Interesting and Pathetic Relics: The Franklin Expedition and British Museums

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Council, Maia Lauren
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Middle Tennessee State University
In 1845, a 129-man crew headed by Sir John Franklin disappeared in the Canadian Arctic while trying to discover and claim the Northwest Passage for Britain. In the aftermath of the Expedition’s disappearance and the recovery of its remnants by rescue parties, British communities reeling from the loss of so many men erected memorials and displayed “Franklin relics” in museums and at exhibitions. Today, museums’ interpretation of the lost Expedition, including the shipwrecks of its two vessels, is vastly enriched by the participation of the Inuit, whose oral histories about their encounters with Franklin’s men have taught us much of what we know today about the explorers’ fates. In this thesis, I discuss the Franklin Expedition and its interpretation in British museums, both historically and in the present, as well as the role of Inuit and indigenous epistemology in modern interpretation of the Franklin Expedition. This thesis was written during the COVID-19 pandemic, but I successfully completed it thanks to the abundance of resources online and the generosity of scholars willing to share their time and knowledge with me.
Arctic, Britain, Franklin Expedition, Inuit, Museums, Polar Exploration, History