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The Stefansson Collection on Polar Exploration

Founded as the private research collection of the Arctic explorer Vilhjalmur Stefansson (1879-1962), the Stefansson Collection on Polar Exploration is an exceptionally rich body of material for research on the history of both the Antarctic and the Arctic. For the Antarctic regions, the bulk of the collection is concerned with events prior to World War II. For the Arctic regions, the bulk of the collection is concerned with events prior to 1930. As Stefansson himself worked exclusively in the Arctic, this part of the collection is more robust.

The collection has four main components:

Printed materials

Published expedition records and diaries, biographies, bibliographies, and general histories of the regions are collected as well as serial bibliographies on both regions. Researchers should note that a few twentieth-century expedition records are in the general stacks along with more current, scientific publications on the region. There are often copies of the more recent secondary studies in the general stacks.


Logbooks, diaries, journals, correspondence, and the personal papers of many polar explorers are held in the collection. Again, the strength of the holdings is Arctic, but many Antarctic records are also available. For most collections, a guide to the contents or at least a container list is available at the reference desk.


The bulk of the photographic holdings relate to the Canadian Arctic Expedition of 1913-1918. At the same time, there are photographs of many expeditions, ships, events, peoples, flora and fauna, as well as equipment in the collection. A number of the manuscript collections, described above, also contain photographs. These are noted in the cataloging record. A selection of the photographs have been digitized.

Vertical Files

Reference files containing clippings, offprints, articles, notes, and bibliographic references. These files are organized alphabetically by author or subject.

All printed materials and manuscript collections are cataloged and records are available in the on-line catalog and in RLIN. These materials can be readily located by searching by author, by title, by subject, by name of an expedition, and often by name of the leader of an expedition. A broader search can be made by using the general search Arctic regions discovery exploration or Antarctica discovery exploration, and can be further limited by country. For example, the search string Arctic regions discovery exploration Dutch, will locate all printed and manuscript material relating to the Dutch exploration of the Arctic. While many of the photographic collections are cataloged, the bulk of the holdings are not. To use these photographs, researchers should consult with the reading room supervisor at the reference desk. Vertical files also are not yet cataloged and can be requested at the reference desk.

In 1967, the Dictionary Catalog of the Stefansson Collection on the Polar Regions in the Dartmouth College Library (8 vols.; Boston: G. K. Hall) was published. This catalog reflects the holdings of the collection as of 1962 and is no longer recommended as an access tool.

Useful research tools for the Antarctic include

Antarctic Bibliography. Washington: Library of Congress, 1951+
• Stef. Z-6005-P7A55

Fogg, G. E. A History of Antarctic Science. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992.
• Stef. G-850-F64-1992-cop. 2

Headland, Robert. A Chronological List of Antarctic Expeditions and Related Events. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989.
• Stef. G-860-H36-1989-cop. 2

Meadows, Janice, H.G.R. King, and William Mills. The Antarctic. World Bibliographical Series, 171. Santa Barbara: Clio, 1994.
• Baker Z-6005-P7-M43-1994

Useful research tools for the Arctic include

Arctic Institute of North America. Arctic Bibliography. 16 vols. Montreal: McGill-Queen's University Press, 1953-1975.
• Stef. Z-6005-P7-A7

Berton, Pierre. The Arctic Grail: the Quest for the North West Passage and the North Pole. New York: Viking, 1988.
• Stef. G-640-B47-1988

Holland, Clive. Arctic Exploration and Development, c. 500 B.C. to 1915: an Encyclopedia. New York: Garland, 1994.
• Stef. G-606-H66-1994 and Spec. Coll. Ref. G-606-H66-1994

Hunt, William. Stef: a Biography of Vilhjalmur Stefansson, Canadian Arctic Explorer. Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press, 1986.
• Stef. G-635-S7-H851-1986-cop. 2 and Spec. Coll. Ref. G-635-S7-H851-1986-cop. 3

King, H.G.R. The Arctic. World Bibliographical Series, 99. Santa Barbara: Clio, 1989.
• Baker Z-6005-P7-K56

Minion, Robin. 19th Century Expeditions in the Arctic and Canada. BINS Bibliographic Series, 4. Edmonton: Boreal Institute for Northern Studies, 1984.
• Stef. Z-1392-N6-M56-1984

Minion, Robin. 20th Century Canadian Arctic Expeditions. BINS Bibliographic Series, 29. Edmonton: Boreal Institute for Northern Studies, 1986.
• Stef. Z-1392-N6-M561-1986

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