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Deborah Wood

Deborah Wood

PhD in Polar Studies student

"To Those Who Knew Him Best Because They Loved Him Most" : The Emotional History of Grief and Family Networks in Preserving Exploration Histories



  • MPhil Polar Studies – Department of Geography, University of Cambridge, 2020-2021
  • BA History and English – Royal Holloway, University of London, 2017-2020


  • Open-Oxford-Cambridge AHRC Doctoral Training Programme Studentship


My PhD explores the experiences of polar explorers' families during the so-called Heroic Age of Antarctic Exploration. It examines the individual families' responses to their loss and the impact of these deaths on their personal circumstances, alongside the influence and consequences that their actions have had on the modern legacies and collections surrounding polar exploration.

The complex and rapidly changing social structures of the 19th and early 20th centuries created a difficult balance for the families of explorers who died during their expeditions. When these families inherited the explorer's personal writings and belongings, they also took on the emotional weight of his legacy of a 'tragic hero' – for them, however, the tragedy was not only of a nationally recognised figure, but of their loved one.

I will explore the emotional lived experiences of these families in the aftermath of their loss; their decisions made regarding their loved one's materials; and the profound impact that these decisions had on the archives, museums, and publications that researchers rely on today. This project will unite the emotional and imperial histories of exploration with the material culture that underpins archival studies, as well as the public history and cultural legacies of historic polar exploration. By taking this broad interdisciplinary approach, I hope to bring light to the diverse range of individuals who shaped our cultural memories of polar exploration, and to further our understandings of the shifting legacies of polar exploration.


Wood, D. (2024). 'Gloriously Widowed': Public Mourning and Private Grief in the Aftermath of Scott's Terra Nova Expedition, 1910-1913. Romance, Revolution and Reform, 6, 110–130. Available at: