Geography and exploration
Transcript of Mountaineering and Polar Collections Curator Paula Williams' filmed talk about the Captain Scott Expedition material at the National Library of Scotland..
Hello, I'm Paula Williams and I'm a senior curator at the National Library of Scotland. I’ve recently taken over as Curator for mountaineering and polar collections. We're very lucky to have one of the best polar collections in the United Kingdom.
We're going to look at bits of the collection to do with Scott's last expedition which was the British Antarctic expedition of 1910-1914 because we're coming up to the centenary of Scott and his men finding the South Pole.
The story is quite well known that Amundsen beat them to it but Scott and his men managed to travel a round-trip of about 1,500 miles through some of the worst conditions on earth. Hauling their sledges and all the food that they needed to eat, their tents and equipment behind them.
Scott recorded most of the expedition in his diaries as he went along. And even 10 years after the expedition's outcome was known it was still a very popular story and was selling really well through the cheap editions.
His diaries however, were edited so that the main parts or the slightly contentious parts were taken out. And the story, I think, has been contentious ever since the party made it home. It raises questions in our minds of the difference between heroism and tragedy and success and failure. Were they a success because they made it to the pole or did they fail because they died on the way home?
One of the major things about the Scott expedition however, wasn't just that they were trying to get to the pole. They were also conducting a huge series of scientific experiments at the same time. And indeed surveying as they went along, carrying heavy theodolites with them.
And the land they surveyed was recorded when they came home in maps like this one. It shows how the new knowledge that came back after the expedition was translated for public use. The pink areas are the areas of land that had been explored or a little bit is known about. But you can still see there's a huge area of white in the middle.
And it was this urge to fill in the white bits of the map that I think had driven both this expedition and Amundsen's and indeed many since. To this day there are lots of areas of Antarctica that haven't been filled in, that people have never been to because the conditions are just so extreme. Which makes you wonder how these men 100 years ago in their cotton and wool coats managed to drag their heavy sledges over a distance of 800 miles to reach the pole at all.
The whole expedition raises questions of the difference between success and failure. I personally believe the whole thing was a great success. They achieved what they had gone to do and I don't think you can ask any more of people than what they did.
It's been a real pleasure to work with the collections here at the National Library of Scotland. We're very lucky in that we have probably the second best polar collection in the United Kingdom after the Scott Polar Research Institute. We also have very good collections on mountaineering which of course goes hand in hand with polar exploration.