The Coldest Crucible: Arctic Exploration and American Culture

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University of Chicago Press, Nov 15, 2010 - History - 200 pages
In the late 1800s, “Arctic Fever” swept across the nation as dozens of American expeditions sailed north to the Arctic to find a sea route to Asia and, ultimately, to stand at the North Pole. Few of these missions were successful, and many men lost their lives en route. Yet failure did little to dampen the enthusiasm of new explorers or the crowds at home that cheered them on. Arctic exploration, Michael F. Robinson argues, was an activity that unfolded in America as much as it did in the wintry hinterland. Paying particular attention to the perils facing explorers at home, The Coldest Crucible examines their struggles to build support for the expeditions before departure, defend their claims upon their return, and cast themselves as men worthy of the nation’s full attention. In so doing, this book paints a new portrait of polar voyagers, one that removes them from the icy backdrop of the Arctic and sets them within the tempests of American cultural life.

With chronological chapters featuring emblematic Arctic explorers—including Elisha Kent Kane, Charles Hall, and Robert Peary—The Coldest Crucible reveals why the North Pole, a region so geographically removed from Americans, became an iconic destination for discovery.

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1 Building an Arctic Tradition
2 A Man of Science and Humanity
3 An Arctic Divided
4 Dying Like Men
5 The New Machines
6 Savage Campaigns

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Page 187 - On the Relative Intensity of the Heat and Light of the Sun upon Different Latitudes of the Earth.
Page 186 - Access to an open Polar Sea, in connection with the search after Sir John Franklin, and his Companions.
Page 65 - The pulsations of my own heart are alone heard in the great void; and as the blood courses through the sensitive organization of the ear, I am oppressed as with discordant sounds. Silence has ceased to be negative. It has become endowed with positive attributes. I seem to hear and see and feel it. It stands forth as a frightful spectre, filling the mind with the overpowering consciousness of universal death, — proclaiming the end of all things, and heralding the everlasting future. Its presence...
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Page 83 - " Yes," said Greely in a faint, broken voice, hesitating and shuffling with his words, " Yes — seven of us left — here we are — dying — like men. Did what I came to do — beat the best record.
Page 55 - From the mutilated state of many of the corpses and the contents of the kettles it is evident that our wretched countrymen had been driven to the last resource — cannibalism — as a means of prolonging existence.
Page 114 - ... the whole thing. The balloonist becomes an explorer. Say you are a young man who would like to roam a little ; you want adventures ; you want to penetrate the unknown. But you are tied down at home by family, business, whatnot. Well, you take to ballooning. At noon you have luncheon with your family. At two o'clock you ascend. Fifteen minutes later you are no longer a commonplace denizen of the easy-going town — you are an adventurer into the unknown, an explorer as surely as any who melt in...
Page 83 - The man made no answer, staring at him vacantly. " Who are you ? " again. One of the men spoke up : " That's the Major— Major Greely.
Page 186 - The United States Grinnell Expedition in Search of Sir John Franklin. A Personal Narrative.
Page 38 - They saw evidences of his having gone northward, for sledge tracks in that direction were, visible. It is the opinion of Dr. Kane that, on the breaking up of the ice, in the spring, Sir John passed northward with his ships through Wellington Channel, into the great Polar basin, and that he did not return. This, too, is the opinion of Captain Penny...

About the author (2010)

Michael F. Robinson is associate professor of history at the University of Hartford.

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