Scott’s and Shackleton’s huts : Antarctic heritage and international relations.
Thesis DisciplineAntarctic Studies
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameDoctor of Philosophy
Three British wooden huts remain on Ross Island, Antarctica from Scott’s and Shackleton’s expeditions: the Nimrod Hut and the Terra Nova Hut were operational bases with accommodation, laboratories, darkrooms and used as workshops while Discovery Hut was a general purpose storeroom, workshop and shelter. In 1957, the New Zealand Government decided that it would retain and maintain the huts in situ as a geopolitical statement to the United States of America that New Zealand remained firm in its Antarctic territorial claim.
Throughout the Huts Project (1957 onwards) there have been two central issues. The first are the technical and financial challenges of retaining the huts (temporary wooden buildings) in their historical settings given that the Antarctic environment is one of the most hostile on the planet, and how they should be interpreted. Associated with this is a prevailing myth that items in the Polar Regions can remain frozen in a state of “timelessness”. This thesis argues that this misinformed the “Huts Project” in its early years (once removed from the ice, artefacts quickly began to decay) and that in the latest restoration many artefacts have been treated so as to reproduce their original appearance, removing the patina of age and compromising their authenticity. The second is how New Zealand has conducted its interrelationships regarding the huts with the United States of America and the United Kingdom. The United States is New Zealand’s strategic ally and provides logistical support for its Antarctic endeavours and whilst it respects the huts as being historic it does not accept that they could enhance a future Antarctic territorial claim by New Zealand. The United Kingdom retains a strong cultural interest in the huts and has diplomatically, morally and – to a limited extent – financially supported the Huts Project. The Huts Project has been successfully utilized in cultural diplomacy since its beginnings however, since 2000, two activities proposed by New Zealand related to the huts have not proceeded due to diplomatic concerns.
This thesis provides the cultural and historical background to New Zealand’s decision in 1957 to retain the huts and the subsequent external factors which influenced the project. A review of how the concept of “timelessness” was developed and deployed leads onto the substantive chapters about the heritage aspects of the project. The huts are then considered in the context of international relations and how they have been utilized and affected by diplomatic concerns. The thesis concludes by considering the possible futures of the huts, e.g. climate change, and areas for future research on Antarctic heritage and international relations.