UC SPARK - University of Canterbury - New Zealand

Dr Ursula Rack

Gateway Antarctica

Phone: +64 3 364 2987 ext. 95961

Office: Biological Sciences Level 7

Fields of Research

  • Polar history
  • Recovering hisotric weather data
  • Social history
  • Environmental history
  • Biographies

Researcher Summary

I work currently as contract researcher for the Deep South National Science Project. The project recovers meteorological information from logbooks (merchant and navy ships) from the late 18th century until the mid 20th century which operated in the Southern Ocean including in Australian and New Zealand waters. The data is processed then in the reanalysis of historic weather phenomena to draw conclusion for future weather models.

My research interest lays in environmental and social history which includes weather data from the Heroic era onwards to investigate the influence on social condition of early expedition members and their interactions which could influence the outcome of an expedition. This research includes also biographies of expedition members from German, Austro-Hungarian and English speaking countries. My research covers also political, social and economic factors which influenced the expeditions to put the events in an appropriate historic context.

Archival research is necessary to gather diaries, ship journals, correspondence, pictures and reports on expeditions. They are mostly handwritten and I do transcriptions to interpret the contents and put it in a wider context. Social conditions cover issues such as  food, medical conditions, every day life, recruitment, insurance, income, hierarchy and leadership and how these conditions influenced the expeditions and vice versa the people.

Subject Area: Disciplines

Research Groups

Future Research

  • Interdisciplinary research on historic weather data
  • Investigating logbooks and diaries for weather phenomena

Key Methodologies

  • Transcription and social interpretation of handwritten records; interpretation of historic qualitative climate data
  • Archival research
  • Interdisciplinary methods


Student Supervision

Displaying all items.
  • Summer Student - Bombusch A: Marine Biology in Antarctica - then and now (2009)
  • Summer Student - Evans J: Biographical Research on Lt. "Teddy" Evans and Hilda Russel. A suvey of their time in Christchurch and New Zealand, 1902-1913 (2011)
  • Summer Student - Ferrar S: Path are made by walking (2012)
  • Summer Student - Herbert A: A woman's place is - in Antarctica? History, experiences and development (2017)
  • Summer Student - Nielsen H: From Shelter to Showpiece: the evolution of scientific Antarctic Stations (2014)
  • Summer Student - Stone J: Antarctic Connections: Christchurch & Canterbury. A guide to the past and present connections of Antarctica to Christchurch and the greater Canterbury region (2015)
  • Summer Student - Talbot P: A study of the techniques used by the Ross Sea Committee to raise funds for New Zealand's part in the Trans-Antarctic Expedition, with selected comparison of other expeditions (2013)

Research/Scholarly/Creative Works

Authored Books
  • Rack U. (2010) Sozialhistorische Studie zur Polarforschung anhand von deutschen und oesterreich-ungarischen Polarexpeditionen zwischen 1868 - 1939 (Social-historic study of polar exploration based on German and Austrian-Hungarian polar expeditions between 1868 - 1939). Bremerhaven: Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research. 279. http://hdl.handle.net/10013/epic.35941.
  • Rack U. (2013) Teleki von Szék. In Angetter D (Ed.), Österreichisches Biographisches Lexikon 1815-1950 (64th ed.): 238-239. Vienna: Österreichische Akademie der Wissenschaften.
  • Jones C., Montelle C., Pratt A., Pickles K., Rack U., Holdaway RN., Pelser PB. and Sykes WR. (2011) Exploration & Discovery. In Jones C; Matthews B; Clement J (Ed.), Treasures of the University of Canterbury Library Christchurch: Canterbury University Press.
  • Rack U. (2011) Selbst wenn die Entbehrungen nach so gross sind. Entdecken und Erobern im Roemerland Carnuntum. In Bruckmueller E; Humer F (Ed.), Erobern, Entdecken, Erleben im Roemerland Carnuntum: 368-387. Schallaburg: Schallaburg Kulturbetriebsges.m.b.H.
Journal Articles
  • Rack U. (2015) "Blizzard blowing again and considerable discomfort on board as usual." Personal accounts of weather as scientific data, and the weather's influence on expedition members during the Heroic Age. The Polar Journal 5(1): 113-127. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/2154896X.2015.1030159.
  • Rack U. (2015) Von der Antarktis nach Sibirien. Biographische Stationen eines oesterreichischen Polarforschers (From the Antarctic to Siberia: biographical notes of an Austrian polar explorer). Oesterrich in Geschichte, Literatur Geographie 59(1): 56-68.
  • Rack U. and Atkin A. (2015) SCAR open science conference 2014. Report on the session 'Connecting past-present-future: studies and methods in history for Antarctic research and science'. Polar Record 51(6): 692-693. http://dx.doi.org/10.1017/S0032247414000941.
  • Rack U. (2013) Weather still remains boisterous. Historic weather data in diaries and logbooks 1901 - 1904. Royal Meteorological Society History Group Newsletter 2013(3): 15-18.
  • Rack U. (2011) Oesterreichisch-ungarische und deutsche Polarexpeditionen zwischen 1870 und 1912. Sozialhistorische Aspekte. Oesterreich in Geschichte und Literatur mit Geographie 55(2): 109-123.
Conference Contributions - Published
  • Rack U. (2014) The value of historic documents in the context of polar heritage. Copenhagen, Denmark: 2014 ICOMOS International Polar Heritage Committee and Polar Archaeology Network Conference (IPHC), 25-28 May 2014. In The Polar Journal 4(2)
  • Rack U. (2013) International Polar Heritage Conference: Conservation Challenges, Solutions & Collaboration Opportunities in Uncontrolled Environments. Hobart, Australia: International Polar Heritage Conference, 8-11 Mar 2013. In The Polar Journal 3(1): 266-267. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/2154896X.2013.783291.
Conference Contributions - Other
  • Rack U. (2017) Heroic Era and beyond - an international perspective. Auckland, NZ: End of the Heroic Era Conference, 24-26 Mar 2017
  • Rack U. (2016) One historian, one hundred logbooks and an historic weather data rescue: a new approach in cutting edge science. Kuala Lumpur, Malasia: SCAR Open Science Conference, 22-27 Aug 2016
  • Rack U. (2016) Our conception of Antarctica today through the lives of early explorer. Kuala Lumpur, Malasia: SCAR Open Science Conference, 22-27 Aug 2016
  • Rack U. (2016) Sealing for survival and science: Early Antarctic explorers and seal hunting. Cambridge, UK: Historic Antarctic Sealing Industry Conference, 19-21 Sep 2016
  • Rack U. and Atkin A. (2014) Connecting the past-present-future: studies and methods in history for Antarctic research and science. Auckland, New Zealand: Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research International Open Science Conference (SCAR), 23-29 Aug 2014
  • Rack U. (2011) Felix Koenig: the European Science community across the enemy lines during WWI. Perth, Australia: War and Peace, Barbarism and Civilisation in Modern Europe and its Empires - AAEH XXII Biennial Conference Perth, 11-14 Jul 2011
  • Rack U. (2010) Fritz Loewe - from Germany to Australia with focus on his time in Melbourne. University of Adelaide, Australia: German-Australian Connections; Transnational and transcultural links between German-speaking countries and Australia, 24-25 Sep 2010
  • Rack U. (2010) Fritz Loewe - from Germany to Australia. Oslo, Norway: Annual Antarctic Conference 2010: A Taste of the Ice. Polar Science - Global Impact, 8-12 Jun 2010
  • Rack U. (2010) Fritz Loewe - from Germany to Australia. Universtiy of Canterbury, Christchurch, New Zealand: Annual Antarctic Conference 2010: A Taste of the Ice, 5-7 Jul 2010
  • Rack U. (2016) Passagiere des Eises: Polarhelden und Arktische Diskurse 1874. [Passengers of the ice: polar heroes and arctic discourses 1874] (Book Review). Polar Journal 6(2): 440-442. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/2154896X.2016.1171008.
Oral Presentations
  • Rack U. (2013) Living on the Ice 100 Years ago. Oamaru, New Zealand.
  • Rack U. (2013) Weather still remains boisterous' - Historic weather data in diaries and logbooks 1901-1904. Cambridge, UK.
  • Rack U. (2012) Modern Science and Historical Data - Ships Journals and Diaries. Hobart, Australia.