Seminar Series

Telling Stories – Conflict, cooperation and memory in Cold War polar science


Ron Doel


Gateway Antarctica

Time & Place

Wed, 19 Feb 2020 17:30:09 NZDT in Coppertop , 2nd Floor Rehua


What do we know about recent polar science, what don’t we know, and why does it matter? The stories we might tell about Polar Science after World War II are many. One narrative involves national security.

Both the United States and the Soviet Union accepted the polar concept—that the next major superpower conflict was likely to take place at high northern latitudes because of great circle routes binding them—and intensified efforts to understand the physical environment of the Arctic early in the Cold War (even as Antarctica became a key concern for military exercises in the early Cold War). Yet the Polar Regions were also center stage for the International Geophysical Year of 1957-58, often considered the largest transnational scientific undertaking ever achieved and a high point of Cold War détente. Understanding scientific field practices in the poles (and the production of knowledge about these regions) requires us to address all these stories head-on. A key question: are these stories in conflict, or a means to better understand the complex history of the Cold War? Perhaps more important: how might we simultaneously explore ethics, morality, and transcendent truths in the far north, what the historian Peter Harrison—critiquing recent claims about scientific knowledge—has termed “the dissociation of wisdom and knowledge”?


Ron is an Erskine visitor currently with Gateway Antarctica.