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In search of Antarctic memories - Antarctic Legacy Project

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Researchers compiling archive on South Africans in Antarctica and surroundings

Wanted: The anecdotes, stories, slides, diaries and photos of the construction workers, scientists, mariners, joiners, engineers and doctors who have been involved in South Africa’s research bases in Antarctica and on Gough and Marion Islands since the start of the previous century.

Dora Scott
CIB researcher Dora Scott with some of the albums to be scanned as part of the Antarctic Legacy electronic database - Photo By: Engela Duvenage

This request comes from Dora Scott, a researcher associated with the DST-NRF Centre of Excellence for Invasion Biology (CIB) at Stellenbosch University, who is behind the Antarctica Heritage Project.

Thanks to the project, which is funded by the National Research Foundation (NRF), an extensive electronic archive is being compiled that includes oral, visual and tangible memories of the hundreds of men and women who have worked in these cold regions over the years as part of, among others, the South African National Antarctic Programme (SANAP).

A complete database is also being compiled on the people and institutions involved and further sources of information so that social scientists and historians can more easily compile a more complete picture of South Africa’s involvement in the region.

Although South Africa does not claim territory in Antarctica, the country is one of the original signatories of the Antarctic Treaty in 1959. Furthermore, South Africans have been involved in research in Antarctica and on the Prince Edward Islands and Gough Island for more than 60 years, since the Marion and Prince Edward Islands in the Southern Ocean were annexed by South Africa in 1948.

These areas have been valuable outdoors classrooms for many of South Africa’s most authoritative researchers over the years, and many leading scientific publications have been published as a result. Thus scientists and postgraduate students of the CIB, where Scott is based, count among the scientists from different South African universities and institutions who have raised their research standing in regular visits to the areas.

“South Africa truly is an ‘Antarctic nation’, but despite our extensive period of involvement in the region there still is a shortage of available and easily accessible information,” says Scott.

“The same sources, articles and books are used over and over when any writing is done on the history, heritage and geopolitical aspects, and it is time for these sources of information to be supplemented and updated so that more comprehensive information is available,” says Scott. “Furthermore, there are very few records of the personal experiences of individuals in these inhospitable environments, particularly before 1985.”

“It is important that this heritage is preserved for the future,” adds this social scientist.

“Thanks to the Antarctica Club we have already made contact with a good number of the scientists, meteorologists and geologists who formed part of the various overwintering and research teams over the years,” continues Ms Scott in her office at Stellenbosch University, where she is surrounded by memorabilia such as photographs, bird eggs and thick protective clothing that has already been lent to her as part of the project.

“However, we are looking particularly for the stories about, among others, the people who helped with the building, logistics and maintenance of the various research bases, because without them it would not have been possible for the scientists to do their research work,” says Scott.

For media information:
Ms Dora Scott, Researcher: Antarctic Heritage Project of the DST-NRF Centre of Excellence for Invasion Biology, Stellenbosch University
+27 21 808 3234

New ReleaseDownload News Release (pdf)

Released by:
Engela Duvenage, Media: Faculty of Science, Stellenbosch University
(021) 808 2684 082 874 1291

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Last update on: September 17, 2010

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