Arctic Museum Receives Grant to Digitize Hundred-Year-Old Collection

The Gladys Krieble Delmas Foundation has awarded the Peary-MacMillan Arctic Museum and Arctic Studies Center a $10,000 grant to digitize journals and correspondence of the scientists on the Crocker Land Expedition. This expedition, led by Donald B. MacMillan (Bowdoin College Class of 1898) from 1913-1917, involved geographical exploration and scientific investigations of Northwest Greenland, Ellesmere Island and the Polar Sea.

The main goal of the expedition was to claim “Crocker Land” for the United States and study the region. Crocker Land was the name given to a landmass that in 1906 explorer Robert E. Peary had seen to the northwest of the known Arctic islands. In April 1914, MacMillan and a small team used dog-drawn sledges to traverse the treacherous sea ice covering the Arctic Ocean to reach the area where Crocker Land should have been, but found no land. Crocker Land was, in fact, a mirage.

Borup Lodge in winter. Donald B. MacMillan, Etah, Greenland, 1914-1917.

Borup Lodge in winter. Donald B. MacMillan, Etah, Greenland, 1914-1917.

The team of scientists and Inughuit (Northwest Greenland Inuit) assistants turned their attention to scientific research. The expedition, which was supposed to last two years, instead lasted four because several expeditions launched to bring the scientists home failed. Field observations continued throughout all four years.

The expedition members returned to the U.S. in 1917 with thousands of photographs, motion picture film, specimens, and a trove of ethnographic, geographic, geological and biological field notes and journals. World War I was underway and members of the expedition immediately turned their attention to wartime endeavors. As a result, little of the research was ever published.

Harrison Hunt, expedition surgeon and Bowdoin Class of 1902, reading at a desk in the expedition’s headquarters. Note the pile of field notebooks and journals on the desk. Hand-tinted glass lantern slide, Northwest Greenland, 1913-17. Elmer Ekblaw Collection. Given in honor of Walter E. Ekblaw, Jr., devoted son.

Harrison Hunt, expedition surgeon and Bowdoin Class of 1902, reading at a desk in the expedition’s headquarters. Note the pile of field notebooks and journals on the desk. Hand-tinted glass lantern slide, Northwest Greenland, 1913-17. Elmer Ekblaw Collection. Given in honor of Walter E. Ekblaw, Jr., devoted son.

The grant will allow the Arctic Museum to partner with the George J. Mitchell Department of Special Collections & Archives, where many of the original expedition documents are housed.

Museum and Archives staff will work cooperatively to digitize 60 field journals and 700 pages of correspondence of some of the Crocker Land Expedition scientists.

Once the project is complete the digitized documents will be available through the Bowdoin College Library and Arctic Museum websites.

“We greatly appreciate the Gladys Krieble Delmas Foundation’s grant as it will give undergraduates and researchers easy access to a collection that contains rich one-hundred-year old field data,” said Susan Kaplan, director of the Arctic Museum.

“Scholars and students interested in the history of science, environmental change, and the dynamics of culture contact will find a wealth of information in these materials. It will be exciting to see this important and often overlooked collection used.”

People eager to learn more about the expedition are encouraged to visit the Arctic Museum and view A Glimmer on the Polar Sea, an exhibition that features some of the artifacts, photographs, specimens, and field journals of the Crocker Land Expedition.

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