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Roald Amundsen and his ambiguous relationship to science: A look at outcomes of his six expeditions
Göteborgs universitet.
2010 (English)In: Journal of Northern Studies, ISSN 1654-5915, Vol. 6, no 1, 53-109 p.Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]

Roald Amundsen’s activelife as an explorer coincided with a period of important changes in the earthsciences. The purpose of the present paper is to situate some of his endeavoursin relation to those trends. On the one hand there was a continuation ofempirical traditions in field sciences driven by the same inductivist approachthat motivated the First International Polar Year 1882–1883. On theother hand there were major advances in instrumentation, plus a strongprofessionalization of research. The latter involved new mathematical methodsused by hypothesis-minded geophysicists who probed the dynamics of physical processes.In this context Amundsen was what Fridtjof Nansen called a “scientificexplorer.” The paper traces some of the tensions engendered in this role midwaybetween two scientific trends while at the same time the explorer’s publicimage followed the tradition of popular geography steeped in nationalism andprestige that drove the steeplechase of being first to set one’s foot on andattach names to hitherto undiscovered places. It is shown how several ofAmundsen’s expeditions resonated strongly with contemporary trends andinterests in scientific societies, especially in Norway. At the same time hewas pulled between loyalty to Fridtjof Nansen and science and an unending questfor recognition and media visibility as a dashing explorer. Since much has beenwritten about Amundsen’s sportive and adventurous side, not least in connectionwith the dramatic race to the South Pole, the focus in the present paper ischiefly on his relationship to science, an aspect often glossed over. FirstAmundsen’s position as a reflective practitioner is characterized andhighlighted. Secondly, the Norwegian and international scientific contexts ofhis expeditions are sketched, and, third, an assessment is made of thescientific outcomes of the projects he initiated and their uneven receptionover time in a number of disciplines, since he left it to others to translatedata into science while he himself restlessly moved on to the next challenge.It is found that although never a scientist himself, Amundsen’s initiativesgenerated considerable amounts of empirical data that was of value once it wasreduced, analysed and interpreted by professional scientists. Perhaps even moreimportantly, his expeditions or projects helped further the scientific careersof a number of brilliantly resourceful persons.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Umeå: Umeå University & The Royal Skyttean Society , 2010. Vol. 6, no 1, 53-109 p.
Keyword [en]
R. Amundsen, F. Nansen, H. U. Sverdrup, polar science, explorers, Northwest Passage, polar history, race to the pole
National Category
URN: urn:nbn:se:umu:diva-66467OAI: diva2:606889
Available from: 2013-02-21 Created: 2013-02-21 Last updated: 2013-02-25Bibliographically approved

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