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Fortitudine Vincimus

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Today’s post is from science reference librarian  Margaret Clifton.  She is also the author of Loving the Stars – Telescopes from Galileo to James Webb,  Saving Energy: The Fall Back PositionStars in his Eyes and Sun Spots this Summer

“And you thought they were cute”

Penguins on the ice.
Courtesy of ITACE 2014

A wide variety of literature on Antarctica has been collected over the years in a number of bibliographic works, one of which is the Antarctic Bibliography, prepared by staff of the Science and Technology Division between 1965 and 1998. It included citations grouped into 13 subject categories, the 12 major disciplines in which scientific studies in Antarctica were conducted, plus a ‘general’ category. The range of citations was quite broad and included everything from the natural history of penguins to the role of libraries in relation to Antarctica.

On the ever popular subject of penguins, for example, can be found this unexpected abstract, “And you thought they were cute:”

A revealing look is given at another side of penguin behavior. It is stressed that penguins are wild creatures not given to the immediate acceptance of strangers (scientists). They deal numbing blows with their flippers; mar the shins with their beaks; and toss feces into the face with their tail feathers. Such were the experiences of a scientist gathering blood samples as part of a study to learn why penguins are so well adapted to the Antarctic cold. — Fisher, B.M.  And you thought they were cute. In Purdue alumnus. Vol. 75, Dec. 1985: 9-10

Penguins are not the only danger faced by scientists in Antarctica; the more predictable dangers lurk in sub-zero temperatures, extreme wind and precipitation, remote locations, crevasses, communications, and more.  But imagine going there without the benefit of radio, without motorized transport, without fleece!

“Difficulties are just things to overcome, after all.” *

Shackleton leaning over side of Endurance. Photograph by Frank Hurley

The earliest expeditions to Antarctica faced all of these challenges and still managed to do valuable scientific work in the fields of surveying and mapping, physics, biology and other natural sciences, geology, oceanography, meteorology, and more. And they wore canvas and cotton and wool. They used dogs or ponies or dragged their own equipment on sledges loaded with their scientific equipment and all of the things they needed to survive the frozen wilderness. No wonder the period from the end of the 19th century to the early 1920s is referred to as the Heroic Age of Antarctic Exploration.

Of all of the expeditions during this period, arguably the most heroic is that of the Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition of 1914, led by the polar explorer Sir Ernest Henry Shackleton.  The mission of that expedition was to make the first land crossing of the Antarctic continent, but the mission was changed when the ship Endurance was trapped in the pack ice, crushed, and sunk. Then the mission became simply to survive.  And survive it they did, under the optimistic, pragmatic and fearless leadership of Shackleton, whose family motto was Fortitudine Vincimus, “By Endurance We Conquer.”

The Imperial Trans-Antarctic Centenary Expedition  (ITACE) 2014

The first educational program this year sponsored by the Science, Technology and Business Division is titled “By Endurance We Conquer: Lessons of Leadership for the Imperial Trans-Antarctic Centenary Expedition 2014,”  on February 20, 2013 at 11:30 a.m., in the West Dining Room,  Madison Building, Library of Congress.  This program features three members of a British expedition, the ITACE 2014 team, who aim to “carry out the ‘unfinished business’ of Sir Ernest Shackleton and his men in 1914.”  If you cannot make it to lecture, it will be recorded and available for viewing shortly after on the Library’s science and technology webcast page and Topics in Science Playlist from our Youtube channel.  [Update: The webcast of the lecture is now available for viewing]

The ITACE 2014 team will attempt to trace the path across Antarctica that Shackleton was prevented from when his ship, the Endurance, was trapped and crushed by the pack ice, setting the crew adrift on the ice pack and ultimately into the icy and forbidding waters of the South Atlantic. It truly is an incredible story of survival, stoicism, and above all, leadership. And yet it is also a story of scientific exploration and discovery.

ITACE 2014 Team.
Photo courtesy of ITACE 2014

The 2014 expedition will commence around the onset of the northern hemisphere winter.  The purpose of the expedition is to cross the Antarctic continent as Shackleton intended.  He viewed it as the last great polar journey after Amundsen and Scott conquered the South Pole in 1911 and 1912.

The program will feature several items of interest from the collections of the Library of Congress, including some of the many books published about the Shackleton expedition, maps, articles, photos, and a limited edition large format book of photographs of Antarctica.  Of special interest is a short black and white silent film discovered in the nitrate vault at the National Audio-Visual Conservation Center in Culpeper and processed for viewing especially for this program. This film is from the voyage of the Quest, which in 1922 became Shackleton’s last voyage. He died aboard the ship while in harbor at Grytviken, South Georgia, the very spot where he ended his journey to save the crew of the Endurance in 1916.

Departure of the James Caird for South Georgia, April 16, 1916. Photograph by Frank Hurley.

* Shackleton, E. H.  The heart of the Antarctic … , v. 1. London, W. Heinemann, 1909: 321




Comments (3)

  1. Those of us who cringe at the thought of staying in a tent rather than a comfy B&B simple canNOT imagine doing it at all, let alone without fleece!

  2. aack! please correct simple to simply! thanks.

    • @Sharon. I am not allowed to edit comments…and with this comment you have self corrected it. Cheers!

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