The News at the Ends of the Earth

The Print Culture of Polar Exploration

Book Pages: 328 Illustrations: 62 illustrations Published: April 2019

Author: Hester Blum

Cultural Studies > Ocean Studies, Environmental Studies, Literature and Literary Studies > Literary Criticism

From Sir John Franklin's doomed 1845 search for the Northwest Passage to early twentieth-century sprints to the South Pole, polar expeditions produced an extravagant archive of documents that are as varied as they are engaging. As the polar ice sheets melt, fragments of this archive are newly emergent. In The News at the Ends of the Earth Hester Blum examines the rich, offbeat collection of printed ephemera created by polar explorers. Ranging from ship newspapers and messages left in bottles to menus and playbills, polar writing reveals the seamen wrestling with questions of time, space, community, and the environment. Whether chronicling weather patterns or satirically reporting on penguin mischief, this writing provided expedition members with a set of practices to help them survive the perpetual darkness and harshness of polar winters. The extreme climates these explorers experienced is continuous with climate change today. Polar exploration writing, Blum contends, offers strategies for confronting and reckoning with the extreme environment of the present.


"The News at the Ends of the Earth is a fine-grained register of the ebb and flow of a printophilic century, from Ross to Shackleton. While mindful of the minor variations over the decades, Blum marvelously conveys that fantastic, phantasmatically preserved shipbound conversation, a dilated and heterogeneous house party." — John Plotz, Public Books

"An intricately layered, richly illustrated examination of shipboard newspapers (printed and handwritten), playbills, and other media produced by expeditions to the Antarctic and Arctic regions between 1818 and 1914. . . . The book speaks to the human imperative to communicate, even under extremely hostile conditions. . . . Essential. Upper-division undergraduates through faculty." — J. Bekken, Choice

"Superb. . . . As the Anthropocene continues to develop, Blum’s concern with the media and narratives we might use to represent the planet’s predicament is of interest not only to scholars of printing and the polar regions, but also to a general reader." — Nancy Campbell, TLS

"Blum’s book is a lively and enjoyable account of a fascinating historical period and its practices—but it is also vitally relevant for our current moment." — Carie Lyn Schneider, Edge Effects

"I'm certain that Hester Blum's effort will stand the test of time as the authoritative treatment of this captivating subject." — Robert B. Stephenson, Nimrod: The Journal of the Ernest Shackleton Autumn School

"[Blum] offers a fascinating history of onboard polar publication and provides a detailed analysis of the various textual materials produced during voyages of Arctic and Antarctic exploration. It also strives to unpick the intriguing motivations that lay behind their production. ... An invaluable contribution to several branches of scholarship, and readers interested in polar exploration, literary studies, and histories of printing culture will gain much from reading this interesting and insightful book." — Peter R. Martin, Nineteenth Century Studies

"The book makes a highly original contribution to the literature on polar exploration, enlivened throughout by revealing quotations; I particularly enjoyed the poetic condemnation of men who did not contribute to polar newspapers as 'useless Vermin' who 'Aught to be hang’d, or shot outright' (p. 97)." — Max Jones, Cultural and Social History

"For readers interested in the culture of polar exploration, The News at the Ends of the Earth is an indispensable guide to the inner workings of expeditionary communities." — Janice Cavell, International Journal of Maritime History

"The News at the Ends of the Earth makes a significant contribution to the growing push to incorporate the polar regions into world histories. It would be of immense value to historians with an interest in oceanic spaces, the polar regions, histories of printed media, or histories of ephemera, and would be a useful starting point for scholars looking to think about how the Arctic and Antarctic fit into the scope of world history." — Rohan Howitt, Journal of World History

“The reader is … awestruck not by the aurora borealis but by the scope of Blum’s reading and her ability to personify (in the literary sense of characterization) the constraints and triumphs of what we might otherwise think of as a rather mundane group of somewhat literary explorers and scientists.” — R. D. Madison, The Nautilus

"The News at the Ends of the Earth is exciting, both for what it definitively argues and for the questions it incites." — Devin M. Garofalo, Journal of American Studies

"The News at the Ends of the Earth offers a fascinating, finely textured portrait of life aboard ship in the most extreme environments of the world." — Michael Robinson, Journal of American History

The News at the Ends of the Earth is as ambitious a volume as the pieces it represents. . . . In our contemporary era of digital archives and media, a volume such as this is rendered more valuable.” — Ellen C. Frye, The Polar Journal

The News at the Ends of the Earth succeeds in its assertion that the practices of historical polar expeditions are important in comprehending the current climate crisis. The reader is left with an overwhelming sense of how crucial the enterprise of creating these collective outlets of communication was, and still is, in understanding one’s place in the environment and the necessity of self-expression in climatic extremes.” — Eavan O’Dochartaigh, Journal for Maritime Research

“What Hester Blum describes here is the production of print culture for the sake of not going crazy, for the sake of remaining, in some recognizable and accountable sense, human. This is media production under extreme duress, which makes for a fascinating story and theoretical provocation. Founded on a thought-provoking and unique archive and busting with insight, The News at the Ends of the Earth is a terrific book.” — Stephanie LeMenager, author of Living Oil: Petroleum Culture in the American Century

“Using archives from Europe, Australia, and New Zealand as well as from North America, this pioneering work tells an unforgettable story about ship newspapers and other improvised media produced by sailors on Arctic and Antarctic expeditions. Informed by indigenous knowledge and bearing witness to the extreme conditions of the polar regions, this invaluable material sheds light on the extreme weather of the Anthropocene as much as on the print culture of the nineteenth century. Labor-intensive, detail-rich, and eye-opening.” — Wai Chee Dimock, Yale University


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Hester Blum is Associate Professor of English at Pennsylvania State University, author of The View from the Masthead: Maritime Imagination and Antebellum American Sea Narratives, and editor of Turns of Event: Nineteenth-Century American Literary Studies in Motion and Horrors of Slavery: Or, The American Tars in Tripoli.

Table of Contents Back to Top
List of Illustrations  vii
Chronology  xi
Preface: Books on Ice  xv
Acknowledgments  xxi
Introduction. Polar Ecomedia  1
1. Extreme Printing  43
2. Arctic News  91
3. Antarctic Imprints  138
4. Dead Letter Reckoning  177
5. Inuit Knowledge and Charles Francis Hall  209
Conclusion. Matters of Life and Death  231
Notes  237
Bibliography  273
Index  291
Sales/Territorial Rights: World

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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-1-4780-0387-8 / Cloth ISBN: 978-1-4780-0322-9
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Funding Information

This title is freely available in an open access edition thanks to the TOME initiative and the generous support of the Pennsylvania State University. Learn more at the initiative's website.