Stories for Sale

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This week I’ve been working on a poster for the Graduate Research Conference at the University of Tasmania. I’ve spent far too long obsessing over layout an colour, but that’s likely a symptom of procrastination, seeing as I have another chapter draft of my PhD due in 6 weeks, plus a book chapter to write. On a Friday afternoon, and in the face of the towering white expanse of a (mainly) blank word document, honing my graphic design skills suddenly sounded very appealing.

The text for my poster is below, along with a PDF version: H Nielsen GCR Poster 2015 It’s all about Antarctica and stories, two of my favourite things, so I hope you enjoy it!

Antarctica has long been for sale as a storied place. Ever since the first land based expeditions of the Heroic Era (1899-1920), explorers have had to market their plans through lectures, slideshows and sponsorship pitches. Many of those expeditions depended on successfully selling stories for their very existence – if media and sponsorship deals were not made and funds were not found, the expeditions could not go ahead.

Once home, the media played an equally important role in cementing Antarctic explorers’ posterity. It was during the period of the early twentieth century, and primarily in the pages of newspapers and magazines that Antarctic imagery became visible, became valuable, and began to be used for commercial purposes. It was here, too, that the narratives of polar exploration that continue to haunt Antarctica were born, and transformed from story to myth.

SponsorshipCarsten Borchgrevink’s Southern Cross expedition (1897-1899) was supported by media magnate Sir George Newnes. Newnes then had access to exclusive tales of exploration with which he could draw in new readers and sell more magazines.
During the early 20th Century,

Photography: Antarctica is the only continent where the first land-based explorations were photographically recorded. Those images were rapidly distributed to a large reading public back home, where they fast provided fuel for the imagination.

Advertising: Antarctic narratives and endorsements were used to market a range of products that were used on south polar expeditions. These adverts appeared alongside stories of exploration: expanding geographical knowledge paralleled expanding media audiences.

Ghostwriting: The growth of the ‘hero business’ saw many explorers engage ghostwriters to pen their stories. The official story needed to be engaging and dramatic in order to sell copies, cement the explorer’s reputation, and ensure a return on the publisher’s investment.

Fame was a product not only of the feats that explorers could achieve, but the way those feats were later sold to the public, a situation that leads Ryan to conclude that “explorers, press, publishers and societies of science and empire all played a part in fermenting a complex ‘culture of exploration.’”1 Thus, the Heroic Era of Antarctic exploration played out both across the white expanses of the south and the pages of the press back home.

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