“The Traveling Rocks”
This essay, a chapter of my dissertation, follows a specific set of geological specimens gathered by British and New Zealand geologists during the Commonwealth Trans-Antarctic Expedition (TAE; 1956-58) in the Ross and Falkland Island Dependencies. I argue that these specimens provide a lens into several different issues in Antarctic science and exploration including gender, colonialism, non-human agency, and debates in earth sciences. First, while the TAE is often characterized as not having truly scientific goals, several papers were published regarding these specimens, both by the men who gathered them, but also by geologists around the world. The extreme conditions and the publicity surrounding the TAE speaks to ideals of masculinity in polar research. But additionally, two women wrote papers using these specimens, showing how the narrative of masculinity often erases women in science, but also how the mobility of specimens allowed women to participate in research in a part of the world where they would never travel. One of these women, Dr. Edna Plumstead, used these specimens to present a biogeographic argument for continental drift theory, at a time when this theory was dominated by paleomagnetism and oceanography. While in her possession, the rocks also began to ooze unexpectedly, demonstrating the instability of specimens removed from their native environment. Finally, once these specimens had been gathered and initially analyzed, they were an immediate source of conflict between the British Museum of Natural History and the New Zealand Geological Survey, both of whom desired their possession, revealing tensions in the relationship between scientists in Britain and those in their former colonies.
Bio: Daniella McCahey completed her PhD in History at the University of California, Irvine in June 2018, training in Modern European and World History, with specializations in Science and Technology Studies, Environmental History, and the British Empire. Her dissertation, “Extreme Environments and the Production of Scientific Knowledge: The History of Modern Science in Antarctica,” examines various aspects of the history of science in Antarctica in the 1950-60s, particularly surrounding the events of the International Geophysical Year (1957-8). She completed an MA in the History of Science from the University of Oklahoma in 2012, and a BA in Political Science from Northwestern University in 2009. In the 2018-19 school year, she will be working as a lecturer in the history of science at the University of Idaho.