Polarforschung – an article submitted last Thursday

After all the Lock-down hibernation – it is great to be back at Gateway Antarctica. Since Tuesday, I am working in my corner again and it feels good. However, I have not been teaching all the time, I also wrote an article which I submitted on Thursday, 14 May. Polarforschung is a journal from the Deutsche Gesellschaft fuer Polarforschung. I am a member for some years already and I published last year a book review (see post from 25 November 2019) in that journal.

The article is about an expedition leader who had immense problems to defend his position during the Second German Antarctic Expedition in 1911 – 1912. His name: Wilhelm Filchner! An ice-shelf is named after him – Filchner-Ronne ice-shelf.

Filchner–Ronne Ice Shelf - Wikipedia

Filchner had an interesting life and he could write without a ghost-writer. Many famous explorers had ghost-writers and the spectrum ranges from Admiral Byrd to Ernest Shackleton.

He published many books mainly on his Asian expeditions. However, his Antarctic expedition is only known for the wrong reasons – the scientific findings and results are often overlooked because the expedition members were so much divided that each scientist published the results only within the own peer group. My first encounter with Wilhelm Filchner was when I started my PhD in 2003. From that moment on, I was fascinated by his character – he was quite complicated and had problems on many levels but it is hard to fill the gaps in his biography. Therefore it is very disturbing that there is not much known about him. People, interested in Tibet and Nepal are more familiar with his name but in the Antarctic community he is not that much visible.

I was quite lucky when I attended a conference in Leipzig in 2005. Because of my presentation, a participant contacted me with the information that he worked on a file in the archive in Goettingen and some of the names in my talk were matching in that file. I received the file and could shed some light on Filchner’s expedition. But it is always the same spiral: the more answers one gets, the more questions appear at the same time – and so is it with this man.

My research on biographies, however, is often a by-product of other projects and it is all a question of funding. But that does not stop me to get another article out on that explorer. 🙂

Working from home due Covid-19

This post is a very personal one and only happens because there is too much going on.

Lots have happened since the last post. It is not that I am lazy, on the contrary, I am busier than ever. The circumstances they make it necessary working from home are worrying. I miss the office and the people to talk with; also that I can leave my work where it is and not to take it home where it is already in each corner of my home. I did not like it as teacher that the work was always around me and now I have to deal with it again.

My five history lectures for ANTA 102 are recorded since last week. With all the new stuff to learn and work with makes my life not easier. My writing is a bit delayed, but I am back on track with that soon. My position as Austrian Honorary Consul took all my time in the first half of the lockdown so far. Many stranded Austrians asked for help and on 9 April, finally a mercy flight went back to Austria. That was very time-consuming to communicate with the Austrians, the Embassy in Canberra, etc. It was very busy and I could do only a fraction of what I do normally for my research and teaching. We, my husband and I, had a stranded 17-year-old exchange student in our house for 2 weeks. That meant, more grocery shopping, more cooking, and many things more. But he had a good time here, and I am glad that all went well in the end for 288 Austrians and EU-citiziens.

I was also lucky to go off the expedition cruise ship on 28 February and went back to New Zealand because of the Covid-19 pandemic, the Silver Cloud was forced to find a new port and my colleagues are just now back from the voyage: 36 days after the last voyage should have come to an end. I would have just now arrived if I have stayed on.

I am really glad, that I can now start with my normal work again. I love my writing and teaching.


Curator of the Gateway Antarctica Twitter account

This week I am the curator of the Gateway Antarctica Twitter account. It is quite challenging because I want to talk about history and I see now how much I already covered over the years of doing research on Polar history. I want to talk about the expeditions which are not commonly known like the expeditions undertaken by Germany, Scotland, France, Belgium, Sweden, Australia, Japan, etc. Their contribution to science was immense and we still build on it our own research. Otto Nordenskjoeld discovered through observation of ice that there is a difference to land ice and ice shelves – he called it shelf ice but it was changed in the 1950s to ice shelf. Research on ice and snow was mainly the work of the geologists back in the days. It fascinates me every time I encounter publications of these explorers how they did research through observation and developed – often the correct – conclusions with the limited instruments they had available. Today, ice and snow research is done via remote sensing and in situ measurements. And still – the more we discover, the more questions appear. This is the fascination of research if it is in history, humanities, social sciences and hard science (STEM).

Small iceberg, picture taken from the ship (Deck 5) when we went through the Lemaire Channel. February 2020

Article published in Polar Record

On 15 January, my article on the German Phd from the 1940s about claims in the Antarctic has been published. It is a special issue (Polar Record) about the 60th anniversary of the Antarctic Treaty. I am very glad that it is out now.

The author of the Phd, Barre-Schmidt, focuses on the whaling industry and claiming processes and sees the necessity of an international frame work to manage Antarctic issues and politics.

The way to the Antarctic Treaty: System of rules in times of global conflict. Polar Record 55: 320-322 https://doi.org/10.1017/S0032247419000731

A German PhD thesis from 1940 provides an intriguing entrĂ©e into a fascinating period of Antarctic history and politics. Its title and content was considered sufficiently interesting that the US Antarctic Projects Office put it in a publication entitled ‘National Interests in Antarctica’ (United States 1960). The thesis was entitled ‘The territorial status of Antarctica in the law’ (Die territorialen RechtsverhĂ€ltnisse der Antarktis) (Baare-Schmidt. 1940). However, it has to be looked at in the context of the beginning of World War 2 and the linkage of whaling and in this respect of applied practice of territorial claims in the Antarctic. A timely topic given that negotiators gathering in Washington in October 1959 were having to ask themselves the following: how is the territorial status of Antarctica going to be managed in the present and future?
Germany was in a critical state after World War 1 as it relied on whale oil, mainly from Norway, to meet the demand to produce margarine, soap but also glycerine. Germany was banned of having sovereign power over colonies, specified in the Versailles Treaty 1919, and has been excluded for the next fifteen years from exploring Antarctic waters (SzalĂĄnczi, 2012, p 132). Whaling and doing science in the Antarctic was now out of reach for Germany but it had its share of Antarctic exploration from the early days on. In 1873–1874, the first German whaling expedition went down to the Antarctic Peninsula under Eduard Dallmann. During the Heroic Era, Erich von Drygalski (1901–1903) and Wilhelm Filchner (1911–1912) led scientific expeditions in the Antarctic. A hidden agenda next to the science was, however, the finding of whaling grounds. In 1938, the Schwabenland-expedition was on its way south. Its agenda was to secure whaling grounds in the Antarctic and combine this with science. Helmuth Wohltat, Councillor of State, was also chief of the emerging German whaling industry and together with his superior, Herman Göring, they designed the Four Year Plan which had a clear focus on whale oil in relation of upcoming war efforts. (LĂŒdecke & Summerhayes, 2012, pp 9–21).
When the Schwabenland expedition arrived in the Antarctic, the Norwegian had already laid a claim in the area the Germans favoured, the so-called ‘Antarctic Sector’ (Norwegian Sovereignty in the Antarctic, 1940, p 84). The Norwegians were very active in the south with
whaling; however, there were also attempts in exploring the inland of the Antarctic continent, mainly with planes. German lawyers followed up the Norwegian claim and highly critical comments dominated the discussion. (Schmitz & Friede, 1939, p 244-258; Reeves, 1939, p519-521)
Under these historical circumstances, Hans-Georg Baare-Schmidt (1913–2010) published his doctoral thesis Die Territorialen RechtsverhĂ€ltnisse in der Antarktis in 1940 (Baare-Schmidt, 1940). He was a jurist for international law reflecting and arguing on the claiming processes in the Antarctic. To this day, the thesis is only available in German. However, it does not read like the more usual German theses of the time, reflecting that Barre-Schmidt was studying not only in Germany but also in the USA. However, even while disagreeing with claiming processes commonly used by nations in the first half of the twentieth century, he uses those same arguments to justify possible German claims on the southern continent. His thesis covers the territorial claims of the countries involved at that time: UK, France, Norway, Germany, USA, Argentina, and Japan. All these countries had a strong economic interest, with the exception of Argentina, in one significant commercial area: industrial whaling.
Whaling as driver of Antarctic activity
Whaling was a strong economic factor. Britain, for example, laid a claim already in 1908 because of the whaling business (60°S latitude and between 20°W and 80°W). The British issued licenses especially to Norwegian whalers. However, they themselves went further away from the dedicated areas to surpass their defined fishing quota, thus avoiding the license fees. This was made possible using factory ships, which came into use after the mid-1920s. Chaser boats, equipped with harpoon guns, killed the whales and towed them back to the factory ship where the whale was then processed. This sort of fishing is called pelagic whaling (open sea whaling). Together with shore whaling station like in South Georgia, it had an effect on the whale population especially on the sperm whale, humpback whale, fin whale, and blue whale. (Ainley, 2010; Isachsen, 1919; Basberg, 2004, p 28-39). To sustain the whaling industry, attempts to regulate whaling quotas were already made in the 1930s, which lead to the International Whaling Commission in 1946. (International convention for the
regulation of Whaling, 1946; https://www.loc.gov/law/help/us-treaties/bevans/m-ust000004-0248.pdf).
With intensified whaling, territorial ambitions in the Antarctic became more of an issue in the political and diplomatic landscape. Baare-Schmidt’s thesis elaborates broadly on the Norwegian and British territorial claiming arguments. He illustrates whaling business especially with Carl Anton Larsen, the Norwegian captain, whaler and entrepreneur, who founded the whaling station “Compañia Argentina de Pesca Sociedad AnĂłnima” in South Georgia in 1904 (Hart, 2001). It was a joint endeavour between Britain, Argentina and Norway. The British expanded their claim from the Sub-Antarctic Islands (South Orkneys, South Georgia, South Shetland, and the Sandwich Islands) as far as the Antarctic Peninsula, all of which came under the administration of the Falkland Islands Dependency. The correspondence between South Georgia’s whaling stations and the administration in Port Stanley shows that many regulations were in place and the industry was tightly managed. Each action to increase the hunting quota had to be confirmed by the Falkland Islands Dependency’s administration (see: SPRI, MS 1213/4/2; MS 1228/1–8; and MS 1228/30/7–9).
Baare-Schmidt writes very forcefully about the Norwegian claims. At this point, he relies mainly on an article that was published very soon after the Norwegian government made its claim of Dronning Maud Land. (Schmitz & Friede, 1939) The article illustrates the cause of a diplomatic problem between Germany and Norway. However, Baare-Schmidt sees in the New Zealand claim (1923) and the Australian one (1933) that these were, as Commonwealth countries, an extension of British and wider imperial designs and that was also the conclusion of the Norwegians. (LĂŒdecke & Summerhayes, 2012, pp. 23-37)
Baare-Schmidt argues that claiming territory on the grounds of reaching a place for the first time and claim it for your country, or the fact that there was permanent occupation, as it was practised in colonial times, should not apply in the Antarctic. Interestingly, he uses these same arguments when manifesting rights to justify Germany’s claim for a slice of the Antarctic. His opening argument in chapter four is that Johan Reinhold Forster and Georg Forster, the two German naturalists, were with James Cook in the Antarctic Region in 1772–1775 (Baare- Schmidt, p. 68ff). He elaborates further, that in the nineteenth century Carl
Friedrich Gauß was leading in the development of the theory of the Earth’s magnetism and calculated the North and South Magnetic Poles. Baare-Schmidt continues to bring even Alexander von Humboldt with his work in geography into his chain of arguments. He argues that great naval nations such as the USA, Britain and France could not have performed their expeditions in the Southern Ocean without the scientific findings of Gauß and Humboldt. Baare-Schmidt goes even further; the term “Polarforschung” (‘polar research’) was created by Georg von Neumayer in the 1880s, as well as carried by August Petermann, the publisher of the “Petermanns Geographische Mitteilungen”, one of the leading geographical publications of its time. He stresses also the explorer and captain of the North, Carl Weyprecht, who was also the founder of the International Polar Year (IPY) 1882–1883 and continues to explain the expedition of Eduard Dallmann, a whaler and explorer, who charted great parts of the Antarctic Peninsula and islands in 1873–1874. Dallmann published later his findings and that was not usual practice given the competition in the whaling business. However, over time, commercial knowledge went hand in hand with scientific and cartographic activities; some of which was inevitably sensitive given the value of the whaling industry. For more hard evidence, Baare-Schmidt goes a step further towards the German successes in the Southern Ocean such as the Meteor-expedition of 1927–1928. To complete the picture, the Schwabenland-expedition is consequently a continuation of German involvement in the southern hemisphere. Following his statements on German Antarctic expeditions and their discoveries and contribution to research and science, one may get the impression that Germany was entitled to claim the entire continent.
Baare-Schmidt also discusses the rights of the USA in his thesis. He acknowledges the achievements of Charles Wilkes in the 1840s and consequently of Lincoln Ellsworth and Admiral Richard E. Byrd, but he stresses the fact that the USA laid no claims on the Antarctic. A statement from the US Secretary of State, Charles Evans Hughes, is quoted in length but denies the legitimacy of claiming by right of discovery: “It is the opinion of this Department that the discovery of lands unknown to civilization, even when coupled with a formal taking of possession, does not support a valid claim of sovereignty unless the discovery is followed by an actual settlement of the discovered country.” (Baare-Schmidt, p. 76). That is for Baare-Schmidt a good reason against the Norwegian claims, ignoring the fact that Germany did not claim any parts of the Antarctic until the Schwabenland-expedition.
In his thesis, Baare-Schmidt argues that under a conservative interpretation of international law, no claimant country has occupied the Antarctic continent effectively (due to the extreme climate) and subsequently no nation has gained sovereign rights. This fact led international lawyers to propose on various occasions either to put the Antarctic under joint international administration or to treat it as res communis. (Baare-Schmidt, p. 93) He discusses further future possibilities that the Antarctic could be under the sovereignty of single nations. Human existence, using new technical developments, in extreme weather conditions in Canada for example have also shown that an economic usability could be achieved. This, he decides, could be the way to effective occupation of the Antarctic Regions. To sort out the differences between the literature of international law, the practical conditions of the Antarctic and the claims of various powers, an international regime appears to be desirable between the states that can show a legitimate interest in questions concerning the Antarctic. (Baare-Schmidt, p. 94) The idea of an international framework is quite surprising considering the situation in World War 2, and that a young German PhD candidate at the beginning of the war argues in the sense what became reality almost twenty years later.
How much influence his thesis had is hard to trace. Baare-Schmidt was serving in the war and worked later as a solicitor. That gives the impression that he moved away from the international law. As described in the introduction, it found a place in the bibliography compiled by Robert D. Hoyten in 1959. Hoyten draws attention to BaareSchmidt’s position against the sector principle, which was practised by some other claiming nations at the time. In specialised literature, he appears only few times in footnotes or references. (DelbrĂŒck and Wolfrum, 2002, p 479) In hindsight of the actual developments, Baare-Schmidt’s thesis may be seen as a future orientated attempt to gain a peaceful use of Antarctic resources. This is especially significant considering that he published his doctoral thesis in 1940 when he could not have foreseen these future developments. However, he was able to witness international collaboration in the Antarctic – he died in 2010.

Acknowledgements: Dr. Christian Riffel for helping translate the German law texts into English.
Note: This article is based on research for a poster presentation at the SCAR-OSC Meeting in Davos, Switzerland, 2018.

Ainley, D.G.. (2010). A history of the exploitation of the Ross Sea, Antarctica. Polar Record 46 (238), p 233-243
Baare-Schmidt, H.G. (1940). Die territorialen RechtsverhÀltnisse der Antarktis. Published PhD. Heidelberg: Ruprecht-Karl-UniversitÀt.
Basberg, B. L. (2004). The Shore Whaling Station at South Georgia. A study in Antarctic industrial archaeology. Sandefjord: Novus forlag
DelbrĂŒck, J., & Wolfrum, R. (2002). Völkerrecht begrĂŒndet von Georg Dahm. Der Staat und andere Völkerrechtssubjekte; RĂ€ume unter internationaler Verwaltung. Berlin: De Gruyter Recht.
Hart, I., (2001). Pesca. A history of the pioneer modern whaling company in the Antarctic. Devon: Aidan Ellis Publishing.
International convention for the regulation of whaling, 1946; https://www.loc.gov/law/help/us-treaties/bevans/m-ust000004-0248.pdf
Isachsen, G. (1929). Modern Norwegian Whaling in the Antarctic. Geographical Review, vol 19/3, p 387-403
LĂŒdecke, C., & Summerhaeyes, C. (2012) The Third Reich in Antarctica. The German Antarctic Expedition 1938–39. Norwich: Erskine Press and Hunntington: Bluntisham Books.
Norwegian Sovereignty in the Antarctic. (1940). The American Journal of International Law, 34(2), 83-85. doi:10.2307/2213599
Peterson, M. J. (1988). Managing the Frozen South. Berkley, Los Angeles, London: University of California Press.
Reeves, J. S. (1939). Antarctic Sector. American Journal for International Law, 33, p 519-521
Schmitz E., Friede, W., (1939). SouverĂ€nitĂ€tsrechte in der Antarktis. Zeitschrift fĂŒr auslĂ€ndisches Recht und Völkerrecht, 9, 219–263. (http://www.zaoerv.de)
SPRI, MS 1213/4/; MS 1228/1–8; MS 1228/30/7–9; Correspondence between South Georgia whaling stations and the Falkland Islands Dependency in Port Stanley.
Szalánnczi, J.K., International relations of the German Antarctic Expedition 1938/39. Sovereignty dispute between Germany and Norway in the “Polar Desert” (2013). Öt Kontinens, 2012/2, pp 131–141.
United States: Hayton, R. D., (1960) National Interests in Antarctica. An annotated Bibliography for the United States Antarctic Projects Officer, Washington 1959.

A Minke Whale photographed from the ship Silver Cloud on 3 February 2020. This species is still hunted by the Japanese for meat even when they have stored tones of it and cannot be sold because more and more young people refuse to eat it. The younger generation breaks with this very old tradition in Japan on moral grounds. More on that issue see: https://s3.amazonaws.com/ifaw-pantheon/sites/default/files/legacy/economics-of-japanese-whaling-japan-ifaw.pdf

Antarctic Peninsula – working on an expedition cruise ship as lecturer for Antarctic History, part 1

The last two months, I spent on the expedition cruise ship Silver Cloud (from 4 January to 28 February 2020). It was very interesting to see the changes over only one year. At some places we have visited last year in January, some were without snow this year. The landscape changes a lot without the snow cover. Cuverville Island and Mikkelsen Harbour were really a shocking experience in that regard.

A waterboat in Mikkelsen Harbour. Last year, most of the historical whale bones were covered under snow. The remains are a sign of the whaling industry which happened along the Antarctic Peninsula. Waterboats were important for the freshwater supply which was used for processing the whale blubber into oil.

However, because of the missing snow cover, more historical artefacts were unearthed. The signs of the whaling industry from 1904 – 1931 and then again in the 1950s until the 1980s (when finally the International Whaling Commission brought an end to the industrial scale) are very impressive and made me a bit sad knowing the history about this industry. The many whale bones give a good indication how much of these incredible animals were killed. Especially Blue Whales were brought close to extinction and the Humpback Whales were also very much in danger to vanish from the ocean.

To see the Humpbacks so close as we did sometimes, is very overwhelming. The elegance and size of these animals is impressive. We have to keep a distance of 100 m (IAATO whale watching regulations) but the whales don’t know the rules 🙂 and some close-ups take your breath away. Like this one which was only 50 meters away the Zodiac.

These are only few impressions of my experiences.

Quilters in Space

This is not faked news, there are quilters in the space. I got this link from a friend who is doing research on “Apollo and Antarctica” and found this link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N0c1CijmH7o

That was a great surprise for me. I am a quilter myself and brought 21 12″ by 12″ Antarctic themed quilts down to Scott Base in 2015. The Christchurch Quilters had an Antarctic themed quilt challenge which was exhibited at our biannual quilt exhibition in October 2015. I gave a talk to the Christchurch Quilters (I am a member of that group) to give the quilters an idea that Antarctica is not only white – in fact, it can be quite colourful. These quilts were a success at Scott Base and we had even viewer’s choice and it turned out that the viewer’s have chosen the same quilt as the visitors have at the exhibition in Christchurch.

One part of the exhibition at Scott Base in 2015
That was the winner:” Remains of whale oil barrels”. Heather told me that her inspiration came from an article about the industrial heritage in Gritviken on South Georgia.
This was a whaling station from 1904 – 1960s. When working on the Silver Cloud again, I will be able to see South Georgia for the first time. For a social and environmental historian it is a great opportunity to see that place.

Yankee Harbor – IAATO landing site addition

It is really great to see that our input was accepted. Lex and I wrote to IAATO some time ago that on Yankee harbor is a historic site from the early sealers – see earlier post on that webpage from February 2019.

The update has been done but the photos are not very representative. The visitor guide looks like this now:https://www.ats.aq/devAS/Ats/Guideline/0c5e1c26-65e5-4c4e-8404-4ee640145d52

I hope to see it respected when I land there in the next two month when I am on the Silver Cloud again as lecturer for Antarctic history. I am looking forward to it!

This pile of rocks is the remain of a sealing hut from the 1820s on Yankee Harbor. The Chilean Antarctic archeologists described this hut in much detail in the context of Tourism and Archeology