TRB Podcast: Polar Imprints: Book Historian Hester Blum at the University of Toronto

On November 17 as part of the Toronto Centre for the Book lecture series, and in Association with the Centre for the Study of the United States, Hester Blum (Penn State University) spoke on “Polar Imprints”:

Narratives of polar voyages enjoyed wide circulation in Anglo-American cultural and political spheres during the long nineteenth century. Yet the familiar travel accounts of adventurous voyage and their fictional counterparts were not the only forms of literary production generated by Arctic and Antarctic exploration. Many expeditions brought a surprising piece of equipment aboard ship: a printing press. With such presses, polar-voyaging sailors wrote and printed newspapers, broadsides, plays, and other reading matter beyond the Arctic and Antarctic Circles; these publications were produced almost exclusively for a reading audience comprised of the mission’s crew members.

“Polar Imprints” will examine the first printed polar newspapers. I am interested in what this drive toward what I call “extreme printing” tells us about the state of print culture and coterie publication in the nineteenth century Anglo-American world. While polar expeditions might have had nationalist aims, the gazettes produced on such missions kept their focus on the local and intimate, unlike the newspapers that Benedict Anderson has argued are coextensive with nationalist projects. My talk will be attentive to the rhetorical distance between mass-published voyage accounts and the coterie publications produced and circulated aboard ship. At a terrific remove from the usual spheres of literary circulation, communities of polar expedition members produced new works for exchange, debate, and provocation. Polar newspapers emerged as a joint product of the scientific and nationalist aims of expeditions, the manual labor performed by polar voyaging sailors, and the developing technologies of print and literary culture. “Polar Imprints” is attuned to the tension between the global ambitions of polar voyages, and the remarkably circumscribed conditions of their practice.

Hester Blum is an associate professor of English at Penn State University. She is the author of The View from the Masthead: Maritime Imagination and Antebellum American Sea Narratives (University of North Carolina Press, 2008), which won the John Gardner Maritime Research Award. She is also the editor of William Ray’s North African captivity narrative Horrors of Slavery, or, The American Tars in Tripoli (Rutgers University Press, 2008). A co-founder of C19: The Society of Nineteenth-Century Americanists, Blum is currently at work on a new project entitled “Arctic and Antarctic Circles: The Print Culture of Polar Exploration.”