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Arctic Collections 

Compiled by Adam Doskey (doskey@illinois.edu)

Updated October 2020

Primary Sources and Archival Collections
The majority of Arctic exploration-related works in the library are shelved under the call number 919.8 and many can be found in the Classic Catalog using the subject heading “Arctic regions, Discovery and exploration.” In addition to the general Arctic collections, four named collections of Arctic material are held by the RBML. The RBML also holds several rare Arctic newspaper titles.

The Palmer-Parry Collection
Charles Palmer (1792-1861) served as a midshipman on the Buchan expedition to the North Pole (1818), Parry’s first expedition (1819-1820) and Parry’s second expedition (1821-1823). Manuscript material relating to each of these expeditions is available in the archival collection with the shelf-mark Post-1650 MS 0435. Additionally, Palmer’s copy of the manuscript of The North Georgia Gazette and Winter Chronicle (Post-1650 MS 0334) and its printed edition (Q. 052 NG 1822) are cataloged separately. The Palmer-Parry Collection also includes four Inuit drawings, a manuscript Inuit-English dictionary, and a sketchbook by junior British naval officer Andrew Motz Skene (1797-1849).

The Sir John Richardson Collection
Sir John Richardson (1787-1865) served as a naturalist and surgeon on Franklin’s two overland expeditions (1819-1822, 1825-1827). Along with John Rae, Richardson led the first expedition in search of Sir John Franklin’s lost expedition (1848-1849). These expeditions are represented in print and manuscript materials purchased by the University of Illinois from Richardson’s heirs in 1963. The manuscript of Richardson’s journal of Franklin’s first overland expedition is cataloged under the shelfmark Post-1650 MS 0052. It was edited by C. Stuart Houston and published as Arctic Ordeal: The Journal of John Richardson, Surgeon-Naturalist with Franklin, 1820-1822. Kingston: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 1984. [Main Stacks and Undergraduate 919.8 B39j 1984 (circulating) & Rare Books 919.8 B39j 1984 (non-circulating)]. The manuscript account book detailing Richardson’s preparations for the first Franklin search is cataloged under the shelf-mark Post-1650 MS 0051 and is unpublished. A list of the 173 items contained in this manuscript can be found in Richardson’s biography: Johnson, Robert Eugene. Sir John Richardson: Arctic Explorer, Natural Historian, Naval Surgeon. London: Taylor and Francis, 1976. [Rare Books B.R5232j (non-circulating) & ACES B.R5232j (circulating)]. The printed works in the Sir John Richardson Collection can be found by doing an author search for “Richardson, John, Sir, 1787-1865”.

The Schwatka Arctic Library
Frederick Schwatka (1849-1892) was an Arctic explorer born in Galena, Illinois, who led a search for written documents of the lost Franklin Expedition in 1878-1879. He later explored Alaska. In 1924, his widow sold the University of Illinois the remains of his library, approximately 50 books. These books can be found by doing an author search for “Schwatka, Frederick, 1849-1892” or “Schwatka Arctic Library”. Schwatka’s collection focuses on the search for Franklin and other nineteenth century Anglo-American Arctic expeditions.

The Mercanton Polar Library
Paul-Louis Mercanton (1876-1963) was a Swiss glaciologist. His of polar exploration materials came to the University of Illinois in 1966. In addition to Anglo-American Polar narratives, the collection also contains works by European explorers such as Fridtjof Nansen, Jean Charcot, and Alfred Wegener. Many of the books are inscribed by their authors. These books can be found by doing an author search for “Mercanton, Paul-Louis, 1876-1963” or “Mercanton Polar Library”.

Arctic Newspapers in Collection

A Souvenir of the Late Polar Search by the Officers and Seamen of the Expedition. London: Colburn and Co., 1852. [Rare Books 919.8 Ar274]

Atuagagdliutit. Godthaab, Greenland, 1861-1910. [Rare Books IUQ04642]

The North Georgia Gazette and Winter Chronicle. Edited by Edward Sabine. 2nd ed. London: John Murray, 1822. [Rare Books Q. 052 NG 1822 and IUQ04644 (annotated with names of contributors)]

[A copy of the Winter Chronicle, or, New Georgia Gazette]. [Melville Island, Nunavut, 1819-1820]. [Rare Books Post-1650 MS 0334]

Secondary Literature
Reference Works:

Arctic Bibliography. Washington D.C.: United States Department of Defense, 1953-1975. 16 vols. [Main Stacks A.919.8AR2A cop.2 (circulating) & Oak Street A.919.8AR2A (circulating)]

Cooke, Alan and Clive Holland. The Exploration of Northern Canada, 500-1920: A Chronology. Toronto: Arctic History Press, 1978. [Main Stacks 971.011 C77e (circulating)]

Encyclopedia of the Arctic. Ed. by Mark Nuttall. New York: Routledge, 2005. [Reference Q.909.0913003 En19 cop.2 (non-circulating) & Undergraduate G606.E49 2005 (circulating)]

Inglis, Robin. Historical Dictionary of the Discovery and Exploration of the Northwest Coast of America. Lanham, Md: Scarecrow Press, 2008. [History Reference 979.5003 In45h (non-circulating)]

Stam, David H. and Deidre Corcoran Stam. Books on Ice: British and American Literature of Polar Exploration. New York: Grolier Club, 2005. [Rare Book Vault Reference 016.9198 St21b (non-circulating)]


Arctic. Calgary: Arctic Institute of North America, University of Calgary, 1948-. Full-text online access to past issues available here.

The Musk-Ox. Saskatoon: Institute for Northern Studies, University of Saskatchewan, 1967-1994. Library has volumes 1(1967)-37(1989). [Oak Street Q. 919.805 MU no.37 (circulating)]

The Polar Record. Cambridge, Eng.: Cambridge University Press, 1931-. Library has volumes 1 (1931)-20 (1980) in print; also available through UIUC Online Collection. [Main Stacks 919.805 PO (circulating)]