to learn” but as Willy went on, he began to enjoy learning how to produce traditional artwork. “My grandmother loved to sit beside me while I did my native arts because she loved to see my little Eskimo dancers on walrus ivory scrimshaw. Then she would have hot tea sitting beside me telling me some beautiful stories of my people”.

Willy’s family

Willy became a very skilled artist, specialising in ivory carving, graphic arts, skin sewing, dancing, singing, and of course, story-telling. We were so fortunate to be able to watch Willy beading, demonstrating his sewing techniques and giving us gripping first-hand accounts of what life had been like for him growing up between the villages of Teller and Wales. “Even to this day now I love doing my native arts and I even love to teach my native arts, the past few years I have taught at the University of Alaska Anchorage, Native Arts.” Willy also spoke and taught at our Family Open Day, where he talked with our visitors, told stories and demonstrated his work. “Saturday Oct. 19, 2019 – fun fun fun greeting people from all over the world at the Scott Polar Research Institute”.

Speaking to visitors at our Arctic Family Day

Willy went to high school in Oregon, where he met (now Professor) Larry Rockhill, who went on to become an Emeritus Associate with SPRI. Larry’s own academic interests also lie somewhere between Alaska and Russia, and so it is little wonder that he and Willy kept in contact for so many years. It was this deep friendship which meant that Larry put Willy forward as a possible candidate to visit the museum here in Cambridge, and we’re very pleased that he did.
For a more detailed account of Willy’s time spent in the UK, please read our next post. This trip diary, outlines the busy days he spent with us here in the Institute and in other museums across Cambridge and London. It was an absolute pleasure to have Willy to stay and share his history, cultural heritage and traditions with us. To leave you with Willy’s words, “I can’t thank you more than enough for a dream visit to the United Kingdom.”

Resources to Engage Blind and Partially Sighted Visitors with the Shackleton Collections

Wednesday, September 25th, 2019

Over the past year we have been working on increasing access for blind and partially sighted visitors to our Shackleton collections. We wanted to create a number of meaningful resources that could be used by a variety of ages, and by visitors who have partial sight loss as well as those who may be fully blind. This is especially important as most of the Shackleton artefacts currently on display are very fragile and behind glass so cannot be handled.

This is part of a wider National Lottery Heritage Funded project called By Endurance We Conquer: The Shackleton Project. All of these resources are suitable for adults and children, but will require some assistance from the museum reception volunteers, so please do ask at the museum reception if you would like to use any of them.

The resources are as follows:

• A 10 minute audio introduction to the Polar Museum and its layout, and audio descriptions of 10 different artefacts from the Shackleton collection (both produced by Vocaleyes)
These are available to download from our website as well as available from the museum reception desk on our current audio devices.

• Vocaleyes also delivered two sessions of Visual Awareness training for our staff, volunteers and colleagues in the University of Cambridge Museums in July of this year. This enables us to now offer basic guiding for BPSP visitors around the museum. If you are interested in this assistance with your visit please do let us know in advance so we can make sure a fully trained volunteer and/or member of staff is available.

• We have purchased a swell printer to make tactile drawings, which are images with raised, tangible outlines. Using this we have produced drawings of wildlife photographs taken on the Shackleton expeditions, as well as some wonderful tactile artwork created by Sarah Airriess which shows the James Caird and how it was turned into a shelter on Elephant Island. We also have tactile maps of the museum floor plan which can be used by visitors as they move around the museum. It is hoped that in the future, further tactile drawings can be created for a variety of activities and events.

• We have commissioned Mattes and Miniatures Visual Effects Ltd to create two replica items which visitors can fully handle and explore. These are a replica pair of eye shades used in the Antarctic by Lieutenant Charles Royds on the Discovery Expedition (1901-1904), and a replica model of a Nansen sledge, including all the equipment which would have been packed on it.
Both have turned out incredibly beautiful and are near perfect replicas of the originals which we are very lucky to have.

• We also have a magnifying sheet and a torch available to borrow to help visitors see the objects in the display cases.

All of these resources will be available from the museum reception desk from the beginning of October so please do speak to our lovely museum volunteers if you would like to access any of them and they will be happy to assist you. We are very excited about these resources so please do visit us to try them out – we would love to hear your feedback on them!

The Antarctic Cataloguing Project is drawing to a close…

Monday, October 31st, 2016

antc-objects

The Antarctic Cataloguing Project will be coming to an end in less than two weeks, and so will my time at the Polar Museum. I can’t believe how quickly the two years have flown by!

The project set out to create a fully researched and illustrated online catalogue all of the Antarctic objects in the museum’s collection. This involved describing, measuring, photographing and condition-assessing each object in the collection, and conducting research to find out more about the objects, the people who used them and the expeditions they were used on. The project also aimed to cross-reference the objects in the museum with material in the Archives and Picture Library at SPRI (e.g. if we have Scott’s goggles, have we got a photo of him wearing them or a diary entry where he refers to them?), and with comparable objects in other national and international collections, and to embed the resultant information in the catalogue itself. Quite a lot of work for one person in two years! Needless to say, I felt somewhat daunted by the task when I started in November 2014…

I spent the first three-four months of the project developing cataloguing guidelines and a consistent structure for the catalogue records which would work for any object in the museum (be it Arctic or Antarctic, modern or historical, object or artwork) and which would also correspond with the Picture Library and Archive catalogues where possible. I also did extensive work to cross-reference the different keyword and classification systems already used in the Museum, Picture Library and Archive catalogues to create standardised and structured systems and develop controlled termlists where possible. (I’m a bit of a cataloguing geek so this job was perfect for me!) Details of this work will be available on the project page on the museum website.

It wasn’t until February 2015 that I was ready to start looking at the objects – and since then I’ve looked at every single Antarctic object in the collection (about 2400 items) and have produced detailed catalogue records in the new consistent structure for each, with neat descriptions and new photos. These are now available on the online catalogue, and I’m really hoping that we’ll be able to add an advanced search on the website in the coming weeks.

antc-objects-2

The Antarctic catalogue is available at www.spri.cam.ac.uk/museum/catalogue

A team of volunteers has worked on a parallel project to draw together existing biographical information about expeditions and expedition members to create biographical catalogue records for them. These will form a shared resource between the Museum, Archive and Picture Library and we’re hoping that these will become available online in due course – so if you’re looking at an object belonging to Scott, you’ll be able to click on his name and it will bring up his biography. I’ve also had the assistance of an absolutely brilliant volunteer who has done extensive research on some of the lesser known Antarctic expeditions, and also on the manufacturers of objects in the collection.

In addition to all of this (because I didn’t have enough to do!), we’ve been busy making five short films about life in the Antarctic on the themes of clothing, transport, food, navigation and science. Each film features objects from the Polar Museum, interviews with guest contributors talking about their experiences in the Antarctic, and historic and modern photographs. Look out for a blog post on these in the near future.

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I’m really going to miss the Polar Museum and SPRI, but it’s been a thoroughly enjoyable two years and I’m really pleased to have ‘completed’ the catalogue (in as much as cataloguing work is ever complete). My biggest sense of achievement comes from having photographed the sledges over three very hot days in August. Many of the sledges are stored on the top shelves of our very small ‘large objects’ store and I had not-so-secretly been hoping that we would run out of time before we had the chance to photograph them. It was utterly exhausting and quite nerve-wracking at times, but it’s brilliant to know that they’re done.

I’d like to say an enormous thank you to everyone at the Polar Museum, particularly to Sophie and Christina for all of the condition assessing, to Chris and Tom at the Department of Biochemistry for all of the photography, and to all of the volunteers who’ve helped on the project.

Greta

 

Top polar reads: what do you recommend?

Tuesday, December 8th, 2015

I’ve been the curator of the Polar Museum for a little over a month, and unsurprisingly the learning curve has been steep! As well as getting to grips with the running of the museum and all the practicalities that come with that, I’m trying to very quickly get up to speed with the history of the polar regions.

I asked twitter for some reading recommendations. I’ve ended up with a list that combines a combination of quick-hit short articles, about all sorts of things ranging from an unusual form of ‘cold turkey’ to polar aviation (thanks to @lizbruton and @dannybirchall), and some fascinating sounding books that I’ll work my way through over time, like @gabridli’s suggestion of The Idea of the North. I’d love to know what you would recommend, so get in touch with us and we’ll share your favourite polar reads.

The first book I’m reading is Michael Smith’s Polar Crusader: A Life of Sir James Wordie. Wordie was a geologist, and in 1914 he joined Sir Ernest Shackleton’s expedition to the Antarctic on board the ship Endurance. Here at the museum we’re marking the expedition with By Endurance We Conquer’, our current exhibition. It relates the astonishing journey that expedition members undertook for survival after Endurance was crushed by the ice in Antarctica on 21 November 1914. Given the drama and heroism of that tale, it might seem strange that I haven’t leapt straight in with Shackleton’s own book SouthWith my background in the history of science I’m intrigued to learn how much scientific research and data gathering Wordie was able to do on the trip. One striking thing is that so much useful scientific material survived the expedition given the extraordinarily difficult circumstances.

Tell us about your top polar reads by getting in touch with us on twitter @polarmuseum, commenting on our Facebook page or using the hashtag #polarreads.

First steps: welcome to our new Curator

Monday, October 19th, 2015

Last week, we said hello to our new Curator, Charlotte Connelly. Charlotte joined us from just down the road, where she is researching the history of electrical science at the Department of History and Philosophy of Science. Before that, she worked as a curator at the Science Museum, including as a content developer for the Information Age gallery that opened last year. Charlotte’s background is in the history and philosophy of science, and she has particular interests in the history of polar science, the use of historic reconstructions for understanding scientific ideas and processes, and visitor participation in museums.

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“Excitement, trepidation, a few nerves – the start of any new adventure is always going to come wrapped up in a few emotions. This week I started my new job as curator of the Polar Museum, and those thoughts were sloshing around my mind as I took tour of the museum and considered the even greater expectations and risks that intrepid polar explorers faced as they set out on their long expeditions. Becoming the museum’s curator is far less risky, but certainly comes with its own challenges. I’m looking forward to getting to know the collections, and all the people who care for and about them – from volunteers to visitors, and museum staff to scientific researchers.”

Charlotte