Cornell’s Historic Glacial Images of Alaska and Greenland archive is a magnificent photographic assemblage of Arctic expeditions undertaken by Cornell faculty in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The majority of photographs document sweeping views of glaciers, their boundaries, and coordinates. Others portray explorers crossing the Arctic terrain by boat, foot, sled, and train, revealing the human effort involved in traversing the Arctic for scientific purposes. These expeditions sought to research the development and behavior of glaciers from a scientific perspective during a period in history when public interest in the Arctic surged. Today, the images in this archive have become a locus for interdisciplinary research.
Artstor’s Megan O’Hearn sat down with Cornell faculty members Matthew Pritchard, associate professor of geophysics, and Aaron Sachs, associate professor of history, to learn about their collaborative approaches to understanding and illustrating the process and impact of global warming using this incredible archive.
Meg O’Hearn: Can you give us a quick history of Cornell’s Historic Glacial Images of Alaska and Greenland archive?
Matthew Pritchard: The photographs are part of the Cornell archives and are particularly related to two Cornell faculty members. One is Ralph Stockman Tarr, who became a faculty member starting in 1892, and the other is one of his students who eventually became a faculty member, Oscar Von Engeln. The collection is an assemblage from different expeditions made by various Cornell faculty and students between 1896 and 1911. All those photographs were in the archives with the rest of the documents from these two people, but we weren’t aware of them until an Emeritus faculty in our department was cleaning his office and brought us a box of glass plates that had not been included in that collection.