If I had to guess, I’d put the current readership of books on Ernest Shackleton at about three billion. This number will surely grow to include all members of our species once the corpus of Shackletonia has been fully translated into Chinese. Those of us who have etched out a living writing about other polar explorers smile and try not to be bitter. We make do writing articles for hard-to-pronounce journals, publishing books with tiny print runs, and giving talks at libraries and retirement homes.
Waiting for the new Shackleton biography
But there are bright moments working in the shadows of Shackleton. We, the scholars of the obscure, have a keen sense of fellowship. We know the twenty or so people out there who do the same thing we do. In polar exploration, this society of scholars includes: Russell Potter, Lisa Bloom, Kenn Harper, Peter Capelotti, and Robert Bryce. I have gotten to know these writers through their work: The Fate of Franklin, Gender on Ice, Give Me My Father’s Body, By Airship to the North Pole, and Cook and Peary. As I wrote The Coldest Crucible, I spent a good deal of time figuring out how my work connected to theirs. But for all of this, I had never met any of them.
Last week they were all there, the Arctic All-Star Team, talking shop and drinking coffee at the North By Degree conference in Philadelphia. I met other members of the fellowship as well, among them: Susan Kaplan, Bob Peck, Christina Sawchuk, Karen Routledge, Rob Lukens, Patricia Erikson, Anne Witty, Chip Sheffield, Stephen Loring, Elena Glasberg, Laura Kay, Lyle Dick, Emma Bonanomi, Christyann Darwent, Erik Sundholm, Russell Gibbons, David and Deirdre Stam, Huw Lewis-Jones, Kari Herbert, Genevieve Lemoine, Frederick Nelson, Helen Reddick, and modern explorer and polymath Tori Murden McClure, who gave a terrific talk on the motives of exploration.
We weren’t all cooing and nodding at each other, either. There were some good scuffles: over the Cook-Peary controversy, gender and exploration, and our different approaches to history. I’ll be featuring more tidbits from the conference over the next month or so. Maybe we can generate a good dust-up here as well.
Discussing Polar History