Meetings, Archives, Interviews

I had lots to do and I am constantly working in the SPRI archives, and writing and organising for my NZWCM Fellowship. All falls into place with my meetings and interviews and I got some great insights. That is the reason for my long “silence” on this page – but in the meantime I had great meetings with

Last Wednesday, 11 April, I gave a public talk for the Friends of SPRI: Cold Cases in Antarctic History. It was a success and I have been invited to give another talk when I come back to Cambridge again. I hope that will be soon.

Tuesday, 10 April, I have been to the launch of the Weddell Sea Expedition at the RGS. This expedition will take place in January – February 2019. Wolfgang Rack will be involved in this expedition as well.


Royal Geographical Society, 10 April 2018




Bremerhaven – NZWCM Part 2

One week in Bremerhaven was an interesting time. At first I had successful meetings with Christian Salewski, the archivist from the Alfred Wegener Polar and Marine Research Institute (AWI). I learned very much about the new Polar Archive.

My talk at the German Maritime Museum (DSM) was very well received. I presented my research and my current project.

The following day I had interesting meetings with Jasmin Hettinger, citizen science (DSM), and Martin Weiss, Postdoctoral Researcher (DSM). All the information will be a big part of my final report for the NZWCM Fellowship.


Working – at first in the Antarctic (2016) and now how other countries research, collect and communicate their Antarctic history – NZWCM (2018)



Washington and Columbus

I have been for a week in Washington DC and had very good meetings and archive stays and very informative museum visits. The Air and Space Museum (Smithsonian) was very interesting but it will be renovated in sections over the next 10 years. So I came just in time.

It was not that much visible Antarctic connections in Washington DC but the people involved in Antarctic research do their best to change that. Dian Belanger was an inspiration for me. She wrote the book: Deep Freeze. The United States and the International Geophysical Year and the origins of  Antarctica’s age of science (2006). Her publication can be seen as textbook for the International Geophysical Year and the US.



Ellsworth’s plane – Air and Space Museum, Smithsonian, Washington DC, Picture taken by Ursula Rack, March 2018

Currently I am in Columbus, Ohio, and on 12 March I start a week in the Byrd Polar Research Archives. I am looking forward to start my studies there.

At the weekend I will travel to Bremerhaven, Germany, to continue my work. On 20 March I will give a Lunchtime Talk at the German Maritime Museum on my NZWCM-Fellowship and the involved research I undertake currently.

Upcoming talk in Cambridge

My preparations are coming along, finally, and the countdown started: 4 March I will leave Christchurch – heading towards Washington, Columbus (Ohio), Bremerhaven, Cambridge, and London. All the meetings are organised and I have a long list of questions and ideas for my project: Frozen history – how other countries research, collect and communicate their Antarctic history. It is getting bigger with each contact I made so far and I am looking forward to starting it.

I also have some side events and one of them is a presentation in Cambridge on Wilhelm Filchner, the German polar explorer (1911-1912); 11 April, Friends of SPRI 6-7 pm.


Friends of SPRI talk_11 April 2018

Third announcement on that page 🙂



Race to the South Pole: an historian’s view

In December, I got an invitation from the NZ Antarctic Society, Wellington Branch, to be part of the speakers series in February.  The speakers series is part of the exhibition: “Lessons from the Antarctic” How Amundsen won the race to the South Pole. It is organised by the Royal Norwegian Embassy and the NZ Antarctic Society.

My talk was on the race to the South Pole in its historical context. The title “We took risks. We knew we took them” from a quote from Scott’s diary, should show the audience that it was a risky business (and is still today) in exploring the Antarctic and that the early explorers were well aware of that. The historical context is often overlooked. The economic, political and scientific aims at going South were strongly linked with each other and I wanted to demonstrate this on several examples related to the “race”.

The event on Wednesday started with a movie about the Amundsen expedition and was followed by my talk. There were over 100 people in the audience and they got very engaged in the discussion afterward.

The Norwegian Honorary Consul General, Graeme Mitchel, thanked me at the end of the evening and presented a beautifully handcrafted polar bear of clear glass that looks like a piece of clear ice.



The Atlantic – A quote in a magazine….

I got contacted by Fortunato Salazar (his working name) to find out more on the Erebus Chalice. There are lots of different versions out there what this chalice means. Salazar contacted many historians who were involved e.g. the Canterbury Museum, David Harrowfield, and also me. After an interview, I gave this comment on the special concept of the chalice: “As the tradition persists, all the years of regarding the chalice as genuine have imparted a symbolic value independent of the chalice’s real origins. Continuity, in itself, seems to provide a kind of comfort. “When the chalice is handed over in the [blessing] service, it gives everyone a feeling of something special, of being a part of a very special group,” says Ursula Rack, a polar historian at the University of Canterbury who has studied the chalice’s symbolic value. “Going to the Antarctic isn’t a granted right, and many people experience real hardship—so the chalice is a sort of security because it implies that others made it through successfully before, and a newcomer will as well.” this quote is from the magazine The Atlantic

Use the link and read the article – maybe the chalice remains a mystery – the deeper one digs the more questions appear – interesting stuff.



Erebus Chalice – Chapel of the Snows, McMurdo, January 2016 (Ursula Rack)


Guided tour and public talk

On Monday, 5 February, I was busy. I gave a guided tour for one person through Christchurch to show the connection between the city and the Antarctic. We were lucky to have access to the Canterbury Club where I could show the signed menus from Shackleton’s farewell dinner in 1907. With the historic interior of this Club, it was easy to create a feeling of the time and the man who went South. The Scott statue, the museum and the stain glassed window in the Great Hall were also on the programm. The tour was planned for two hours but I went back to his accommodation and told on the way more stories and facts what was highly appreciated as he pointed out in his email:  “Thank you so very much for everything you did for me this morning, it was a sheer delight to meet you and your enthusiasm will stay with me forever. I consider your Heritage Tour an essential precursor to anyone and everyone going to visit the Antarctic, it will add so much more meaning to what I am about to experience.”

An hour later, I was on my way to Parklands to the Parklands’ Ladies Club. I have been invited already in December to deliver that talk on “how to live in the Antarctic” – it was successful again and comments from some women afterward are summed up in following statement: “your talk was the most intersting since some long time”.


Shackleotn portrait




Finally – a HISTORIAN in the Antarctic (PCAS  2014 – 15)