Friday, October 16, 2015

North of the Northern Lights: A New Way of Perceiving the Crocker Land Expedition of 1913-1917

Photo from the Spurlock Museum Collection
"North of the Northern Lights: Exploring the Crocker Land Arctic Expedition 1913–1917" is a current exhibit at the Spurlock Museum that is co-sponsored by the European Union Center. The exhibit will be available from October 6, 2015 to July 31, 2015. Admission to the exhibit is free and open to the public.

I would like to preface this article with the fact that I knew nothing about the Crocker Land Expedition before I went to the “North of the Northern Lights” exhibit at the Spurlock Museum. After my visit to the exhibit, I found that I had not only learned new information, but I also gained a new perspective.

The exhibit starts with an examination of the initial results and lasting impact of the Crocker Land Expedition of 1913-1917. The exhibit is arranged in a way to examine the expedition's hope of having "carefully laid plans" versus the "chaotic" reality they faced and tried to control. The pictures are a testament to this line of thinking, as on closer examination, the photos tend to be posed or feature little context of the people or situation. This information at first may not initially seem important, but upon further exploration of the guides and online module provided by the Spurlock Museum, it is an important perspective to consider when viewing this information.

The Crocker Land Arctic Expedition, led by Donald MacMillan, was established to provide proof that Crocker Land was a real place.  In fact, the University of Illinois helped co-sponsor this expedition. MacMillan's team learned that Crocker Land was actually a mirage, but the team found new information and items in their time in Crocker Land.

The "North of the Northern Lights" exhibit consists of about 200 physical artifacts and 4500 photos.  The museum does a wonderful job of of putting as much as they can in the exhibit.  Reading or browsing through the guides is crucial though for understanding the context of these items.

Many items are present in the Spurlock Museum, but not every item has accurate context.  These items and information would never have been available without the help of the Inuit people who were largely unrepresented in initial reports by expedition members.  The exhibit at the Spurlock Museum aims to rectify these mistakes, but some information is unfortunately lost to the past.

What the Spurlock Museum can do is to present the information in a way that encourages museum visitors to examine the "accuracy" of historical evidence.  On my trip, I spent a great deal of time exploring the guides and information available at the exhibit.  More importantly, I opened up my mind to questions.

The Spurlock Museum accomplishes many ambitious goals with their exhibit, and it was an incredibly fascinating use of my time.  This exhibit is open from October 6th to July 31st, and if you want to absorb all the information you can, you may consider visiting the exhibit more than once.

Rachel Johannigmeier is a Graduate Assistant at the European Union Center and a student at the Graduate School of Library and Information Science.

For more information on the Spurlock Museum, please visit their website


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