Tainted bodies: scurvy, bad food and the reputation of the British National Antarctic Expedition, 1901–1904

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Abstract

This paper investigates scientific and public understandings of scurvy at the turn of the twentieth century in order to examine the cultural meanings attached to explorers' bodies. I analyse the medical and moral debates around outbreaks of scurvy on expeditions, the different and conflicting meanings attached to male explorers' bodies, and how these different understandings shaped the response to an outbreak of scurvy on the British National Antarctic Expedition (1901–1904). Scurvy, I demonstrate, could be rendered as an inevitable part of an explorer's heroic, masculine adventures, in narratives of suffering for science, or as a source of shame. How scurvy was represented depended, however, on where it occurred, what its causes were understood to be, and the motivations of those representing the scurvy outbreak on an expedition. More fundamentally, I suggest that these different representations of scurvy exposed underlying disagreements about the purpose of exploration and the relationship between suffering, heroism, science and national pride on British polar expeditions in the Edwardian era.

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Armston-Sheret, E. (2019). Tainted bodies: scurvy, bad food and the reputation of the British National Antarctic Expedition, 1901–1904. Journal of Historical Geography, 65, 19–28. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jhg.2019.05.006

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