The British Journal for the History of Science

Research Article

Vilhjalmur Stefansson, the Continental Shelf, and a New Arctic Continent

Trevor H. Leverea1

a1 Institute for the History and Philosophy of Science and Technology, University of Toronto, Canada.

Between the Napoleonic Wars and the First World War, roughly two hundred expeditions set out for what is now the Canadian Arctic, from its boundary with Alaska in the West, along the northern shore of Canada and including the Arctic archipelago between that shore and the pole, to the marine boundary with Danish Greenland in the East. For more than half a century, these expeditions were little concerned with Canada as a political entity; after all, it had not yet been truly created as a nation. Besides, science was a major part of the mandate of many of the Arctic expeditions, almost half of which achieved significant scientific results; and science, while partly a national activity, was also a trans-national one. John Franklin's last expedition, made famous by disaster, had, typically, been largely motivated by scientific curiosity; the resolution of geomagnetic questions loomed large in Franklin's instructions.