The visual culture of the Franklin search expeditions to the Arctic (1848-55)
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This thesis examines the visual representation of the Canadian Arctic and adjacent regions during the period of the Franklin search expeditions from 1848 to 1855. The study traverses the disciplines of literature, visual culture, history of art, and historical geography. Through in-depth analysis of pictures and texts, the thesis contributes to our knowledge of nineteenth-century visual culture, exploration and travel literature, as well as Arctic studies. In previous critical studies, the literary Arctic has long been privileged to the detriment of the visual. Visual studies that exist take the form of broad surveys that focus on metropolitan representations. Through analysis of archival material, this thesis counteracts that neglect. I reveal the significance of visual sources and show how they interacted with accompanying texts during the mid-nineteenth century, when representations of the Arctic multiplied due to the fascination with the disappearance of the Franklin expedition into the Northwest Passage. I explore sketches, paintings, and illustrated periodicals created in the Arctic by expedition members in conjunction with published material, such as travel narratives, prints, and contemporary reviews, to further understand the representation of the Arctic in this period. Close analysis of little-known and popular representations reveals new insights into Arctic exploration and Victorian culture. Paying particular attention to the reception of various media, I examine how the on-board pictures feed into a metropolitan version of the Arctic transmitted through engravings, lithographs, and panoramas. The scientific, and often sentimental, representation of the Arctic in the on-board records is quite different to the sensationalized Arctic that was presented to the public. The appearance of the environment, even when “facsimiled” from on-the-spot sketches, was frequently significantly transformed for the mid-Victorian commercial marketplace in Britain and elsewhere. Although the metropolitan Arctic revolved around a fulcrum of heroism in a threatening environment, the visual culture of the ship reveals a more complicated narrative that is sometimes local, familiar, humorous, and domestic. The on-board visual culture of the nineteenth-century Arctic has been obscured and the public performance of the dominant “man versus nature” trope still reverberates in polar imaginaries today. The genealogical bank of imagery that we have inherited from nineteenth-century lithographers, publishers, and panorama painters continues to shape our view of the Arctic and has geopolitical and environmental implications for the twenty-first century.
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