PUBlic Professor Series | Dr. Maura Hanrahan

Creating Heroes and Claiming the North: Captain Robert Abram Bartlett in the Arctic

Dr. Maura Hanrahan, Department of Geography & Environment

Captain Robert Abram Bartlett (1875-1946) attempted the Pole with Admiral Peary, worked to advance Canadian sovereignty in the Arctic, and, in 1914, was responsible for one of the most remarkable Arctic rescues of all time. His fame extended throughout North America to Europe where he won awards and dined with royalty. Bartlett’s story mirrors that of other early 20th century explorers such as Vilhjalmur Stefansson, Ernest Shackleton, Robert Falcon Scott, Donald MacMillan, and others.

Like the other explorers, Bartlett's successes in Arctic exploration were made possible by deliberate and sustained heroic masculine image-making, which masked the complexities of his personality and of his work in the Arctic. On the lecture circuit, in his books, and on film, Bartlett carefully constructed a well-received image, buoyed by general understandings of the Arctic as undiscovered and devoid of any organized society. This made the Arctic a unique site for western male exploits. Its harsh environment and climate elevated the Arctic to a testing and proving ground. As explorers foregrounded themselves, they backgrounded the Inuit whose participation in Arctic expeditions was vital. This approach cost and still costs the Inuit. It cost the explorers, too; Bartlett, for one, suppressed his personal struggles as he sought to mirror the image he so successfully created.

This talk promises compelling images, gripping stories of danger and human drama, and important insights on the role Arctic exploration continues to play in Canada for the Inuit and for all Canadians.

ICYMI: Watch the video