Modern Expeditions

Expeditions to the deep sea and the ocean floor, to the poles and the stratosphere, to deserts and rainforests, to Himalayan glaciers and outer space combine spatial expansion and scientific questions. They produce images and narratives that show researchers and audiences the historical relationships between humans, civilization, and nature. Such travel ventures lead into spaces that are or seem inaccessible, undeveloped, dangerous, or unknown. However, these spaces are often inhabited, and travelers draw on the inhabitants’ knowledge and labor or turn them into objects of investigation themselves. Moreover, since the nineteenth century, expeditions have often been big science: It requires enormous technical, logistical, and financial efforts to bring researchers into remote and extreme environments to collect and process numerous data and pursue multiple multidisciplinary research questions. In some cases, scientific questions even take a back seat to demonstrations of technical feasibility. “Expedition” thus refers to a thoroughly organized, specialized, and often highly engineered enterprise with many participants and sometimes far-reaching political implications for the nineteenth and especially twentieth centuries. Rarely, however, are expeditions explicitly studied by historians. A large amount of historically researched expeditions is matched by a lack of historical synthesis and analysis. At this gap of understanding, our DFG-funded network comes in: In an international collaboration, we will develop new perspectives on the history of modern expeditions in four workshops starting in December 2021.