The Austrian-Hungarian North Pole expedition (1872-1874): National euphoria and the associated place of science in advance of the planning of the expedition

Category Other
Group GSI.IR
Location International Geological Congress,oslo 2008
Author Klemun, Marianne
Holding Date 03 September 2008

The Austrian-Hungarian North Pole expedition (1872 - 1874) was one the most successful of many similar projects that had come about under the Habsburg Monarchy, not only on account of the discovery of Franz Josef Land but also because of the national participation of almost all expert bodies and public institutions. In return for these extraordinary efforts the continental power received an unexpected territorial gain in the Arctic region. Irrespective of the outcome there had already developed, during the planning of the expedition and before the beginning of the voyage, a degree of euphoria in connection with the project never before experienced, and this no doubt corresponded with the thoroughly ambitious goal of the project, but cannot fully be explained by this alone.
The task of the expedition was to reach the north Barents Sea as far as the Arctic Ocean and the North Pole itself. The question of the north-east passage to East Asia, which had been of interest to all seafaring nations since the 16th century, seemed to have become realisable after a preliminary expedition. This was supported by private persons, such as Count Wilczek, and a broad variety of public institutions and associations in almost all the territories of the Empire. A concerted national effort, amounting almost to an act of self-colonisation, which was the real reason for the popularity of the enterprise, produced the resources for the voyage. The story of this is well known and has been dealt with by historians.
What has so far been overlooked is that the expedition was a media event not only as a consequence of its success, but already in its planning phase. For this phase we must ask how the scientists conducted themselves in the turmoil of the media. My thesis here is that meteorologists, geologists, glaciologists and so on were able to use the unique event of this expedition to mobilise a discursive space for the public presentation of their disciplines. With the help of a report on the "Appropriateness of the Way Proposed for this Expedition", which was delivered by the state’s most important scientific body, the Imperial Academy of Sciences, my study will address the dynamic interconnection between scientific and extra-scientific meanings. It may be demonstrated that in this published instruction the Academy took advantage of this unique opportunity to put itself in the limelight. For a short while it abandoned its previous ivory-tower elitist abstention from all popularity-seeking tendencies, to situate itself in the dynamised national and colonial media landscape.


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