version 2022-01-12Readings may be adjusted as we go; the online version of the syllabus supersedes any saved/printed copy

HPS 1621—Spring 2022—The Science of Polar Exploration (Science in the Field)

Instructor: Colin Allen, Professor <>
Dept. of History & Philosophy of Science, University of Pittsburgh
Office: CL 1109H

We are starting in online-only mode; normal teaching is scheduled to resume after January 27
Class times and locations: Mon/Wed 9:30-10:45, CL 116 and/or via Zoom (see link in Canvas)
Open consultation hours (no appointment necessary): Wed 11:00-12:00 and Fri 1:30-2:30
Email me for appointments at other times.

Course Description [Jump to Readings]

Scientific instruments left in Scott's hut

In this course we explore the history of polar exploration as it relates to the alleged scientific objectives of those missions. We will address questions such as whether science served predominantly as fig leaf for individual, corporate, and imperialistic adventurism, and to what extent the science conducted on these missions was of immediate or lasting value for a variety of scientific disciplines, including cartography, geology, meteorology and climatology, biology, human physiology, and anthropology. Philosophical issues arising in this context include: the enduring question of what counts as “good” science, and how this notion must be relativized to time, place, and topic; the role that career concerns played in the decisions of individual scientists about joining such expeditions; and the irreplaceability of field science despite the centrality of laboratory experimentation to accounts of scientific research. We will also consider the historiography of the frequently gendered narratives about the “heroic age” of polar exploration and the contrast between Arctic and Antarctic exploration where the former must confront Eurocentric narratives of “discovery” with fact that people were already there.

Course Objectives

By the end of the course you should have learned about various different ways of writing historically about the science of polar exploration, you should have developed an understanding of the different ways that historians and philosophers investigate questions about science, and what's meant by integrative “&HPS” approaches to the History & Philosophy of Science. You will develop a presentation about some individual, episode, artifact or institution in the history of scientific exploration of the polar regions of Earth.

Consultation Hours

Make use of consultation hours! I enjoy talking about these issues, and you should not feel embarrassed if there's something you don't understand. There are no "stupid" questions, just questions and ideas that are sometimes hard to put into words, and that are best worked out in dialogue with others.

Course Format, Assessments, and Attendance

The course will be run "flipped style" meaning that you should have completed readings ahead of class, come with questions, and expect to collaboratively work on answers to those questions.

Your grade will be based on three elements, equally weighted, in a "hybrid contract" approach using a point system as shown in this CONTRACT TEMPLATE. Two thirds of your grade is based on effort (partly in class, partly outside), and one-third on my assessment of the quality of your final project. See the template for details. The initial contract must be signed by February 11.

We will follow all University guidelines for COVID mitigation (see Health & Safety Statement at end of syllabus), and we begin the semester in online (Zoom) mode. I will try to remember to record lectures, but don't always remember to start the recording. Feel free to remind me at the beginning of class.

  • For predictable absences e.g., due to university activities such as student-athletic events, field trips in other classes, etc., or for religious observances, you should talk to me at least two weeks prior to the absence to make alternative arrangements.
  • For emergencies such as illnesses, or deaths in the family, please let me know as soon as possible. In some circumstances you may be asked to provided written documentation.

Readings and Reading Schedule

There are no required books for this class. All readings will be made available electronically.

Reading Schedule

The total number of assigned pages is just over 400, but they are not evenly distributed, so look ahead and plan accordingly! The genres vary from lighter ("trade nonfiction") to academic (scholarly chapter or article). You are strongly encouraged to read ahead because there are recurring themes that will be useful for classroom discussions and your individual projects.

Please email me at <> if any of the links do not work.

Week By Topic Reading(s) ~Pace
1.WED 1/12 Worst Journey: Penguins and Cold Selections from Cherry-Garrard, A. (2013). The Worst Journey in the World: Antarctica, 1910-1913.
Read at least pages 1-6 AND from the middle of p.44 through the Appendix (last three and a half pages). (If you can resist reading the pages in between, however, you might be in the wrong course!!)
(Canvas link)
2. WED 1/19 Two Poles Read these two chapters from Routledge Handbook of the Polar Regions [total 25 pages]
• McCannon, J. (2018). Exploring and mapping the Arctic: Histories of discovery and knowledge (pp. 19-33).
(Canvas Link)
• Rack, U. (2018). Exploring and mapping the Antarctic: Histories of discovery and knowledge (pp. 34–44).
(Canvas Link)
3.MON 1/31 Early Explorations Chapters 1 and 2 of Fogg, G. E. (1992). A History of Antarctic Science. Cambridge University Press. (54 pages)
( Canvas link )
4.MON 2/7 Ship as Instrument Sorrenson, R. (2018). The ship as a scientific instrument in the eighteenth century. In Science, Empire and the European Exploration of the Pacific (pp. 123–138). Routledge.
(Canvas Link)
5.MON 2/14 The U.S. Ex. Ex. Stanton, W. (1975). The Great United States Exploring Expedition of 1838-1842. University of California Press. Read Chapter 2 "Symmes' Hole" (pp.8-40)
(Canvas Link)
6. MON 2/21 First International Polar Year Tammiksaar, E., Sukhova, N. G., & Lüdecke, C. (2010). The International Polar Year 1882–1883. In S. Barr & C. Luedecke (Eds.), The History of the International Polar Years (IPYs) (pp. 7–33). Springer Berlin Heidelberg.
(Canvas Link)
7.MON 2/28 Exploration [as?] Science? Heggie, V. (2014). Why isn’t exploration a science? Isis 105(2), 318–334.
(Canvas Link)
MON 3/13 - FRI 3/17 — SPRING BREAK — Read ahead! 175/240
8.MON 3/14 Greenland & Greenlanders Gertner, J. (2019). The Ice at the End of the World: An Epic Journey into Greenland’s Buried Past and Our Perilous Future. Random House Publishing Group. Read chapters 1-6 (pp. 1-98) Heaviest reading load!!
( Canvas link )
9. MON 3/21 Pemmican plus Selection from Heggie, V. (2019). Higher and Colder. University of Chicago Press. Read pages 87-95. [Note -- the scanned selection goes beyond p. 95 but not all the way to the end of the chapter.]
( Canvas link )
10 MON 3/28 Madness on Ice Sancton, J. (2022). Madhouse at the end of the earth: The Belgica’s journey into the dark antarctic night. W H Allen. Read Chapter 12 (16 pages)
(Canvas link)
11 MON 4/04 Changing Plans Amundsen, R. The South Pole. Chapter 2 "Plan and Preparation" (19 pages)
(Canvas link)
12 MON 4/11 Frozen Ghosts McCorristine, S. (2018). The Spectral Arctic: A History of dreams and ghosts in polar exploration. UCL Press. Read Intro (18 pages), Chapter 1 (32 pages) and Chapter 5 (32 pages). (Total 82 pages)
(Open access at
13 MON 4/18, WED 4/20 Student Presentations No readings
TBA/FINAL Student Presentations (if necessary) No readings

Everything below is not specific to this course, but required/recommended for all Pitt syllabi.

Statement about Academic Misconduct

Students in this course will be expected to comply with the University of Pittsburgh’s Policy on Academic Integrity. Any student suspected of violating this obligation for any reason during the semester will be required to participate in the procedural process as outlined in the University Guidelines on Academic Integrity. When you submit assignments with your name on them in this course, you are signifying that the work contained therein is all yours, unless otherwise cited or referenced. Any ideas or materials taken from another source for either written or oral use must be fully acknowledged. If you are unsure about the expectations for completing an assignment or taking a test or exam, be sure to seek clarification beforehand.

To learn more about Academic Integrity, visit the Academic Integrity Guide for an overview of the topic. For hands-on practice, complete the tutorial on Understanding and Avoiding Plagiarism.

Diversity and Inclusion

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is a federal anti-discrimination statute that provides comprehensive civil rights protection for persons with disabilities. Among other things, this legislation requires that all students with disabilities be guaranteed a learning environment that provides for reasonable accommodation of their disabilities. If you have a disability for which you are or may be requesting an accommodation, you are encouraged to contact both your instructor and Disability Resources and Services (DRS), 140 William Pitt Union, 412-648-7890,, 412-228-5347 for P3 ASL users, as early as possible in the term. DRS will verify your disability and determine reasonable accommodations for this course.

The University of Pittsburgh does not tolerate any form of discrimination, harassment, or retaliation based on disability, race, color, religion, national origin, ancestry, genetic information, marital status, familial status, sex, age, sexual orientation, veteran status or gender identity or other factors as stated in the University’s Title IX policy. The University is committed to taking prompt action to end a hostile environment that interferes with the University’s mission. For more information about policies, procedures, and practices, see Pitt's Civil Rights & Title IX Compliance pages.

I ask that everyone in the class strive to help ensure that other members of this class can learn in a supportive and respectful environment. If there are instances of the aforementioned issues, you may contact the Title IX Coordinator, by calling 412-648-7860, or e-mailing Reports can also be filed online: You may also choose to report this to a faculty/staff member; they may also be required to communicate about such issues to the University’s Office of Diversity and Inclusion. If you wish to maintain complete confidentiality, you may also contact the University Counseling Center 412-648-7930.

Statement on Classroom Recording

To ensure the free and open discussion of ideas, students may not record classroom lectures, discussion and/or activities without the advance written permission of the instructor, and any such recording properly approved in advance can be used solely for the student’s own private use.

At certain times, lectures or portions of the lectures may be recorded by the instructor. Before starting recording, it will be announced to the class. Students who do not wish to be identifiable during such recordings may remain silent and obscure their faces either by turning off their own video feed if connected via Zoom or obscuring their faces if in the classroom.

Copyright Notice

Materials provided for the course may be protected by copyright. United States copyright law, 17 USC section 101, et seq., in addition to University policy and procedures, prohibit unauthorized duplication or retransmission of course materials. See Library of Congress Copyright Office and the University Copyright Policy.

Health and Safety Statement

During this pandemic, it is extremely important that you abide by the public health regulations, the University of Pittsburgh’s health standards and guidelines, and Pitt’s Health Rules. These rules have been developed to protect the health and safety of all of us. Universal face covering is required in all classrooms and in every building on campus, without exceptions, regardless of vaccination status. This means you must wear a face covering that properly covers your nose and mouth when you are in the classroom. If you do not comply, you will be asked to leave class. It is your responsibility have the required face covering when entering a university building or classroom. For the most up-to-date information and guidance, please visit and check your Pitt email for updates before each class.

If you are required to isolate or quarantine, become sick, or are unable to come to class, contact me as soon as possible to discuss arrangements.