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A tale of Terror and Erebus: international collaboration and competition in the search for Franklin’s lost expedition

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As the reduction in polar ice turns the Northwest Passage into a viable trading route and a lucrative fishing area, the legal status has become a key concern, with several nations claiming its ownership. Upon discovery of John Franklin’s wrecked ship HMS Erebus in 2014, the Canadian Prime Minister at the time Stephen Harper stated that “Franklin’s ships are an important part of Canadian history given that his expeditions, which took place nearly 200 years ago, laid the foundations of Canada’s Arctic sovereignty.” Harper’s assertion that Franklin’s expedition was the beginning of Canadian sovereignty in the Arctic – however flawed – shows the long-lasting influence of nineteenth-century Arctic explorations on the geopolitical landscape. The lost Franklin expedition generated international interest, collaboration, and financial assistance for search missions. With reference the Fox expedition under Captain Francis Leopold McClintock, one of the many nineteenth-century search missions for the lost Franklin expedition, this presentation examines the nineteenth-century tensions surrounding international Arctic collaborations. The intersection of imperial competition, national tragedy, and scientific observation, invites discussion concerning the role of science in the national construction of the Arctic.

This talk is part of the Darwin College Sciences Group series.

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