University of Cambridge Museums

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I know what you did last Summer: Collections Care and Personal Histories

In 2014 Stephen Pates, University of Cambridge Earth Sciences graduate and Sedgwick Prize Winner, assisted with essential archive repackaging and listing work at the Sedgwick Museum.

He also conducted an Oral History Interview with Dr Peter Friend who had visited Spitsbergen on a number of occasions during the 1950s and 60s. Since the Oral History interview took place it is with great pleasure that we can announce Dr Friend has recently been awarded the Polar Medal, recognising his contribution of our knowledge of Polar Regions.

Here is Stephen’s story of his work last Summer:

A glint in his eye, Peter Friend tells me stories about his time as an Undergraduate at the University of Cambridge: cheeky students, eccentric academics… it seems that not a lot has really changed.

Peter is here because I am conducting an Oral History interview with him: remembering his time in Svalbard doing fieldwork with the University. Peter went on numerous expeditions during the 1950s and 1960s, indeed his PhD thesis is based on the work he did there.

The interview lasts around 45 minutes, with Peter giving a broad overview of the expeditions he was on: the planning, the fundraising, and the legacy of the work done in the Arctic. He also talks about Walter Brian Harland (1917-2003) – the driving force behind the Cambridge Spitsbergen Expeditions, and the founder of CASP (formerly the Cambridge Artic Shelf Programme).

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The oral history interview was just one part of my work on the Svalbard Archive Collection. My other tasks involved listing and repackaging correspondences, invoices, receipts, reports, and other records from the Cambridge Svalbard Exploration Collection, following on from work done by volunteer and an American Geology graduate Aislinn Hendrix.

My focus was the administrative & accounts series of the archive, where the major topics of much of the material were fundraising, finances, food, and equipment. In addition to negotiating sponsorship, wholesale prices and donations from major companies, what really comes across from the collection is how much Brian Harland cared about scientific collaboration, doing good science, keeping comprehensive records, and training young geoscientists in fieldwork.

As a geologist, I could see the inviting nature of the continuous outcrop and stunning scenery, as my final task involved describing slides from the expeditions. I understood even more why expeditions continued to go back, year after year, for over 50 years. Seeing the landscapes, campsites, boats, and beards added depth to the papers containing lists of equipment, food and logistics.

I was extremely lucky to be able to look at the history of these expeditions through the paper records, an oral history interview, and photographs. In addition I also learned about how to conduct an oral history interview, the perils of the Arctic, the finer points of microphone placement, the importance of good food (and chocolate) on expeditions, the sheer levels of planning that go into such expeditions and so much more.

The equipment used to conduct the Oral History interview with Dr Peter Friend was funded by Arts Council England, and is available to other University of Cambridge Museums. Please contact Sandra Freshney for more information.

Stephen Pates & Sandra Freshney, Archivist, Sedgwick Museum of Earth Sciences


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This entry was posted on February 26, 2015 by in Behind the Scenes, Culture, News, Research and tagged , , , .
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