9 Nov


I have just spent a productive week here. But I am always surprised at the number of people, even those living in Cambridge, who are unaware of this remarkable institute. I want to add my note of praise.

The Institute was founded in 1920 as a memorial to Robert Falcon Scott and the four men who died with him on the return from the South Pole in 1912. It is now the outstanding centre for polar research in the Arctic and Antarctic. The institution moved to its current home in 1932, when a Cambridge resident, writing about the inscription in the building (which ends videt Dei), reflected of the unexpected harmony between science and religion – the scientific advances made by the early explorers but also their faith – an issue still endlessly debated.

The centre scores on several levels: the museum (renovated in 2010), boast artefacts, paintings drawings, photographs and other material that relates to polar history, exploration and science. The exhibits emphasise not only polar exploration but also importantly, the significance of the poles in the world today. The artefacts are clearly labelled and the descriptions concise and informative. It is a popular venue for schools; I have hardly ever been there when there wasn’t a group of school children checking information, looking at the skis/boots sledges and giving the place a buzz. Some of the poignant objects displayed draw attention to the endurance of Polar explorers.I have seen people with tears in their eyes as they reflect on the endurance of the explorers.

The library (reference), covers a huge range of areas from the Arctic to the Antarctic – Canada Greenland, Russia, The Southern Ocean to name a few. The subjects covered are comprehensive: Anthropology, Meteorology, Sealing, Whaling, Zoology are listed amongst a myriad of subjects. There is a map collection

In addition the archive is truly immense. I understand it holds over 900.000 unpublished manuscripts relating to British polar history. The Picture Library also has a large collection of unpublished photographs. These can be viewed digitally.

There are postgraduate students, research associates and fellows. Research continues in Glaciology, Climate change, the Polar landscape and more. The Institute is a magnificent example of professional excellence.

Go there if you are in Cambridge!


  1. Kristoffer November 12, 2014 at 5:36 am #

    I have my own private comments about SPRI that I will email you about, but for now, just one correction: SPRI’s current building opened in November 1934, not 1932, as detailed in this Australian newspaper:

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