Arctic explorers learned early that education and entertainment were important ways to keep people engaged on long expeditions. David and Deirdre Stam have written about the role of books on Polar exploration in “Books on Ice,” which I highly recommend. By all accounts, Peary had the Roosevelt stocked with reading materials of all kinds. In his cabin there was, “a fairly complete arctic library – absolutely complete in regard to all the later voyages.” There were also novels and magazines of all kinds. George Borup reports in his book A Tenderfoot with Peary that once at sea, he, MacMillan and Dr. Goodsell were hard at work
sorting the hundreds of magazines which were down in the lazarette and were filling every available space. There were fairly complete files of all the principal ones back to January, 1907, and as some one has said, “If the serial stories weren’t good, the cereal advertisements were,” and so for that matter were the open-work yarns in the ladies’ journals.”
In fact, the Roosevelt had an excess of reading material, if that is possible. Shortly before the vessel’s departure a newspaper article had suggested that donations of reading material would be welcome, and according to MacMillan, they came in droves. Eventually duplicates were identified and when possible, extra copies given away to people living in remote spots along the Labrador coast. In their journals no expedition member complains of a shortage of reading materials.
Since ours is a much shorter trip, we will not be bringing years of magazine back-issues, but we will have plenty of reading material. Thanks to technological advances, we will even have a small arctic library, stored digitally on various devices, so we can easily dip into Peary’s own accounts of activites at Cape Sheridan, for example, or read George Borup’s more youthful perspective on the expedition. None of us has made the complete transiton to ebooks, however, so there will also be traditional books, which still have advantages in a field camp. They don’t rely on power, for one thing,and since we will be recharging batteries with solar panels, a stretch of bad weather may mean rationing power, with priority going to data collection (cameras and gps) rather than entertainment. Just as important, paper books are easier to share too, so if the same bad weather keeps us tent bound, we don’t have to worry about finishing the books we brought, as long as our reading tastes overlap (and I have to say, I have read some pretty bad stuff, when all else fails!)
On another topic, we all begin traveling tomorrow, so as to be in Ottawa bright and early for our fligh to Resolute. When Peary and his team left New York in 1908, the city was in the midst of a heat wave. Likewise tomorrow’s heat is forecast to break records, at least in some parts of Canada. A good time to be going north!