The News at the Ends of the Earth

The Print Culture of Polar Exploration

Book Pages: 328 Illustrations: 62 illustrations Published: April 2019

Author: Hester Blum

Cultural Studies > Ocean Studies, Environmental Studies, Literature and Literary Studies > Literary Criticism

From Sir John Franklin's doomed 1845 search for the Northwest Passage to early twentieth-century sprints to the South Pole, polar expeditions produced an extravagant archive of documents that are as varied as they are engaging. As the polar ice sheets melt, fragments of this archive are newly emergent. In The News at the Ends of the Earth Hester Blum examines the rich, offbeat collection of printed ephemera created by polar explorers. Ranging from ship newspapers and messages left in bottles to menus and playbills, polar writing reveals the seamen wrestling with questions of time, space, community, and the environment. Whether chronicling weather patterns or satirically reporting on penguin mischief, this writing provided expedition members with a set of practices to help them survive the perpetual darkness and harshness of polar winters. The extreme climates these explorers experienced is continuous with climate change today. Polar exploration writing, Blum contends, offers strategies for confronting and reckoning with the extreme environment of the present.


"The News at the Ends of the Earth is a fine-grained register of the ebb and flow of a printophilic century, from Ross to Shackleton. While mindful of the minor variations over the decades, Blum marvelously conveys that fantastic, phantasmatically preserved shipbound conversation, a dilated and heterogeneous house party." — John Plotz, Public Books

"An intricately layered, richly illustrated examination of shipboard newspapers (printed and handwritten), playbills, and other media produced by expeditions to the Antarctic and Arctic regions between 1818 and 1914. . . . The book speaks to the human imperative to communicate, even under extremely hostile conditions. . . . Essential. Upper-division undergraduates through faculty." — J. Bekken, Choice

"Superb. . . . As the Anthropocene continues to develop, Blum’s concern with the media and narratives we might use to represent the planet’s predicament is of interest not only to scholars of printing and the polar regions, but also to a general reader." — Nancy Campbell, TLS

"Blum’s book is a lively and enjoyable account of a fascinating historical period and its practices—but it is also vitally relevant for our current moment." — Carie Lyn Schneider, Edge Effects

“What Hester Blum describes here is the production of print culture for the sake of not going crazy, for the sake of remaining, in some recognizable and accountable sense, human. This is media production under extreme duress, which makes for a fascinating story and theoretical provocation. Founded on a thought-provoking and unique archive and busting with insight, The News at the Ends of the Earth is a terrific book.” — Stephanie LeMenager, author of Living Oil: Petroleum Culture in the American Century

“Using archives from Europe, Australia, and New Zealand as well as from North America, this pioneering work tells an unforgettable story about ship newspapers and other improvised media produced by sailors on Arctic and Antarctic expeditions. Informed by indigenous knowledge and bearing witness to the extreme conditions of the polar regions, this invaluable material sheds light on the extreme weather of the Anthropocene as much as on the print culture of the nineteenth century. Labor-intensive, detail-rich, and eye-opening.” — Wai Chee Dimock, Yale University


Availability: In stock
Price: $26.95
Fall 2019 Sale
Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Hester Blum is Associate Professor of English at Pennsylvania State University, author of The View from the Masthead: Maritime Imagination and Antebellum American Sea Narratives, and editor of Turns of Event: Nineteenth-Century American Literary Studies in Motion and Horrors of Slavery: Or, The American Tars in Tripoli.

Table of Contents Back to Top
List of Illustrations  vii
Chronology  xi
Preface: Books on Ice  xv
Acknowledgments  xxi
Introduction. Polar Ecomedia  1
1. Extreme Printing  43
2. Arctic News  91
3. Antarctic Imprints  138
4. Dead Letter Reckoning  177
5. Inuit Knowledge and Charles Francis Hall  209
Conclusion. Matters of Life and Death  231
Notes  237
Bibliography  273
Index  291
Sales/Territorial Rights: World

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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-1-4780-0387-8 / Cloth ISBN: 978-1-4780-0322-9
Publicity material

Funding Information

This title is freely available in an open access edition thanks to the TOME initiative and the generous support of the Pennsylvania State University. Learn more at the initiative's website.