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Public Lecture Series with John Perkins

Peary, the North Pole, and the Power of Narrative

Admiral Robert E. Peary, an American naval engineer, spent 23 years in the High Arctic, three times longer than any other outsider in his day. He re-wrote the playbook on Polar travel, honing his tactics during two first-ever crossings of the northern Greenland Ice Cap, and then during four successive attempts at the Pole, all by dogsled rigged in the traditional manner of the Inughuit -- the isolated Inuit group living further north than any other humans on Earth.

Whereas -- as Peary himself demonstrated -- the Pole was situated in the midst of the Arctic Ocean, under a layer of constantly shifting pack ice, and therefore could not bear a permanent marker of an explorer's presence -- the north coast of Greenland, being solid land, could. Peary's numerous stone carins, complete with penned notes in bottles, found by modern explorers on the headlands of that coast exactly where Peary said he'd placed them, attest to the man's veracity.

Still more telling were the ocean depth soundings his team made, at great effort, on their way out. That is until at about a day's trip from the Pole, the sounding line parted and went to the bottom. Only in the days of nuclear submarines and sonar were these soundings confirmed and found to be accurate.

His two Ice Cap crossings were quite a bit longer than his Polar attempts, and required higher sustained speeds. For the latter -- near-suicidal dogsled sprints to and back over shifting ocean pack ice with absolutely no chance of rescue -- basic math will reveal that Peary and his companions averaged a mere marathon-per-day, not the 38 miles often quoted. Peary's rate, though remarkable, is nevertheless perfectly possible, as shown by subsequent explorers duplicating his route under similar circumstances, most recently the gifted British adventurer, Tom Avery, in 2004.

A fault of Peary was his unwillingness to play to the public. They took him as imperious and a poor sport, for his stony silence when he came home from the Pole, only to find that in his absence a publicity hound named F. A. Cook fabricated the claim that he had reached the Pole a full year before him. Cook, egged on by a sensationalist press, inflamed the public, casting himself as the daring loner going up against the deep-pocketed Peary machine. The public grew to mistrust them both, and its romance with the North was poisoned.

John Perkins will examine their relationship, and the coverage of their reputed endeavors, in coordination with evidence from more contemporary expeditions, to demystify their claims and shed light on the power of narrative and public discourse in shaping the perception of human accomplishments.

Date: Monday, November 13

Time: 6:00 pm Reception, 7:00 pm Lecture

Location: Club Headquarters, 46 E 70th Street, New York, NY, 10021

Member Ticket Price: $10

Guest Ticket Price: $25

Student Ticket Price: $5 with a valid academic ID at the door

Reservation Notes:

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