Article ID: CBB001421586

“On Thin Ice”: The Polar Displays at the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich (2013)


The National Maritime Museum (NMM) holds one of the most important historical collections relating to Polar exploration in the UK. It includes artefacts relating to the great 19th century voyages of exploration to locate the Northwest Passage, as well as to the `heroic' early 20th century expeditions of Scott and Shackleton. Many of the artefacts have a long history of display, and Polar exploration has been a near constant presence in the Museum since the 1950s. Representations of the Polar regions may seem to have little connection to British identity and Empire. However, the Arctic in the mid-19th century and the Antarctic in the 20th century can be seen as important places in their own right and central to constructing senses of national identity. There is a close link between the history of exploration and the history of Empire; Polar explorers were represented as heroic figures, providing powerful foci for the imagination of the nation. Polar exploration, Empire, science and national identity were interwoven. The impact of the end of Empire upon British culture and identity has been subject to much debate by historians. Although Empire has diminished in importance Polar exploration remained on display in the NMM, albeit in a number of different guises. This article investigates this phenomenon, the role museums play in promulgating ideas about Empire and nation, and asks what, if anything, happens to displays when Empire declines. Keywords: Polar regions ; Arctic ; Antarctic ; exploration ; display ; Empire ; national identity ; museum

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Authors & Contributors
Larson, Edward John
Armitage, David
Wolff, Larry
Blackbourn, David
Moore, D. T.
Bloom, Lisa
Archives of Natural History
British Journal for the History of Science
Isis: International Review Devoted to the History of Science and Its Cultural Influences
Victorian Studies
Endeavour: Review of the Progress of Science
William and Mary Quarterly
National Geographic Society
Manchester University Press
Yale University Press
Oxford University Press
Harvard University
Haynes Publishing
Travel; exploration
Scientific expeditions
Natural history
Scott, Robert Falcon
Shackleton, Ernest Henry
Amundsen, Roald
Peary, Robert Edwin
Stefansson, Vilhjalmur
Cherry-Garrard, Apsley
Time Periods
19th century
20th century, early
20th century
18th century
17th century
21st century
Polar regions
Great Britain
New Zealand
London (England)
National Maritime Museum (Great Britain)
Habsburg, House of
British Schools Exploring Society
International Geophysical Year (IGY)

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