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Visual & Literary Representation in Arctic Exploration – Eavan O’Dochartaigh

Project Title:
From Science to Sensation: 

A Study of Visual and Literary Representation in Arctic Exploration in the mid 19th century.


This project is funded by The Irish Research Council and the NUI Galway Hardiman Scholarship Scheme.

The disappearance of Sir John Franklin and his crew into the Canadian Arctic in 1845, after they failed to return from a voyage to discover the Northwest Passage, was the greatest mystery of its age. From 1847 to 1859, numerous expeditions, some consisting of several or more vessels, were dispatched to search for the missing crews. 
My PhD studies the art and associated travel writing of these search expeditions as a coherent unit of cultural history.


Key questions I wish to answer in this project are: How and why were scientific illustrations of the Arctic modified through the print and publishing industry for public consumption? To what degree was topographical accuracy sacrificed in the search for novel views? How do we attend to and understand the relationship of the imagery to the travel writing in journals and diaries? To what extent did imagery derived from Arctic expeditions influence professional artists from Ireland and elsewhere?

Central to my research is the compilation of a GIS database connecting original journal entries, sketches and watercolours to their original places of creation in the Arctic. The images and associated text, such as sledge diary entries, will be viewable on a series of georeferenced contemporary maps. The database will illustrate the temporal, spatial and aesthetic opening up of the Canadian archipelago and will be hugely useful both in the research for this project and for the research of future scholars.

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