Encarta Resurrected
January 30, 2012 5:55 AM   Subscribe

"We are weak, writing is difficult, but for my own sake I do not regret this journey..." -from the final three Diaries Of Robert Falcon Scott (p. 166/167) which are now available scanned, transcribed, and narrated in fully searchable form by the British Library.
    Other books in the collection include:
  • Leonardo Da Vinci's 500+ page Codex Arundel scanned in its entirety.
  • William Blake's Notebook with explanatory notes (text & narration).
  • Mozart's Musical Diary with explanatory notes (text & narration) and playable musical pieces.
  • The original Alice's Adventures Underground scanned, transcribed, and narrated.

To access the other books in the collection click "Menu" in the bottom left corner of the site.
posted by lemuring (19 comments total) 48 users marked this as a favorite
Your link seems to require a proprietary plugin. But apparently if you search yourself, you can choose to view it without that. For instance.
posted by DU at 6:02 AM on January 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

The proprietary plugin is Silverlight. Trust me, there's a world of a difference between having to click through a hundred hyperlinks, and using the Silverlight interface with it's slider for flipping through pages, buttons to Rotate, Zoom +-, bring up Annotation/Narration options, etc. It's well worth the minute or two it'll take to update/install Silverlight.
posted by lemuring at 6:28 AM on January 30, 2012

Last time I visited the British Library, the final entry in Scott's journal was being displayed. Although I had read the diaries as a kid, what struck me as I was standing there looking at the page with the final entry was that he wrote "last entry" as a postscript under his signature before writing his final words. That leaves little doubt as to what was going through his mind when he wrote it.
posted by three blind mice at 6:30 AM on January 30, 2012 [2 favorites]

It was a sad end because they were so close to their supply depot (11 miles IIRC) when a blizzard dashed all their hopes of making any progress. From the journal:
Thursday, March 22 and 23. -Blizzard bad as ever - Wilson and Bower unable to start - tomorrow last chance - no fuel and only one or two of food left - must be near the end. Have decided it shall be natural - we shall march for the depot with or without our effects and die in our tracks.
posted by lemuring at 6:43 AM on January 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

This is fantastic. I love the British Library One of my most treasured possessions was my British Library "card" (reader's pass) I got in graduate school. Every time I would go in to do research, I'd allow time to check out the exhibitions and I would practically drool. I am so glad the "magic of the internet" makes it possible for people to enjoy so much of it. I actually find myself wanting to tug random strangers to a computer and the BL's site and say, "Look! Look! This is awesome! Our world is awesome!" here ends the library geek confession
posted by pointystick at 7:00 AM on January 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

Amazing content, hampered by a pretty much unusable interface. If they make a plain text version with links for navigating available, I'd love to read it. There's a special circle in hell for those who design restaurant and museum exhibit websites.
posted by holycola at 7:13 AM on January 30, 2012 [2 favorites]

Are you accessing the website from a mobile device, holycola? I tried the interface on Windows/OSX+Firefox/Chrome and all of them seem to be working nicely.

It's actually quite a good interface. I currently have Mozart's Notebook open alongside one pop-up window for the text description and another to play his musical sketches as I read about them. I don't know, it looks and feels really cool; almost like I'm sitting down at a table browsing their collections, while my ears are plugged into one of those electronic museum guides.
posted by lemuring at 7:33 AM on January 30, 2012

I don't want to feel like I'm sitting down at a table holding a book, I want to feel like I'm using a goddamned modern website in the year 2012.
posted by Jairus at 7:52 AM on January 30, 2012 [2 favorites]

Nice - cheers for these.

I've a bit of a soft spot for the whole Antarctic exploration thing from the turn of the 20th Century.

It's a world filled with unbelievable acts of heroism and perseverance, but also bouts of avoidable (and sometimes fatal) stupidity.

Amundsen, Scott, Shackleton and others were all on the very cusp of a technological and scientific revolution that promised to change the world forever. In Scott's (and to a lesser extent Shackleton's) case their trust in this revolution was partly their undoing.

Scott's final expedition is also fascinating (to me at least) as a perfect example of forgotten knowledge - by 1908, for example, we'd forgotten what caused Scurvy and how to combat it.

I've always thought its a shame, though, that the tragic figure of Scott has generally dominated the western imagination more than Amundsen (who, ya know, did actually succeed) and Shackleton (who failed, but somehow against all odds managed to save his whole crew*). You can actually hear Shackleton speaking about the Antarticic here as well which is incredible. Practically no one has heard of Mawson these days either - whose Australasian expedition ends in a battle for survival that almost rivals Shackletons - imagine Scott's expedition but with one single survivor (Mawson himself).

To finish with a few of my favourite quotes:

"I thought, dear, that you would rather have a live ass than a dead lion."

-- Shackleton, in a letter to his wife, on turning back 100 miles short in 1909

"For a joint scientific and geographical piece of organisation, give me Scott; for a Winter Journey, Wilson; for a dash to the Pole and nothing else, Amundsen: and if I am in the devil of a hole and want to get out of it, give me Shackleton every time"

-- Apsley Cherry-Garrard (Antarctic Explorer in his autobiography)

*with the exception of the ship's cat. RIP Mr Chippy.
posted by garius at 7:58 AM on January 30, 2012 [2 favorites]

Cherry-Garrard's The Worst Journey in the World is fantastic. It also firmly steered me away from any desire to go to the South Pole. Someday, I'd like to visit the outskirts of the icy continent during the Antarctic summer, but I don't think I'd venture any further. One does not simply walk into Mordor...
posted by lemuring at 8:16 AM on January 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

Scott's final expedition is also fascinating (to me at least) as a perfect example of forgotten knowledge - by 1908, for example, we'd forgotten what caused Scurvy and how to combat it.

...and that dog's are more suited to pulling sledges in Antarctic conditions than snowshoe-wearing ponies.
posted by fairmettle at 8:32 AM on January 30, 2012

Yeah, I'd definitely second The Worst Journey in the World - it is brilliant. Apparently Mark Gatiss did a BBC4 Docu-drama of it a few years back as well, but I didn't see it so don't know if it was any good.
posted by garius at 8:35 AM on January 30, 2012

In Scott's (and to a lesser extent Shackleton's) case their trust in this revolution was partly their undoing.

How so? Scott's refusal to use dogs instead of ponies, and reluctance to make the crew really learn how to ski, always seemed to be to be much more about This Is How We Do Things In Britain, Not Like Those Foreigners Over There and not so much in trusting "new" technologies. Or maybe I'm misunderstanding you.
posted by rtha at 8:49 AM on January 30, 2012

I believe garius is referring to the 3 motor sledges the Scott expedition brought along. They were highly experimental and made specifically for the trip. They probably put a hefty dent in their overall budget too, but there were a number of other factors that led to the expedition's failure.
posted by lemuring at 9:01 AM on January 30, 2012

Oh, right - I'd forgotten about those. Thanks!
posted by rtha at 9:12 AM on January 30, 2012

As garius mentioned above: We forgot how to prevent scurvy! I highly recommend the article on this over at idle words. It's rather longer, but really well written (by the same author that MeFi liked previously).

I'll also take this opportunity to advocate for Evan Connell, my favorite essayist, who's The White Lantern has a great essay on antarctic explorers.
posted by benito.strauss at 9:24 AM on January 30, 2012

The Motor Sledges was foremost in my mind, yes, but also the general ethos of "LOOK AT WHAT WE'RE DOING FOR SCIENCE!" That tended to pervade both Scott's and Shackleton's efforts.

I guess it ties in with your point about the the "This is How We Do Things In Britain" syndrome - there was a lot of Xenaphobia-disguised-as-enlightenment going on at the time.

Various elements of both Scott's and Shackleton's efforts were overcomplicated by the inclusion of scientific objectives that were admirable in themselves, but which I've always felt perhaps resulted in both men failing to focus on some of the basics.

Both Scott and Shackleton would have happily admitted that all they really cared about was the race to the Pole, but they had to play the science and technology game. By contrast, Amundsen effectively just said "Fuck it. I'm going to be First over the North Pole!" Then when he heard that had been done just shrugged and decided he'd be first to the South Pole instead.

So whilst Scott was arsing around with Motorsleds and having to worry about how many kilos of rocks he was going to have to carry back for the geologists, Amundsen was focusing on more critical problems such as how you prevent the seals on all your fuel cannisters from shattering in the cold, or where's best for setting off from if you're going to treat it as a race not a scientific expedition.

Granted none of the above were mutually exclusive and there were plenty of other factors such as Scott's stupid resistence to using dogs effectively. But when you're dealing with as brutal an environment as the Antarctic, the smallest flaws in your plan can be your undoing.

TLDR version: Scott and Shack (or perhaps more importantly their backers) got swept up in the idea that everything had to achieve something sciencey, which helped overcomplicate their efforts. If you'd asked Armundsen why he was doing it, however, he'd have probably rocked a big shit-eating grin and said whatever the Norwegian is for "because it's there."

Even more TLDR version: Scope Creep doesn't just fuck your projects at work - it kills Polar Explorers.
posted by garius at 9:48 AM on January 30, 2012

That last page of Scott's diary - not the Message to the Public, which seems to have been written once he'd got into a rather stonier mental space - is just chilling. It reminds me of nothing so much as the book that Gandalf finds in the Mines of Moria - "we cannot get out. They are coming..."
posted by ZsigE at 12:41 PM on January 30, 2012

This summer, the diary was open to the "I am just going outside, and may be some time" entry. I was just sort of casually wandering the room, peering at the books without reading the tags, and read this before I knew what I was looking at.

I literally leaped back from the display case in shock, barely managing to keep myself from shouting out loud.
posted by mwhybark at 10:43 PM on January 30, 2012

« Older Wall Trampoline!   |   Will we ever know what caused the Salem Witch... Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments