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The Polar Museum: news blog

The Polar Museum: news blog

Welcome to the Scott Polar Research Institute Museum news section.

Why Franklin? Blog 1:

January 15th, 2018



We don’t know when it started, or who took the decision, but some time in May 1848 British sailors from HMS Erebus and HMS Terror began butchering and eating their comrades…

Andrew Lambert, 2009.


At the Polar Museum we’re lucky enough to have a diverse collection of material associated with one of the most iconic, and controversial, figures in the history of polar exploration, Captain of the ill-fated British Naval Northwest Passage Expedition 1845-48 (HMS Erebus and HMS Terror), Sir John Franklin. Most of the time I work for Greenwich National Maritime Museum, researching an early nineteenth century campaign to survey the earth’s magnetism dubbed ‘The Magnetic Crusade’. Historians have looked to the ‘powerful sickening fascination of the Crusade’s magnetic data’ to explain Franklin’s obsession with polar exploration that led to this last, fateful voyage. Since February, I’ve been doing some work for the Polar Museum to enhance the available information on their Arctic collections, with a particular interest in nineteenth century expeditions or anything related to magnetism. I hope these posts will be teasers for some of the amazing objects on show and in storage there. As with many of the Polar Museum’s collections, much of the material related to Franklin was donated by family and the descendants of Franklin and of fellow officers; so it ranges from the domestic and personal, through expedition equipment and relics of the expedition’s tragic end, to commemorative items. This is what makes the collection so exciting and diverse but also particularly important for thinking about the life of one of the most infamous heroic failures in the history of polar exploration. It’s a story that begins, and ends, with cannibalism.

A Viennese Whirl: The Madness of Conferences

January 11th, 2018

Hello again, dear readers, for another blog post; this time about that great totem of academia: the conference. The last week of April saw several of my compatriots and I jet off to Vienna, there to attend the 2017 EGU General Assembly (EGU for short). EGU is the European Geoscience Union; the umbrella body that covers all Earth-Science-type researchers on the continent. The General Assembly draws 14,000-odd scientists to Vienna every year for a week in April, ranging from atmospheric physicists to volcanologists. The conference is huge, with a kaleidoscope of subjects and sessions covered – obviously, we were mainly going to attend the cryosphere strand (i.e. the bit that covers snow and ice) – but, if you have other research interests, there’ll be a session for them too.

The EGU logo.

The EGU logo.

The conference lasts from Monday to Friday, with a few pre-conference events on the preceding Sunday. Each day, each research area will have several sessions of oral presentations on specific areas within that strand, starting at 08:30 and carrying on until 17:00.So, for the cryosphere, a session might be on the behaviour of glaciers in a particular geographical area, or on a particular method for investigating ice, or it might be deliberately broad, to ensure that cross-cutting research doesn’t get left out. At the end of each day, between 17:30 and 19:00, there are poster sessions related to each of the oral sessions. These are for work that isn’t sufficiently-finished for an oral presentation, or that is perhaps lower impact, or if you don’t want the formality of an actual talk. Essentially, poster sessions consist of a big hall filled with posters, with the researcher responsible standing in front of their poster. Any conference attendee can wander round, read the posters and talk to the researchers about their work on the poster. It’s a useful way of presenting and getting feedback on your work in an informal setting. And of networking, which is in many ways equally valuable – at a big conference like EGU, most of the big names in the field will be in attendance, so it’s a great way of meeting them, which could turn out to be very useful in organising collaborations or getting a job.