University of Cambridge > > Wolfson College Lunchtime Seminar Series - Wednesdays of Full Term > Roald Amundsen, the Attainment of the South Pole, and the End of the Age of Discovery

Roald Amundsen, the Attainment of the South Pole, and the End of the Age of Discovery

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When Roald Amundsen, first of all men, reached the South Pole in December 1911, he did more than win the historic race for the last geographic goal. He closed the Age of Discovery. This was the exploration of the globe by Western seafarers, and the establishment of the great maritime empires. It began in the mid fifteenth century when the Venetian Ca’ da Mosta first sighted the Cape Verde Islands, off the coast of Africa and, continued with the discovery of the Americas and the sea route to the East, conventionally ending two centuries later in the sighting of Australia and New Zealand by Dutch sailors. In fact, the process lingered on until the only undiscovered territory lay in the polar regions. Amundsen’s arrival at 90º South latitude finally brought the epoch of terrestrial discovery to an end. Few movements have had such profound consequences. It exploded intellectual boundaries in the arts and sciences. The men who accomplished this revolution were a motley crowd of ambitious sailors, fantasists, earnest pioneers, ruthless conquerors, buccaneers, investors out for the main chance and down at heel adventurers like the Spanish conquistadores. Amundsen combined within his person some of these qualities, so he may be said to have been their heir in more senses than one. In sailing to Antarctica, he reprised in whole or part some of the great voyages of discovery. He ended a whole epoch, and paved the way for the leap into space.

This talk is part of the Wolfson College Lunchtime Seminar Series - Wednesdays of Full Term series.

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