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“Semi-Professional Polar Explorers”: Empire, Modernity, and Temporality in British Arctic Travel Narratives, 1875-1940

DRURY, CHRISTIAN,JAMES (2023) “Semi-Professional Polar Explorers”: Empire, Modernity, and Temporality in British Arctic Travel Narratives, 1875-1940. Doctoral thesis, Durham University.

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Author-imposed embargo until 18 October 2024.


This thesis considers how the Arctic was represented in British travel writing from the region in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. It pays particular attention to travellers’ depictions and discussions of empire, modernity, and temporality in the region. Beginning with the 1875-76 British Arctic Expedition, this thesis argues that there were considerable similarities in how the region was depicted, particularly in these areas of interest, until around 1940, despite differences in the type of travel being written about and the types of travellers making these journeys. However, it also notes important differences and regional specificities, as well as the significant influence of local and Indigenous people on these discourses of Arctic travel.

As well as the British Arctic Expedition, this thesis considers the writings produced from tourist travel to Norway and Sápmi in the period, as well as interwar British expeditions to Svalbard and East Greenland. These locations highlight the interaction between British travellers and Scandinavian colonialism, as well as British reflections on their own empire. Moreover, concurrent readings allow for the consideration of Inuit and Sámi agency, involvement, and resistance.

Colonial discourses often depicted travel to the Arctic as travel back in time, in descriptions of people and places and in connections made to imagined pasts. Moreover, this temporality connected to the travellers’ own understandings of modernity. Rather than being a place far from metropolitan modernity, the Arctic instead was co-constructed as a modern space by travellers and travellees. However, tourism, the construction of infrastructure, and wider ideas of being followed created tensions in places regarded as wild and remote. Depictions of the Arctic, therefore, were crucial spaces for thinking about empire, place, and time in British travel writing between 1875 and 1940, but travellers did not make their journeys there alone, practically or metaphorically.

Item Type:Thesis (Doctoral)
Award:Doctor of Philosophy
Faculty and Department:Faculty of Arts and Humanities > History, Department of
Thesis Date:2023
Copyright:Copyright of this thesis is held by the author
Deposited On:18 Oct 2023 15:59

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