About Dr Ursula Rack

Fields of Research

  • Polar history
  • Social History
  • Environmental History
  • Biographies
  • Historic Weather Data

I am a German and English speaking polar historian with specific expertise in Antarctic explorations from around the turn of the twentieth century. My research interests relate to the social conditions on polar expeditions, ranging from the 19th century up until the modern day. Although I have researched a range of expeditions in the past, my particular focus is on German and Austro-Hungarian expeditions and comparing these to international expeditions in the Arctic and Antarctic. This research includes also biographies of expedition members and covers political, social and economic factors which influenced the expeditions.

Archival research is necessary to gather diaries, ship journals, correspondence, pictures and reports on expeditions. They are mostly handwritten and I do transcriptions, interpret the contents and position the written texts in a wider context. Social conditions cover issues such as  food, medical conditions, every day life, recruitment, insurance, income, hierarchy and leadership and how these conditions influenced the expeditions and vice versa the people.


Scientist from the Filchner-Expedition in 1911 – 1912


Awards and Fellowships

The COMNAP research fellowship in 2012 brought my research forward and so I am currently working on projects which recover historic weather data from the Heroic Era, using diaries as a source. This data can then be compared with modern data sets to reveal information on historic weather and sea ice conditions in Polar Regions. This lead to the involvement in the National Science Challenge – Deep South where I got a subcontract with NIWA. I assess logbooks for weather data, catalogue and processed them for modelling historic weather phenomena (reanalysis for ACRE Australasia).

I have been awarded the New Zealand Winston Churchill Memorial Fellowship 2018 for the project: Frozen History – researching, collecting and communicating Antarctic History.


Biographical notes

In May 2018 I have been appointed as the Austrian Honorary Consul for the South Island of New Zealand and in the same month I became Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society in London.

In Bremerhaven I conducted a PhD at the Alfred Wegener Institute for Marine and Polar Science, the German Maritime Museum, the University of Hamburg and the University of Vienna. I was awarded a PhD in 2009 in Vienna. The thesis was on “Social Conditions on German and Austro-Hungarian Polar Expeditions from 1868 – 1939.”

I have a Masters in Roman Catholic Theology and History from the University of Vienna, Austria. My teaching experience started in December 1989 at the Rudolf Steiner School in Poetzleinsdorf, Vienna (6 – 16 year old pupils). In 1992 I changed to the Vienna Business Schools, Vienna, were I was teaching History and Religious Education for 10 years (14 – 19 year old students). From 2002 – 2006 I taught in the Edith-Stein School History, Religious Education and Social Sciences in Bremerhaven, Germany (10-16 year old pupils). In September 2006 I arrived in Christchurch, New Zealand with my husband, Wolfgang, a specialist in remote sensing and glaciology.



































































































































































































































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