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The ice as leitmotif of a life: Erich von Drygalski, writings and photographs

journal contribution
posted on 2023-05-20, 07:21 authored by Millar, P
Professional scientist-geographer Erich von Drygalski led the first German expedition to Antarctica in 1901–1903. The expedition saw itself as purely scientific, which turned out to be at odds with the expectations of Imperial Germany at the time. It was one of the first to use photography extensively and effectively to document and record scientific activities and to shape the public’s image of the work that was being done in this remote and unknown part of the world. Ice was the leitmotif of Drygalski’s life. He had prior experience in the Arctic, and the year spent in Antarctica confirmed his nuanced way of viewing the ice: on the one hand, and foremost, scholarly and objective, while still appreciating its aesthetic qualities; on the other, infused with feelings of human vulnerability. Using discourse analysis, this article examines Drygalski’s published work and photographs he chose to illustrate it, in order to investigate what the ice meant to him. In his writings, it was the scholarly, objective attitude which predominated and this may have contributed to the generally lacklustre reception of his Antarctic achievements. The photographs he chose to illustrate his published work, however, were many and varied, often capturing the awe-inspiring beauty of the ice and contributing to good sales of his narrative of the South Polar Expedition.


Publication title

Polar Record








Faculty of Education


Cambridge University Press

Place of publication

United Kingdom

Rights statement

Copyright 2019 Cambridge University Press

Repository Status

  • Restricted

Socio-economic Objectives

Expanding knowledge in history, heritage and archaeology; Expanding knowledge in human society