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Title: The 'Heroic' and 'Post-Heroic' ages of British Antarctic exploration : a consideration of differences and continuity
Author: Haddelsey, Stephen
ISNI:       0000 0000 5161 5567
Awarding Body: University of East Anglia
Current Institution: University of East Anglia
Date of Award: 2014
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Hitherto, popular historians of British Antarctic exploration have focused their attention, almost exclusively, on the period known as the 'Heroic Age,' a retrospectively applied collective term which is now generally understood to cover the sixteen expeditions – both British and foreign – launched between the Sixth International Geographical Congress of 1895 and the death of Sir Ernest Shackleton on 5 January 1922. Although, as Stephanie Barczewski has demonstrated, the tone of Antarctic historiography has undergone a number of evolutions over the course of the 92 years that have passed since the end of the Heroic Age (most noticeable in the movement from the hagiographic early biographies of Captain Scott to Roland Huntford's vitriolic debunking in Scott and Amundsen), these changes have not resulted in either an expansion or contraction of this focus. The parallel careers of Scott and Shackleton, in particular, have spawned a quite extraordinary number of biographies, narrative histories, management studies and deconstructions – and the passage of time has done little to staunch the flow, with major biographies of Scott published in 2003 and 2005 and publication of a comprehensive new biography of Shackleton imminent. The fact that Barczewski's shrewd analysis, which is 'intended for a general, non-specialist audience,' concentrates on Scott and Shackleton is in itself a further corroboration of this ongoing predilection. In stark contrast, and with very few exceptions, books on the most important British Antarctic expeditions of what, for the purposes of differentiation, might be termed the 'Post-Heroic' period have been limited to the official accounts published in the immediate aftermath of those ventures. At the time of writing, there is, for instance, no popular narrative history of John Rymill's British Graham Land Expedition (BGLE) of 1934-37, despite it being widely acknowledged as one of the most important and successful British polar expeditions of the first half of the twentieth century. Similarly, prior to the publication of Shackleton's Dream: Fuchs, Hillary & The Crossing of Antarctica (2012) and Operation Tabarin: Britain's Secret Wartime Expedition to Antarctica, 1944-46 (2014), there was no popular account of either the Commonwealth Trans-Antarctic Expedition (CTAE) of 1956-58 – the expedition which completed the first surface crossing of the Antarctic continent – or of Operation Tabarin – the government-sponsored initiative that reaffirmed British interest in the Antarctic and ultimately evolved into the British Antarctic Survey (BAS). The neglect of the CTAE is particularly striking because, under the leadership of Vivian Fuchs, this expedition finally attained the major exploratory objective of many of its Heroic Age predecessors, including Shackleton's Imperial TransAntarctic (ITAE, or Endurance) Expedition of 1914-17. My own work on the history of British Antarctic exploration has been divided equally between the two periods. In writing Born Adventurer: The Life of Frank Bickerton (2005) and Ice Captain: The Life of J.R. Stenhouse (2008), I sought to present the lives of two Heroic Age British Antarctic explorers and, in the process, to examine the conditions, objectives, challenges and achievements of the expeditions in which they took part. Wishing to move away from biography to a more comprehensive evaluation of the geo-political backgrounds, motivations, successes and failures of specific Post-Heroic expeditions, I then researched and wrote Shackleton's Dream: Fuchs, Hillary & The Crossing of Antarctica and Operation Tabarin: Britain's Secret Wartime Expedition to Antarctica. When evaluated as a single body of work these four books, which total approximately 440,000 words of text, demonstrate that the different ages of British polar exploration should not be seen as fundamentally distinct but as constituent elements of an historical continuum and that the considerable disparity in levels of public awareness and interest are, at least in part, the result of errors in perception.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available