Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Update on ProCom's Northern Search

Many thanks to Michael Wing for sending along an update on ProCom Marine's application for a survey to test their remote sensing equipment. Readers of this blog will recall that such testing was given as reason for their presence in Larsen Sound off the northwest coast of King William Island last summer, at a time when there were intimations that an unauthorized search for Franklin's ships might have been contemplated.

As CBC news notes, "ProCom's latest proposal does not mention Franklin's ships, but the company ran into trouble with the Nunavut government when it tried to look for the lost ships last fall without the necessary permits." Personally, I do wish that they had been simple and direct, if indeed a search for these ships was contemplated, as the apparent response from the Nunavut Department of Culture, Language, Elders and Youth -- asking them to relocate such tests elsewhere -- would negate their value in terms of the Franklin search. Such searches risk becoming a sort of local political football (or should I say, hockey puck) if they cannot state their real reason for being. While I have the very highest degree of respect for the Inuit of this region, having met and spent some time among them, I can't see how throwing hurdle after hurdle in the way of searchers benefits anyone. Some sort of partnership and cooperation between the communities in Taloyoak and Gjoa Haven and ProCom or other searchers seems very much to the mutual advantage of both, and I very earnestly hope that this will prove to be the ultimate solution.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

The Voyage of the Karluk

Every so often, I have the good fortune to stumble along an online article or reference that really takes advantage of the Internet as a medium. This was exactly the case with the new Wikipedia entry on the Voyage of the Karluk. A few months ago, I noticed that there was an "at work" tag on the article, and that some energetic person known to me only as Brianboulton (I assume that this is his real name, but it hardly matters) was doing the heavy lifting of taking a lowly "stub" article through to "Feature Article," Wikipedia's highest rating. The author clearly knew a thing or two about the sea and ships, and took advantage of the fact that many of the sources made available via Google Books, such as Bob Bartlett's own account of the Karluk, were out of copyright. More impressively, he was able to get illustrations as well as footnotes from this same source, while at the same time dextrously citing more recent books, and carefully footnoting along the way. It's the kind of burst of energy that refreshes one's faith in the largely anonymous, "crowdsourcing" model of such reference works.

As someone who has contributed to Wikipedia and other online reference projects (such as Citizendium), I crossed my fingers that this entry would pass through, and survive, the Scylla of copyright nigglers and the Charybdis of endless editorial tweaking -- and lo! -- it did. So, while the actual HMCS "Karluk" went down to an icy grave, the article sails boldly through its subject, providing a balanced and informative reference entry where before there was only a dark corner with a few half-hearted scraps mingling with rumors and undocumented sources. It's now a feature article, and may someday soon be right there on the Mainpage! Check it out, and if you have a mind, it's not hard to find am unoccupied corner of that vastest and most perilous region of all -- free online reference works -- where you can ply your pen.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Wamsley Lecture on Isaac Hayes at the Explorer's Club

I feel certain that readers of this blog will be interested to learn that my good friend Doug Wamsley will be lecturing on the Arctic explorer Isaac Israel Hayes at the New York Explorer's Club this February 22nd. Hayes was for many years a neglected figure, despite the fact that his career -- which stretched from the Second Grinnell Expedition under Dr. Elisha Kent Kane through to the pictorial Arctic voyages of the American Painter William Bradford in the 1870's -- was one of the most remarkable of his era. Now, thanks to Doug, that neglect is no more: his book Polar Hayes: the Life and Contributions of Dr. Isaac Israel Hayes (American Philosophical Society Press) gives a comprehensive look at Hayes's career, including his notable service in charge of the largest field hospital of the Civil War, which treated many of the injured from the Battle of Gettysburg.

Wamsley's talk will bring into vivid focus the life of a remarkable but often forgotten explorer, writer, politician and humanitarian who epitomized the rugged and restless spirit of adventure and individualism of nineteenth-century America. Tickets to this extraordinary event are $20 ($5 for students), and reservations are highly recommended; call 212-628-8383, Fax 212-628-4449, or email reservations@explorers.org.