Northwest Passages: Authorship, Exploration, Disaster

Adriana Craciun
UC Riverside

Northwest Passages: Authorship, Exploration, Disaster departs from hagiographic histories of Arctic exploration by assembling a series of multidisciplinary texts concerning the Northwest Passage. Moving from late nineteenth-century exercises in mass media-created Arctic disasters, back to influential sixteenth-century texts, the book charts the often circular passages of Arctic voyagers en route to disaster. In addition to offering an original historical and discursive framework for understanding Arctic exploration, Northwest Passages contributes a new dimension to studies of authorship and print culture, by moving outside literary and legal contexts to also consider in mercantile and governmental domains the significance of textuality in distinguishing authors, explorers and disciplines. The Arctic archive that I explore in Northwest Passages traces the encounters of a wide range of peoples, institutions, and disciplines, inscribed in books, manuscripts, graffiti, relics, and maps, from First Nations agents, to forgotten naval captains driven mad by their failure, to naturalists and novelists contemplating similar Arctic mysteries through distinct intellectual lenses. I argue that developments in print culture significantly shaped the scramble for the Arctic: failed expeditions began to succeed in publishing terms, and Arctic exploration came to be driven less by discovery than by the lure of disaster.