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Historical Atlas of the Arctic.

Historical Atlas of the Arctic by Derek Hayes, Douglas & McIntyre, Vancouver/ University of Washington Press, Seattle, 2003, 224 pp., 200 maps, cloth US$60.00 (ISBN 0-295-98358-2)

Author of three atlases including the Historical Atlas of Canada (2002) and the award-winning Historical Atlas of British Columbia and the Pacific Northwest (1999), Derek Hayes has compiled a sumptuous collection of historical maps relating to the Arctic region. The Historical Atlas of the Arctic covers rive centuries of polar exploration with over 300 maps reproduced from private and public sources. Hayes' text provides an insightful and enlivening commentary contextualising the maps. His selection and creative layout of the maps both delights the eye and stimulates the intellect. Hayes presents maps that must be included in this volume such as the first world map by Mercator published in 1538 depicting the Arctic as an extension of Asia; maps prepared by Rae, Arrowsmith and others in the early 1850s as a result of expeditions to locate Franklin; and maps by polar explorers Nansen, Sverdrup and Peary. However, Hayes also includes maps that are fallacious but whimsical in their appeal such as Shelden's 1869 map depicting the North Pole as a cone-shaped object in a polar sea surrounded by impenetrable ice.

Divided into twenty-eight sections, the Historical Atlas of the Arctic is arranged chronologically with maps from the earliest voyages by English, Dutch and other explorers and contemporary maps based on satellite images forecasting ice conditions. A significant section of the book is devoted to the search for and achievement of the Northwest Passage. From acts of the British Parliament in the eighteenth century offering monetary rewards for finding a passage west of Hudson Bay, to the final attainment of the Northwest Passage by Amundsen in 1905-1906, this quest represents the pinnacle of success for generations of polar explorers. Hayes skilfully uses maps by these explorers to demonstrate how geographical knowledge has been both curtailed and advanced as a result of these expeditions. In 1818, Ross and Parry sailed south along Ellesmere Island eventually reaching Lancaster Sound. Ross decided that the Sound was just another inlet and sent a letter to the Admiralty stating his crew had arrived home: 'after fully ascertaining that no passage exists from the Atlantic to the Pacific Oceans through Davis Strait and Baffin Bay which were found to be bounded by land extending to the North as far as the 84th Degree, in Latitude 74 degrees north, and generally surrounded by a Chain of Mountains' (p. 61). Ross's blunder (Lancaster Sound is the true eastern entrance to the Northwest Passage) resulted in a further voyage (conspicuously without Ross) lead by Parry. Parry and his crew discovered the coasts of islands now known collectively as the Parry Islands (Cornwallis, Bathurst, Byam, Martin and Melville Islands).

The Historical Atlas of the Arctic demonstrates how Arctic expeditions have been launched as a means of expanding and securing territory. Certainly, early voyages sought riches and extended trade routes, as later visionaries wanted to venture north just to be the first or to advance knowledge. Yet, the desire of many nations to lay claim to the Arctic region has remained unrelenting over time as depicted in this volume. This, then, is the underlying message of the book. The Arctic must be conquered and control must be maintained. Sponsored and funded by their own governments, past explorers have attained the North Pole and discovered the Northwest Passage. Today, many Arctic explorers focus on mapping the ocean and attaining diverse polar records. However, ongoing research is still shedding light on past expeditions. For example, Beaudoin and Auger's recent work on the massive gold strike supposedly made by Martin Frobisher between 1576 and 1578, prompting increased European forays to the Arctic, has proven the gold strike to be a hoax and showed how Frobisher was duped by London assayers.

Although Derek Hayes has done an excellent job with his topic, he has chosen to focus on polar exploration with an emphasis on the role of the Great White Explorer. Polar exploration has long been upheld as a noble endeavour with figures such as Shackleton, Scott (known as Antarctic explorers), Byrd and Amundsen, attaining near mythic status. In the Introduction, Hayes notes the involvement of Indigenous peoples in most Arctic expeditions but fails to address their significant contributions. Hayes chooses to adopt the traditional approach evident in most polar literature of minimising the contributions of Indigenous peoples. Admittedly, scholars must be scrupulous in searching primary literature to determine the extent of this involvement. However, Hayes seems to have made no attempt to do so. Additionally, he could have adopted an innovative approach in accessing oral records, as oral histories of later expeditions are still in evidence in various Arctic communities. Given the propensity of many male explorers to co-habit with local women and father children, it is likely that descendants of these family members could provide further valuable information. Of course, the flagrant failure of European and American explorers to acknowledge and credit the contributions of Indigenous peoples (an error compounded by author Hayes) is also extended to Black American expedition members such as Matthew Henson.

Overall, scholars and laypersons alike will enjoy Hayes' exhaustive compilation of historical maps. An accessible text broadens the appeal of the book but ultimately, it is those who are either captured by the allure of the North or those who will happily pour over a map for hours who will find this volume of greatest interest. Its conservative approach and inability to document the contributions of Indigenous peoples (and other non-Great White Explorers) to polar exploration detracts from its effectiveness as a definitive historical atlas of the Arctic.


BEAUDOIN, G., AND AUGER, R. 2004 'Implications of the mineralogy and chemical composition of lead beads from Frobisher's assay site, Kodlunarn Island, Canada: Prelude to Bre-x?' Canadian Journal of Earth Sciences 41(1), 669-681


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Author:Kafarowski, Joanna
Publication:The Canadian Geographer
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jun 22, 2005
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