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Jean-Baptiste Charcot and the emotions of polar exploration

An online seminar hosted by The University of Western Australia. Part of the CHE Virtual Fellows Seminar Series


Image: Jean Charcot and Philip Walsh, The voyage of the Why not?' in the Antarctic; the journal of the second French South polar expedition, 1908–1910 (New York, London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1911), Wikimedia Commons

Date: Wednesday 22 June 2022
Time: 3:30pm AWST / 5:30pm AEST
Venue: Online via Zoom. Please email emotions@uwa.edu.au for connection details. 
Enquiries: emotions@uwa.edu.au

Was Jean-Baptiste Charcot afraid when he led two French Antarctic expeditions, in 1903–1905 and 1908–1910? Yes, according to journalists eager to promote the French explorer as a hero who had overcome his fear to complete his research program and return to France with his crew intact. No, according to Charcot, who preferred to present himself as a serious scientist and who stressed in his own published books and articles that the quality of his preparations meant he never faced anything so unexpected as to become frightened. At play were two different models of masculinity, which emphasized different emotional norms. Both of these models contradictorily influenced the way emotions experienced in the field were to be presented back home.

This project compares the emotions that Charcot and his crew experienced while in the field with the way they were presented when they returned back home. It rests on a comparison of the writings of explorers in the field with those that they produced after their return, and with the press discourse about the explorers and their emotions; this research mobilizes logbooks and journals on the one hand, and on the other hand published books and newspapers as well as correspondence.


Paul Gibbard (The University of Western Australia)


Alexandre Simon-Ekeland (University of Oslo) studies French polar exploration between 1860 and 1940: its achievements, and its numerous failures. Using a combination of qualitative and quantitative methods, he studies the expedition projects and the French media of the time in order to understand why polar research did not become a more important part of the French culture of exploration.