The Archaeological Site in Arctic Tourism (ASAT): A century of tourists at the Wellman, Baldwin, and Fiala base camps in Svalbard, Franz Josef Land, and Northeast Greenland

Big Airship That Started For The Pole, Chicago Record-Herald, 14 September 1907

Between 1894 and 1909, seven American polar expeditions created a substantial body of archaeological remains in the European and Russian Arctic.  These expeditions, conceived as nationalistic enterprises, nevertheless relied on members from several different European countries: primarily Norway and Sweden, but also Russia, Switzerland, and France.  They remain some of the most compelling attempts to reach the North Pole in the history of polar exploration and, as such, left behind some of that history’s most interesting archaeological assemblages.  These include two shipwrecks (one each in Svalbard and Franz Josef Land); three balloon inflation sites (one each in northeast Greenland, Svalbard, and Franz Josef Land); the remains of two airships in Svalbard; innumerable balloon buoy communication devices scattered across the Arctic; and numerous base camps, temporary shelters, relief stations, supply depots and scattered and isolated artifacts.

For twenty years I have studied how these remains were created by the original expeditions and then entered the archaeological record, how they became fixtures in the Arctic cultural landscape and material testaments to the nature of international cooperation and competition in  Arctic exploration at a time of intense nationalism.  Recently, we have begun to explore how these remains have, over the past century, become a part of the regular agenda of polar tourism cruises and the subject of varying levels of study and protection by cultural resource management regimes.  By combining these two research tracks into a single, unified project, we seek to create new ways to both improve the tourist experience on these sites while at the same time contributing to their preservation and further study.

Tourists at Walter Wellman's base camp at Cape Tegetthoff, Hall Island, Franz Josef Land, August, 2006.

To accomplish this,  we will survey the archival records related to these expeditions currently scattered in repositories from the U.S. to Russia.  We will then bring these records, along with articles, images and charts of the original expeditions, along with the results of the proposed fieldwork, together at this web portal, Virgo Harbor.  The aim is to create archaeological site-based pedagogical materials including a permanent web-based digital archive, along with podcasts, vodcasts, and iPad, iPhone and Android apps for each site.

The project was begun in January, 2011, and will continue through the spring of 2014 at my historical archaeology lab at Penn State University Abington College.

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