Time to Eat the Dogs

On Science, History, and Exploration

Michael Robinson

Welcome to Time to Eat the Dogs, a blog about science, history, and exploration. I am an associate professor of history at Hillyer College, University of Hartford. I study the role of exploration in science and culture. My first book, The Coldest Crucible: Arctic Exploration and American Culture, winner of the 2008 Book Award from the Forum for the History of Science in America, takes up the story of Arctic exploration in the United States during the height of its popularity, from 1850 to 1910. My current book project, Lost White Tribe: Scientists, Explorers, and a Theory of Race that Changed Africa (New York: Oxford University Press, forthcoming) , describes at the rise and fall of a strange anthropological theory, the Hamitic Hypothesis, which argued that some Africans were the descendants of a prehistoric “white invasion” from outside of Africa.

This blog gives me the chance to play with new topics in the history of exploration. Some of my recent published work (on Lewis and Clark & Alexander von Humboldt, NASA, historical meanings of exploration, geographical theories and myths, and the historiography of exploration) have grown out of blog writing (and your comments). It has become my nursery of ideas.

When I’m not teaching and writing, I try to bring exploration subjects to broader audiences. I’ve served as a historical expert for PBS’s series The American Experience, an exploration editor for Endeavour and the arts journal Drunken Boatan advisory editor for the History of Science journal Isis, and an executive committee member of the Maury Workshop for the History of Oceanography. I’ve curated exhibitions on Arctic exploration at the Portland Museum of Art (Maine), worked as a historical consultant for documentaries and granting agencies,  and often speak about issues in exploration at conferences, dinners, and seminars.

If you have questions, comments, or suggestions, or would like to contact me for a presentation, email me at microbins@hartford.edu.  You can subscribe to this blog by email, RSS feed, or Twitter. Instructions for all of these options are available in the third column. You can also access my full CV here.

About the Site

This site is about exploration and its place within the cultural imagination. Exploration is a popular subject, both inside and outside the academy. Journalists and historians, geographers and literary scholars, anthropologists and adventurers have all laid claim to different aspects of the explorer’s story.  Yet many of us confine ourselves to the boundaries of our own fields, reading books and articles by a narrow range of authors. I have tried to make this space more ecumenical: a place to share ideas across disciplines.  All are welcome.

About the Name

In 1907, Arctic explorer Robert Peary declared that “man and the Eskimo dog are the only two mechanisms capable of meeting all the varying contingencies of Arctic work.” Men were tricky mechanisms to control. Dogs, on the other hand, were powerful and reliable. And, of course, edible. When they broke down, they were fed to healthier dogs. And when these healthy dogs failed, or when provisions ran low, they were fed to the men. Sometimes this happened as a last resort. More often than not, however, it was a part of the plan, a calculation of food, weight, and distance.

Roald Amundsen: explorer, sailor, dog-eater

Exploration was difficult, even deadly, work. Explorers had to make decisions with a rational, and at times ruthless, efficiency. This did not always jibe with their public personae however; the public expected their heroes to embody the noblest traits of the nation, a code of honor that did not include being premeditated canine-i-vores.

As exploration controversies go, this was a minor one. But it illustrates something that was more broadly true: explorers had to hew closely to complicated, even contradictory, codes of behavior. They were fiercely patriotic yet often deeply egocentric, desperate to escape civilization yet obsessed with their public images back home, anxious to go-it-alone even when expeditions required the efforts of so many. For me, the controversies of exploration (rather than the accomplishments) are the prize because they are, ultimately, the most revealing about society, culture, and human nature. And they make good stories too.

Contact Michael Robinson

2 Comments»

  Mapping Africa « The Renaissance Mathematicus wrote @

[...] Jump to Comments At Time to Eat the Dogs the always excellent Michael Robinson (and if you don’t already regularly read him you should) has a stimulating review of a [...]

  Scienspiration wrote @

I am really looking forward to following your blog! What a great speciality!


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