In 1820, mariners from three nations simultaneously confirmed the presence of a major land mass – a land that had been imagined, theorized, and debated across cultures for more than two thousand years. On November 14, 2020, Mystic Seaport Museum will present the exhibition Discovering Antarctica, marking the 200th anniversary of the discovery of Antarctica with the first-ever exhibition to explore the full history of human contact and our engagement with the Earth’s most extreme environment.
Discovering Antarctica retraces how a continent devoid of indigenous human populations became a human realm through individual and collective stories of exploration, science, and occupation. The exhibition will present Antarctica’s history around a central hub of interactive tools and presentations that illustrate the continent’s geological history, physical geography, and biological diversity. Visitors will select their own trajectory through the exhibition, focusing on their own centers of interest while gaining a better understanding of how these various aspects fit into a wider whole.
The exhibition will explore many aspect of human history, including early sealing and discovery in the “Heroic Era,” inland and aerial exploration, colonization and geopolitics, scientific collaboration, and climate change. It will also examine Antarctica’s place in our collective imagination over the course of the last 200 years.
More than 200 loaned artifacts, manuscripts, images, historical and contemporary equipment, vehicles, specimens, instruments, paintings, film clips, media cuttings, and other artifacts will illustrate the exhibition themes. Specific items will include archaeological finds such as pipes and candles; accounts, maps, and documents from the original three voyages; seal fur clothing; artifacts associated with the Byrd Expeditions, including geological specimens and Byrd’s sun compass; and clothing and sledges used in adventure/endurance tourism.
Through interactives, media, incredible stories, and rare artifacts, Discovering Antarctica will help visitors understand human impacts on the continent. What is this land? What are its mysteries? How do people live and work there? What can we learn from studying Antarctica today? And what does it tell us about our future? These guiding questions will help frame the continent’s history as well as its unfolding narrative of climate change.