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Polar Worlds Revealed

Grant enables Rauner Library to digitize Stefansson Collections

Dartmouth’s Rauner Special Collections Library houses one of the world’s most extensive bodies of research materials on the North and South Poles, and thanks to a grant from The Gladys Krieble Delmas Foundation, two key collections from that material will be fully digitized, making them easier to access and available to scholars everywhere.

A hand-colored photo showing the use of an improvised sail in leading a packed sledge over the Arctic ice. It was taken during Vilhjalmur Stefansson’s 1913 to 1918 Canadian Arctic expedition. (Photo: Dartmouth College Library)

The $20,000 grant will be used to digitize 1,500 Arctic photographs and the unpublished 12,000-page Encyclopedia Arctica. Both projects are from the Stefansson Collection on Polar Exploration, which is comprised of research materials collected by anthropologist and polar explorer Vilhjalmur Stefansson.

Digitizing the photographs from the collection, the bulk of which were taken during Stefansson’s 1913 to 1918 Canadian Arctic expedition, involves more than simply scanning each image, explains Jay Satterfield, special collections librarian. “The images will be scanned, stored, and served according to international standards for digital preservation and dissemination. These include the production of multiple resolutions for different end uses, including publication, online display, and ongoing preservation.”

The photos will become part of a public, online, digital archive that will provide access to the images as well as notes and captions. Library staff will tag each photo with keywords, making it possible for users to search the archive by image content, photographer, subject, and date. Additionally, key documents surrounding Stefansson’s use of these images in his popular lectures on the “Friendly Arctic,” and an essay describing his advocacy of that concept, will help researchers understand how the images were initially presented to the public, so that modern scholars can use the material to study not just the Arctic, but the sometimes-controversial man behind the collection.

“These photos provide detailed views of an Arctic that no longer exists,” says Satterfield. “Flora and fauna; earthen and snow-covered landscapes; ice formations and leads; boats; temporary camps; work stations; scientific experiments; and indigenous housing, clothing, and hunting and fishing practices. Rauner Library regularly receives requests from scholars to study or reproduce them.”

The Delmas Foundation funding will also support the digitization of  Stefansson’s Encyclopedia Arctica, a compendium of knowledge about the Arctic regions assembled by Stefansson in the 1940s under contract to the U.S. Navy. “The project was abandoned in its late stages by the Navy,” says Satterfield, “in large part because of Stefansson’s ties to members of the Communist Party.” The work was never published, and only a few copies exist, including the original typescript owned by Dartmouth. The work covers topics from polar bears to the development of the Trans-Alaska Highway; it includes a treatise on kayaks, geographical profiles, and numerous anthropological studies.

Digitizing the encyclopedia will open it to new audiences of scholars and enthusiasts. Individual pages will be scanned so that they can be viewed in their original layouts, and the text will receive article-level tags that will allow keyword searching across the entire document.

Satterfield says he expects the encyclopedia digitization to be completed by the end of spring 2008 and the photographs to be digitized within a year. However, for Rauner Special Collections, these projects represent the tip of the iceberg in the move toward digitization. Not only will they make the Stefansson material widely accessible, they will serve as procedural models for future digitization projects. “As the Dartmouth College Library develops its digital program and infrastructure, projects such as these supported by the Delmas Foundation expand our experience make important resources accessible,” says Jeffrey Horrell, dean of libraries and librarian of the College. “We have an opportunity and a responsibility to share these unique Dartmouth materials with our students and faculty and the greater scholarly community.”

The Gladys Krieble Delmas Foundation, which supports the humanities, research libraries, and the performing arts, agreed to support the digitization projects because, “The Dartmouth grant fits well within the context of our mission to improve access to neglected archival collections,” says David H. Stam, a foundation trustee, “and the inclusion of a Web-accessible version of Stefansson’s famous but never-published Encyclopedia Arctica should prove a boon to all Arctic historians.”

The foundation’s funding will augment funds given by Evelyn Stefansson Nef, the widow of Vilhjalmur Stefansson, and by the Kane Lodge Foundation that are already allocated to digitizing the encyclopedia and photographs. With the addition of the Delmas Foundation gift, says Satterfield, Rauner will have the resources to properly digitize the two collections, which will open them to the world.


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Last Updated: 12/17/08