Celebrating Research

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The Stefansson Collection on Polar Exploration, Rauner Special Collections Library

Dartmouth College Library

Collection Profile

To polar researchers around the world, Dartmouth is synonymous with the Stefansson Collection. Started as the private research library of Arctic explorer and Dartmouth faculty member Vilhjalmur Stefansson (1879-1962), the collection has become one of the largest of its kind in the world. Through extensive book, manuscript, and photographic collections, it documents exploration, social history, and scientific research related to the Arctic to 1930, and Antarctica to World War II.

Stefansson's career carried him into the Arctic early in his life. After several expeditions, including leading the Canadian Arctic Expedition (1913-1918), he became a tireless promoter of the North and his concept of the "Friendly Arctic." While many of his controversial theories, including the possible benefits of a high-protein diet, still have currency, his theories about settling northern regions were dealt a severe blow by the failed Wrangel Island experiment. In 1921, Stefansson sponsored a group consisting of three Americans, one Canadian, and one Inuit to establish a settlement on Wrangel Island. The expedition ended in death for four of the party. The only survivor was the hired native seamstress, Ada Blackjack. Her matter-of-fact, yet harrowing, 1923 diary from the expedition's final months is a centerpiece of the Stefansson Collection.

Generous endowments and the support of Stefansson's widow, Evelyn Stefansson Nef, have allowed the collection to continue to grow and "explore" new areas of research. The Collection has recently purchased several children's books and popular publications related to the Arctic to provide cultural historians with another way to understand how the polar regions captured imaginations across Western Europe and North America. One of the most striking is Fridjof Nansen's Farthest North (1898) published in twenty parts. The original parts, issued fortnightly and luring readers with exciting cover images and the promise of "A Two Guinea Work for Ten Shillings", attest to the popularity of Nansen's adventures aboard the Fram. The parts' advertisements offer a fascinating glimpse into Nansen's audience: along with ads for Red, White & Blue French Coffee and Lyles Golden Syrup, is a plug for "Spratt's Patent Cod Liver Oil Dog Cakes" supplied to Nansen's expeditions. Readers who would never have the chance to visit the Arctic could vicariously experience the thrill of discovery each day while feeding their dogs-just as Americans served up Tang after the first Moon shot.

As global warming continues to make headlines, materials from the Stefansson collection are frequently featured in exhibitions around the world. With its online finding aids and international reputation, the collection attracts dozens of visiting researchers each year. Closer to home, the collection supports the research of the Institute of Arctic Studies within the Dickey Center for International Understanding at Dartmouth College. It has also become a prominent component of several popular courses taught at the College including the Department of Geography's Into the Wild and the Environmental Studies Program's Pole to Pole.

Collection Profile and Overview: Jay Satterfield
Illustrations: Lynn Bohannon

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