SCIENTISTS AND SCIENTIFIC RESEARCH ON NINETEENTH- AND EARLY TWENTIETH-CENTURY ARCTIC EXPEDITIONS
THE COLLECTION of monographs, periodicals and manuscripts in the Dartmouth College Library pertaining to Arctic exploration provides a rich source of material for the investigation of several questions in the development of attitudes toward modern science. What was considered to be science at the time? Did this differ depending on the point of view? The public, the scientists, the expedition organizers, and leaders all seem to have had different definitions. How did the scientists view their roles and goals on the expeditions? Tensions between scientists and expedition leaders is a recurring theme in accounts of Arctic expeditions. It appears that those trained as scientists on these expeditions viewed their roles in ways other than the expedition leaders, even though the leaders thought or at least said that their expeditions had scientific goals. How did the publicity surrounding these expeditions influence popular attitudes toward science and scientists? Were there discrepencies between the arguments used to obtain funding for an expedition and the activities that actually took place on the expedition? It was quite important to have scientific activity a part of expeditions as far back as Charles F. Hall's expeditions (1860-1862 and 1864-1869) to search for Sir John Franklin and for the North Pole when, although convinced to take a natural scientist on board, he made it clear that geographic accomplishments were to be more important than scientific discoveries.
It is not possible to understand the social and political context of twentieth-century Arctic exploration and the role of the scientists without knowing something of the expeditions that preceded them. Even though it often seems that if explorers had learned more from each other there might not have been so many disasters, there is continuity from one expedition to the next. Leaders frequently had been a member of one expedition and leader of the next. They were often friends or rivals of other explorers. An expedition would be sent out to rescue a previous one, or several expeditions would be pursuing the same goal. The most common goals overlapped at times and, in later years, were not made clear with scientific work supposedly more important than breaking records. The sometimes implicit, sometimes explicit, goals were: The discovery of the Northwest Passage, the furthest north latitude record, and the geographic North Pole.
Pierre Berton's The Arctic Grail: the Quest for the North West Passage and the North Pole, 1818-1909, is a source for stories of politics, personnel problems, and conflicting goals. It describes and analyzes the major expeditions in chronological order, regardless of sponsoring nation, which is useful since many expeditions, although sponsored by one country, had international membership. The accounts are based on both manuscript and published materials. The lesser-known expeditions that do not have significant published accounts are not covered. For example, the only mention of the Baldwin-Ziegler Polar Expedition of 1901-1902 is that it failed. The brief note on the Ziegler Polar Expedition of 1903-1905 is in the context of Peary's concern for competition in reaching the Pole, since that was the goal of both expeditions sponsored by Ziegler.
Although Berton's focus is not on the scientific goals of the expeditions, he brings out the personal conflicts before, during, and after the expeditions. Therefore, his accounts serve as a good source for information about the conflicts between the scientists and explorers on the expeditions. The incompatibility of the goals of the scientists and explorers is one of the repeated themes throughout the book.
The scientific contributions of both well-known and obscure expeditions were the subject of an impressive research project undertaken by John Edwards Caswell in the 1950s. He produced two technical reports under contract to the United States Office of Naval Research, and published one book based on this research. American Arctic Expeditions: Narrative, 1850-1909, the preliminary technical report, is a summary of the expeditions that served as the basis for the second report on the use of the scientific results. It also provided the material for the book Arctic Frontiers: United States Explorations in the Far North, 'a narrative, not of isolated adventures, but of a movement . . . obscure explorations that lacked a skillful narrator, are here commemorated'. As the expeditions covered are limited to those sponsored by the United States, he describes several not mentioned at all in Berton's book. He does cover the Baldwin-Ziegler Polar Expedition, the Ziegler Polar Expedition, and the Anglo-American Polar Expedition of 1906-1908. It would certainly make many backers of the expeditions happy to know that Caswell concludes that the lasting contributions from the expeditions are their scientific reports!
William R. Hunt recounts the predominantly tragic story of exploitation of the land, sea, and people in both Siberia and Alaska that resulted from the explorations of the Arctic in Arctic Passage: The Turbulent History of the Land and People of the Bering Sea 1697-1975. Bern Keating's The Northwest Passage: From the 'Mathew' to the 'Manhattan,' 1497 to 1969  is notable only because it includes the 1969 voyage of the S.S. Manhattan, an ice-breaker, from Manhattan to Point Barrow in the succession of expeditions seeking the Northwest Passage. The trip was to prove that the Northwest Passage could be used to bring oil from Prudhoe Bay to the eastern seaboard. Another connection with the Manhattan's trip and earlier trips is made in an essay by Neil M. Clark in which he links the icebreaker to earlier research.
Vilhjalmur Stefansson was an extremely prolific writer of popular accounts of his explorations and of his often controversial ideas. His explorations are not covered by Berton because of the time period, and not covered by Caswell because of the Canadian sponsorship of his major expedition. Works about Stefansson vary from adoration to damnation. Richard J. Diubaldo, in Stefansson and the Canadian Arctic, offers an account of the Canadian Arctic Expedition, led by Stefansson. He is at times quite critical of Stefansson, as were many others at the time. The disasters and embarrassments resulting from that expedition, such as the deaths of some of the personnel, including scientists, loss of the ship Karluk, and the problems with the Canadian Geological Survey, caused the Canadian government to ostracize Stefansson, and he consequently developed his career in the United States. The book does cover Stefansson's role on the Anglo-American Polar Expedition and suggests ways that expedition might have influenced his ideas on everything from survival techniques to geographical research. A note on Stefansson's feelings about the Anglo-American Polar Expedition is interesting because the attitude is not apparent in the other accounts of that expedition. Diubaldo writes that 'Having been wounded and poorly treated by the Anglo-American Polar Expedition, Stefansson was determined to be his own master.'
The political connections that Stefansson had and used are covered. Especially interesting is how Stefansson, an ethnographer, became connected with the Canadian Geological Survey, then under the direction of R. W. Brock. At that time, some geologists and other scientists doing field work also collected ethnographic materials and part of the Survey's legislated function was to study the native peoples of Canada. Materials for the new National Museum were wanted. Brock saw that for a small financial investment, he could have Stefansson bring back anthropological specimens for the museum. The conflict between the two co-commanders, the zoologist Rudolph Andersen and the explorer and anthropology graduate student Stefansson, is another example of the scientist-explorer dichotomy. The reasons Andersen gave for not being able to get his work done are similar to the complaints of other scientists on Arctic expeditions.
William R. Hunt's Stef: A Biography of Vilhjalmur Stefansson, Canadian Arctic Explorer adds some details about Stefansson's role on the Anglo-American Polar Expedition, and, in particular, why he nearly left the expedition. His reason was that the joint leader Ejnar Mikkelsen wanted to go out on the sea ice again and joint leader and geologist Ernest Leffingwell wanted to go to the mountains and do geology, and both of them wanted Stefansson along to help. The author notes that Leffingwell's work had long-term importance. An odd comment by the author is that there was poor evidence for Mikkelsen's belief in land in the Beaufort Sea. According to other sources, many people thought that the theory of land forms in the northern seas based on the tidal movement was convincing.
Just two of the many books Vilhjalmur Stefansson wrote are mentioned here. The most useful for filling in information about his interactions with Leffingwell, Mikkelsen, and Storker Storkersen--all on the Anglo-American Polar Expedition--is The Friendly Arctic: the Story of Five Years in the Polar Regions. An important source of information on Stefansson's attitudes about himself and of a very different point of view from others on his expeditions is Discovery: The Autobiography of Vilhjalmur Stefansson.
Russell Porter, the artist for both Ziegler expeditions, went on to have an important career making telescopes and starting the amateur astronomy movement in the United States. In the beautifully illustrated The Arctic Diary of Russell Williams Porter, edited by Herman Friis, Porter recounts the difficulties of the Baldwin-Ziegler Polar Expedition. The footnotes refer to publications resulting from other expeditions and indicate where records and archives are to be found. A small section of Berton C. Willard's biography Russell W. Porter: Arctic Explorer, Artist, Telescope Maker covers the Baldwin-Ziegler Polar Expedition. Willard notes that Porter was left to do as he pleased although the scientists were made to haul supplies constantly and therefore could not accomplish their scientific aims. He further points out that the expedition commander E. B. Baldwin would not let the men keep a record of the trip in their diaries. This may explain, in part, the lack of written accounts of the expedition.
Ernest de Koven Leffingwell was not interested in writing a dramatic account of his adventures, but offered short accounts to several popular magazines upon request. In the File Closer, he wrote 'A Brief Account of the Baldwin-Ziegler Polar Expedition.' The essay emphasizes the large size of the expedition, the numbers of dogs, the problems handling the animals, and fitting everything into the ship. He gives details of the plans for reaching the pole, and mentions but does not complain as much as he did in other places about having to spend time carrying supplies to support the pole efforts rather than doing his scientific work. In an interesting aside, he recounts a story about Russell Porter killing a polar bear, but it is a bit different from Porter's account in his journal.
As an almost-alumnus of the University of Chicago--he never finished the doctorate he was working on there when he left for the Arctic--Leffingwell contributed 'A Communication from Leffingwell' to the University of Chicago's alumni magazine. Although it is not clear what he meant, he said he 'burned his bridges' at the Department of Physics and Geology at the University of Chicago! In this short article, Leffingwell tells how he learned about the Baldwin-Ziegler Polar Expedition, describes the work he hoped to do and the work he actually did, and how he and Ejnar Mikkelsen made plans for their own expedition. He gives a brief summary of the reasons they thought there might be new lands or even an 'undiscovered continent' in the polar sea. Their soundings in 1907 did establish the location of the continental shelf in the region, which proved that there was no large land mass there. Leffingwell also describes the trip in the Argo, which is much more fully detailed in Clark's article.
When Leffingwell published 'My Polar Explorations 1901-1914' in the Explorers Journal in 1961, he was the oldest member of The Explorers Club. He notes there that no one had written about the Baldwin-Ziegler Polar Expedition, although Mikkelsen mentions it, and he suggests that Anthony Fiala would be a good source of information. Leffingwell provides a good summary of the whole expedition and notes that his own journals have little value. These journals are in the Leffingwell Papers, a part of the Stefansson Collection at Dartmouth College.
The official, non-scientific portion of the Anglo-American Polar Expedition report was written by Ejnar Mikkelsen, a co-leader of the expedition along with Leffingwell. They had agreed at the outset that Leffingwell would write the scientific reports and Mikkelsen the narrative of the expedition. Mikkelsen's Conquering the Arctic Ice is an extremely detailed, dramatic account of winds, currents, and shoals when covering the sailing aspects of the trip, and high pressure ridges, open lanes between the ice floes, problems with dogs, and days spent in tents weathering storms when covering the trips on the pack ice. He treats both the expedition itself and his own long sledge trip from Flaxman Island back to civilization. The dangers of traveling in the north are not as exaggerated as in earlier accounts, but they certainly are prominent in the book. It fits into that category of Arctic adventure story that Leffingwell did not like! Mikkelsen is full of praise for almost all the members of the expedition. There is no mention of the problems that seem to have arisen among the members when Mikkelsen wanted to go out on the ice again and Leffingwell wanted to map inland.
The only comment on the scientific results of the expedition is that they 'had ascertained the extent of the Continental Shelf, and even if we had not found the land we had so implicitly believed in, it was a consolation for us to know that to prove the absence of land was of as much scientific value as to find it!' Appendix I summarizes the meteorological and ice condition observations although Mikkelsen carefully notes their agreement about publication, Appendix II contains the text of some of Leffingwell's letters asking for supplies to continue his work, and in Appendix III are notes of Howe, the expedition medical officer, on diseases of people and dogs in the area.
John Edwards Caswell provides the best summary found of the scientific achievements on Arctic expeditions in the technical report The Utilization of the Scientific Results of the United States Arctic Expeditions, 1850-1909.  The chapter titled 'American Geologists in the Arctic' is especially useful. The report covers all aspects of what was considered scientific work at the time: geography, hydrography (tides, currents, charts, soundings, nature of floe bergs, ice), meteorology, geology, zoology, botany, magnetic data, and native peoples. He also includes valuable social and political information such as the effects of the type of publicity the expeditions received, attitudes of members of Congress toward funding expeditions, and funding the publishing of results and reports.
The chapter on geology gives a context in which to look at any one geologist's work and contains many references to the original geological literature. Even the Franklin search expeditions were important in that geological materials, mostly fossils, were brought back. Topics of interest included land bridges and the distribution of flora and fauna. Caswell notes which expeditions had no success with geological research. Some expeditions, such as Greely's, had to abandon their collections. Caswell does note that the nature of such field results prevented any generalizations from being drawn and also did not help support theoretical work. He contrasts the usual situation with that of Peary's, where Peary spent a long time in Greenland and accommodated visiting scientists, including T. C. Chamberlain in 1894. The debate over the nature of the Greenland Ice Sheet between Chamberlin and Tarr in the 1890's was part of the wave of interest in glacial studies in Greenland.
Trevor H. Levere, in his essay 'Vilhjalmur Stefansson, the Continental Shelf and a New Arctic Continent,' argues that since the geographical aims of many expeditions were considered to be scientific endeavors at the time, science was a major part of all Arctic expeditions 'almost half of which achieved significant results.' He credits Stefansson with ascertaining the limits of the continental shelf and proving the lack of land north of Alaska, but Leffingwell and Mikkelsen had essentially done that six years before Stefansson, and Stefansson had heard them talk about it immediately after they returned from their trip on the pack ice of the Beaufort Sea. The author notes the tension between scientists and geographers on the expeditions he discusses.
'Stefansson's Arctic Islands--Oil, Gas and Other Minerals' is the title of a paper presented at a conference celebrating the centennial of Stefansson's birth. The author, Walter W. Nassichuk, is Professor of Geology, Institute of Sedimentary and Petroleum Geology, Calgary, Alberta. The paper summarizes what has been found on or near the Queen Elizabeth Islands that Stefansson explored. Apparently, the natives did tell Stefansson about coal deposits as they had told William Parry a hundred years earlier. No one on Stefansson's expedition actually mapped the geology of the region. The article summarizes what has been found since Stefansson explored the area; the major oil- and gas-bearing formations are described, and maps included. Nassichuk concludes that Stefansson's main contribution was his insistence that the region did hold mineral resources that could be exploited.
William S. Hanable, Historian of the State of Alaska, noted Leffingwell's geological accomplishments in his article 'Leffingwell: Prudhoe's Pioneer Scientist.' This article was written shortly after Leffingwell's shack on Flaxman Island had been placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1972. The author emphasizes the oil connection most of all, since Leffingwell had named and described the Sadlerochit formation, the main reservoir of Prudhoe Bay oil. The oil geologist who placed the plaque on the shack knew of Leffingwell's geological work and wanted to honor him. Leffingwell himself thought his passing mention of an oil seepage less important than his more theoretical work on ground ice, and it is questionable that Leffingwell would have been so honored if the oil reserve had not turned out to be so important.
An interesting account of one of Leffingwell's experiences was recorded by Neil M. Clark in an interview with Leffingwell around 1922. The interview was not published until 1973 because it was not sensational enough for the magazine publisher who requested the article, and Leffingwell was not interested in being sensational. It is, however, an exciting story. 'Ships North to Alaska's Coast' was finally published because the author saw the connection between the S.S. Manhattan's historic trip through the Northwest Passage to Point Barrow and Leffingwell's work that mentioned an oil seepage in that area. The article highlights Leffingwell's trip from Seattle to Flaxman Island in an un-seaworthy boat, the Argo, with three drunken sailors.
Although not an account of Leffingwell's work, a paper by J. Thomas Dutro entitled 'The G. William Holmes Research Station, Lake Peters, Northeastern Alaska, and Its Impact on Northern Research' cites Leffingwell's work in Alaska. His research is noted as the first in the area, and the only work until 1944, when a research station was established as part of the U. S. Geological Survey project for the U. S. Navy Office of Petroleum and Oil Shale Reserves. The area is now part of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
An essential guide to Leffingwell's work is the unpublished paper by Roza Ekimov, 'A Bio-Bibliography of Ernest de Koven Leffingwell.' Completed in 1972, this essay offers a summary of his life and work, and provides a complete list of his published and unpublished papers and journals, and a list of publications about him. She includes a citation to the U. S. Coast and Geodetic Survey paper on Arctic tides by Rollin A. Harris, that contains a report on the findings of the Anglo-American Polar Expedition. Most of Leffingwell's papers cited in her essay as well as a copy of that essay are located in the Leffingwell Papers in the Stefansson Collection.
The scientific reports of expeditions usually were not included in the popular accounts of the trips. Some few scientific reports are listed here, but this is a very selective list as there are volumes of scientific reports from other expeditions.
Although there were no scientific reports resulting from the Baldwin-Ziegler Polar Expedition, the follow-up expedition did result in one, even though the goal of the latter expedition was to get to the North Pole. The full title of the work, edited by J. A. Fleming, is The Ziegler Polar Expedition 1903-1905, Anthony Fiala, Commander: Scientific Results Obtained Under the Direction of William J. Peters, Representative of the National Geographic Society in Charge of Scientific Work. Sections of the report cover:
A. Magnetic Observations and Reductions (tables)
B. Notes and Sketches of the Aurorae Borealis (sketches by Fiala)
C. Meteorological Observations and Compilations
D. Tidal Observations and Reductions (tables)
E. Astronomic Observations and Reductions (few tables)
F. Map Construction and Survey Work
Five men were responsible for the scientific work, with four of them listed as scientists. One was Russell W. Porter, primarily an artist and architectural student at that time. In the forward, Anthony Fiala notes that 'Owing to the loss of the ship, the building of winter quarters, and the almost constant sledging of coal and other supplies until far into the winter, there was little time for other than the work of providing shelter and food and the preparations for the spring sledge journey northward.' No specimens were brought back 'due to the impossibility of transporting collections.' He does comment on finding coal that they used. The report includes drawings and photographs of instruments. There are some sketches and colored maps signed by Porter, but no geological sketches or maps at all. If they used Leffingwell's maps at all, as is claimed, they were not published in this volume.
The main report of Leffingwell's years on Flaxman Island is the U. S. Geological Survey Professional Paper 109, The Canning River region, northern Alaska. This is still cited, and parts of this report were reprinted in 1976 in the book Periglacial Processes, edited by C. A. M. King. Leffingwell covers everything in this report, from the most comfortable clothing for Arctic work to a history of exploration in the area to his detailed geological reconnaissance, as well as his maps, conclusions, places he named, and his observations on ground ice. Leffingwell's most cited paper is 'Ground-Ice Wedges: the Dominant Form of Ground Ice on the North Coast of Alaska,' which challenged conventional thinking on the nature and formation of ground ice.
The Development of Geological Ideas in the Nineteenth and Early Twentieth Century
Mott Greene's Geology in the Nineteenth Century is essential for understanding the setting of geological research in the early twentieth century. He begins with a brief critical description of books on the history of geology, and describes how those works emphasized some aspects of geologists' work and ignored others, and that some perpetuated misconceptions about the development of geological ideas. The book covers Hutton's ideas through Wegener's work on continental drift. The emphasis is on continental geologists, especially their work in the Alps, and evolving ideas about tectonics. Ideas on how mountain ranges are formed are emphasized, while Agassiz and his work on glaciers are not handled in depth.
There are many works on the continental drift theory, and an interesting aspect of that story is why it took so long for such a currently well-recognized theory to be accepted. Naomi Oreskes's essay 'The Rejection of Continental Drift' offers a useful summary of the ideas about continents and oceans at the time and notes that the Americans were so concerned with mapping their huge unknown country, particularly for economic resources, that theory was not as important an aspect of their work as it was to geologists in Britain and on the continent.
As is evidenced by this selective treatment, there is a wide range of materials available for the study of early Arctic science, from popular accounts for the general audience to summaries like Caswell's technical papers to the diaries, letters, field notebooks, and scientific records in Special Collections.
 Pierre Berton, The Arctic Grail: the Quest for the North West Passage and the North Pole, 1818-1909 (New York: Viking, 1988).
 Scientific Results Obtained Under the Direction of William J. Peters on the Ziegler Polar Expedition, 1903-1905, edited by John A. Fleming (Washington: National Geographic Society, 1907). See also Anthony Fiala, Fighting the Polar Ice (New York: Doubleday, Page, 1907).
 John Edwards Caswell, American Arctic Expeditions: Narrative, 1850-1909 (Stanford: Stanford University, 1950).
 John Edwards Caswell, Arctic Fontiers: United States Explorations in the Far North (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1956).
 William R. Hunt, Arctic Passage: The Turbulent History of the Land and People of the Bering Sea, 1697-1975 (New York: Scribner, 1975).
 Bern Keating, The Northwest Passage: From the 'Mathew' to the 'Manhattan,': 1497 to 1969, with exclusive color photography by Dan Guravich (Chicago: Rand McNally, 1970).
 'Ships North to Alaska's Coast,' Montana, the Magazine of Western History, 23:4 (1973), 32-41.
 Richard J. Diubaldo, Stefansson and the Canadian Arctic (Montreal: McGill-Queen's University Press, 1978), 211.
 William R. Hunt, Stef: A Biography of Vilhjalmur Stefansson, Canadian Arctic Explorer (Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press, 1986).
 The Friendly Arctic: The Story of Five Years in Polar Regions (New York: Macmillan, 1921), and Discovery: The Autobiography of Vilhjalmur Stefansson (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1964).
 Russell Williams Porter, The Arctic Diary of Russell Williams Porter, edited by Herman Friis (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1976).
 Berton C. Willard, Russell W. Porter, Arctic Explorer, Artist, Telescope Maker, with a preface by David O. Woodbury (Freeport, Me.: Bond Wheelwright Co., 1976).
 Ernest de Koven Leffingwell, "A Brief Account of the Baldwin-Ziegler Expedition," File Closer, (June, 1903), 3-18.
 Ernest de Koven Leffingwell, ' A Communication from Leffingwell,' University of Chicago Magazine, (January, 1915), 76-79.
 Clark, 'Ships North,' 32-41.
 Ernest de Koven Leffingwell, 'My Polar Explorations 1901-1914,' Explorers Journal, 39:3 (1961), 2-14.
 Dartmouth College Library, Special Collections, Stef MSS 69.
 Ejnar Mikkelsen, Conquering the Arctic Ice (Philadelphia: G. W. Jacobs, 1909).
 Mikkelsen, Conquering, 277.
 The Utilization of the Scientific Reports of the United States Arctic Expeditions, 1850-1909 (Stanford: Stanford University, 1951).
 Trevor H. Levere, 'Vilhjalmur Stefansson, the Continental Ice Shelf and a New Arctic Continent,' British Journal for the History of Science, 21 (1988), 233.
 Walter W. Nassichuk, 'Stefansson's Arctic Islands--Oil, Gas and Other Minerals,' Vilhjalmur Stefansson and the Development of Arctic Terrestrial Science, edited by G. Edgar Folk, Jr., and Mary A. Folk (Iowa City: University of Iowa, 1984), 205-218.
 William S. Hanable, 'Leffingwell: Prudhoe's Pioneeer Scientist,' Exxon USA, 12:1 (1973), 28-31.
 Clark, 'Ships North.'
 J. Thomas Dutro, 'The G. William Holmes Research Station, Lake Peters, Northeastern Alaska, and Its Impact on Northern Research,' Geologists and Ideas: A History of North American Geology, edited by Ellen T. Drake and William M. Jordan, Centennial Special Volume 1 (Boulder: Geological Society of America, 1985).
 Scientific Results, v-vi.
 Ernest de Koven Leffingwell, The Canning River Region of Northern Alaska (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1919); Periglacial Processes, ed. by Chuchlaine A. M. King, Benchmark Papers in Geology, 27 (Stroudsburg, Pa.: Dowden, Hutchinson & Ross, 1976); and Leffingwell, 'Ground-Ice Wedges: the Dominant Form of Ground Ice on the North Coast of Alaska,' Journal of Geology, 23 (1915), 635-654.
 Mott T. Greene, Geology in the Nineteenth Century: Changing Views of a Changing World, Cornell History of Science Series (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1982).
 Naomi Oreskes, 'The Rejection of Continental Drift,' Historical Studies in the Physical and Biological Sciences, 18:2 (1988), 311-346.
Last Updated: 4/19/17