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)


Good news arrived this morning in an email: all my abstracts for SCAR POLAR 2018 have been accepted:

The OC-3 “The role of museums in promoting polar heritage and advancing polar science” abstract “How nations research, collect and communicate their Antarctic history” is accepted as oral (22. June, 16-17:30 pm)

The SH-3 “Historical perspectives on Arctic and Antarctic connections” abstract “Whaling, claims and a doctoral thesis from 1940” is accepted as poster (21 June,  17:30 -18:30 pm)

The co-author abstract: “Historic Antarctic Peninsula maps and diary accounts linked to GIS databases”  is as poster accepted in session SH-8 “Data science for polar environments – discovery, rescue and mining” (22 June, 17:30 – 18:30 pm)

Session SH-8 is on Saturday 23 June from 9 – 10:30 am what is on the last day of the conference. I am the lead-convenor and chair of that session.

I also registered for the Software Carpentry & HPC workshop that is being organized for June 16-17. This workshop is for programming for data management.  This will be a novum for me but I have to start somewhere….

I think this conference will keep me busy.

Image result for busy 🙂

Wellington 14 February – public presentation

I have been invited to give a presentation in Wellington on 14 February 2018, on the race to the South Pole in 1912 (see link) NZAntSocWB-2018-02-14 Race to the South Pole-Rack

“Lessons from the Antarctic” How Amundsen won the race to the South Pole is the theme of the series of talks. Panels to Roald Amundsen’s biography are exhibited in Wellington all February and are accompanied by public talks. The panels were displayed also here in Christchurch during the Antarctic Season Opening in October 2017.

The “Amundsen panels” are in Wellington exhibited for the whole February. The NZAS Wellington Branch is the organiser of the talks and the Norwegian Embassy is supporting these events.

I am looking forward to this event!


14 February


ANTA 101 course coordination has finished

My contract as course coordinator for ANTA 101 is finished since 21 December 2017; however, there was still the marking, student contact emails and administration to do what will finish by the end of this week. It was an interesting experience and I learned very much about the background of a course and problem solving during the course.

I am glad that I had this opportunity.



Working hard in the Antarctic to adapt the experience to the teaching at UC, Antarctic 2015



Kiwi Christmas

Merry Christmas and a happy new year wish you all


After a very busy but fascinating year, I am looking forward to the break to relax and coming back with strength for the upcoming events such as the NZ Winston Churchill Memorial Fellowship, SCAR POLAR 2018, ANTA courses, more publications, public talks and much more what is already on my to-do-list for 2018.