Fridtjof Nansen collection

Scope and Content

The collection comprises of correspondence by Nansen regarding polar exploration in both the Arctic and Antarctic, including the development of motor sledges for polar travel.

Administrative / Biographical History

Fridtjof Nansen was born on 10 October 1861 at Store Froen, near Oslo. He studied zoology at the University of Christiania [Oslo] and made his first Arctic voyage in the sealer Viking to the East Coast of Greenland in 1882. Later in the year, he was appointed zoological curator at Bergen Museum, where he spent the next six years in intensive scientific study, gaining a doctorate in 1888. For some time, Nansen had considered a plan to cross Greenland from east to west by ski and man-hauled sledge, and in 1888, he led a six-man party on the Norwegian Trans-Greenland Expedition, 1888-1889. This was the first expedition to cross Greenland and the third to penetrate any great distance onto the ice cap. Nansen demonstrated that the ice cap extends in an unbroken sheet across Greenland in the region traversed and as a result, was able to conjecture that it did so at least as far as 75° North, and probably further. The sledges designed by Nansen for this journey remained the standard sledge design used by polar explorers for many decades.

On his return from Greenland, Nansen was appointed curator of the zoological collection at the University of Christiania, and began preparations for another scientific and exploratory foray to the Arctic. Nansen's plan was to force an ice-strengthened ship into the pack ice as far east as possible, off the coast of Siberia, and allow it to be frozen in, in the hope that he would be carried across the North Pole, or a point close to it. Setting out in Fram in the summer of 1893 on the Norwegian Exploring Expedition, 1893-1896, he sailed along the Siberian coast. Fram was frozen into the pack ice north of the New Siberian Islands, subsequently drifting in a north-westerly direction. Realising soon into the drift that the ship would not pass over the Pole, Nansen and one companion, Hjalmar Johansen, set out in March 1895 in an attempt to reach the Pole. They struggled north under great hardship, reaching 86° 13 minutes 6 seconds North, a new record farthest north. The expedition afforded ample proof of the soundness of Nansen's theories, confirming the drift of the ice and proving that the Eurasian side of the Arctic basin was a true, deep ocean.

On his return from the Arctic, Nansen held a research professorship in zoology at the University of Christiania, publishing six volumes of scientific observations on the expedition. He interrupted his research work in 1905 to urge the independence of Norway from Sweden, and after the dissolution of the Union, served as Norway's minister to Great Britain until 1908. Continuing his work in oceanic research, he was appointed professor of oceanography in 1908. In the next few years, he led several oceanographic expeditions into the Arctic, but during the First World War, became increasingly involved in international politics. For his work with the League of Nations and the Red Cross on behalf of prisoners of war, refugees and victims of famine, in 1922 he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Nansen never lost interest in polar affairs, becoming the founder and first president of the International Society for the Exploration of the Arctic by means of Aircraft (Aeroarctic). Although he never visited Antarctica, he strongly influenced southern polar exploration by his methodical approach to techniques of expedition camping, travelling and ship handling. He died in Norway on 13 May 1930.

Published work Farthest North, being the record of a voyage of exploration of the ship Fram, 1893-1896, and of a fifteen months' sleigh journey by Dr. Nansen and Lt. Johansen, with an appendix by Otto Sverdrup, Captain of the Fram by Fridtjof Nansen, Archibald Constable and Co. Westminster (1900) SPRI Library Shelf (3)91(08)[1893-1896 Nansen] Eskimo Life by Fridtjof Nansen, Longmans, Green and Co. London (1894) SPRI Library Shelf (38)39[Eskimo] The first crossing of Greenland by Fridtjof Nansen, Longmans, Green and Co. London (1893) SPRI Library Shelf (38)91(08)[1888-1889]


The correspondence is arranged alphabetically by recipient.

Access Information

By appointment.

Some materials deposited at the Institute are NOT owned by the Institute. In such cases the archivist will advise about any requirements imposed by the owner. These may include seeking permission to read, extended closure, or other specific conditions.


Anyone wishing to consult material should ensure they note the entire MS reference and the name of the originator.

The term holograph is used when the item is wholly in the handwriting of the author. The term autograph is used when the author has signed the item.

Descriptions compiled by N. Boneham, Assistant Archivist with assistance from R. Stancombe and reference to Arctic exploration and development c.500 BC to 1915, an encyclopaedia by Clive Anthony Holland, Garland Publishing Inc. New York (1994) and Encyclopaedia of Antarctica and the Southern Oceans ed. Bernard Stonehouse, John Wiley & Sons, Chichester (2002) ISBN 0471986658 SPRI Library (7) 'Fridtjof Nansen, Obituary' by Robert Neal Rudmose Brown in Geographical Journal (July 1930) volume 76 number 1 p92-95 SPRI Library Shelf Pam 92[Nansen] and 'Dr. Fridtjof Nansen, Obituary' by Hugh Robert Mill in Nature (June 1930) volume 125 number 3164 p933-934, p943-944 SPRI Library Shelf Pam 92[Nansen] and Nobel Peace Prize and Robert Keith Headland Antarctic Chronology, unpublished corrected revision of Chronological list of Antarctic expeditions and related historical events, (1 December 2001) Cambridge University Press (1989) ISBN 0521309034

Other Finding Aids

Clive Holland Manuscripts in the Scott Polar Research Institute, Cambridge, England - a catalogue, Garland Publishing New York and London (1982) ISBN 0824093941.

Additional finding aids are available at the Institute.

Conditions Governing Use

Copying material by photography, electrostat, or scanning device by readers is prohibited. The Institute may be able to provide copies of some documents on request for lodgement in publicly available repositories. This is subject to conservation requirements, copyright law, and payment of fees.

Copyright restrictions apply to most material. The copyright may lie outside the Institute and, if so, it is necessary for the reader to seek appropriate permission to consult, copy, or publish any such material. (The Institute does not seek this permission on behalf of readers). Written permission to publish material subject to the Institute's copyright must be obtained from the Director. Details of conditions and fees may be had from the Archivist.


Further accessions are possible.

Related Material

The Scott Polar Research Institute holds a number of photographs, film and other illustrative material in the Picture Library. This material includes the Fridtjof Nansen Arctic Expeditions Lantern Slide collection. The catalogue can be searched on line by going to the Picture Library Database and selecting the Enter Polar Pictures link.