The Exploration of 'Indlandsis' : A Cultural and Scientific History of Ice Sheets to 1970
de Pomereu, Jean
Thesis or dissertation
University of Exeter
Despite their central importance to the Earth system, nowhere within the literatures of Polar Studies or the Humanities does there exist a comprehensive cultural and scientific history of ice sheets that takes into consideration both Greenland and Antarctica, or that is not constrained to a particular exploratory, technological, or geopolitical period or framing. My thesis addresses this lacunae by contributing a bi-polar, empirical history and analysis of the different scientific and cultural processes, transformations, and discontinuities through which ice sheets have been transformed from unexplored realms of the imagination, into tangible, material objects of investigation and meaning. Its scope extends from early Greek mapping to 1970. Within this timeframe, it identifies three broad phases in the perception of ice sheets. The first, preceding their earliest physical exploration, corresponds to the perception of ice sheets as one-dimensional realms defined and bounded by the human imagination. The second phase, associated with their early surface exploration between 1870 and 1930, corresponds to the perception of ice sheets as undifferentiated, two-dimensional ‘topographies of absence’, best characterized by their horizontal desolation. The third phase, triggered by the deployment of new technologies of sub-surface investigation such as seismic sounding, radio echo sounding (RES), and the practice of ice coring, corresponds to the perception of ice sheets as three-dimensional, super-massive, and interdependent objects of internal and material complexity. Although primarily rooted in archival research and the study of first hand textual and visual materials, my arguments and observations also draw on secondary literatures from the history of science and technology, geopolitics, visual culture, and the geography of space and place. These literatures allow me to contextualize and substantiate my analysis of historical processes within broader perspectives, notably Humboldtian science, Romanticism, visual abstraction, scientific imagery, and the Cold War.
Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) Collaborative Doctoral Award
PhD in Geography