Cambridge Svalbard Exploration Collection

Scope and Content

The Svalbard Archive collection contains accounting records, administration files, expedition notes, and equipment records which all relate to work undertaken in Svalbard (Spitsbergen) from 1949 until 1992. Much of this material includes far more information than has been previously published about the expeditions or the work undertaken.

Most of the expedition records are organized on the twinlock system – and include administrative papers, logs of each party, bulletins, accounts, as well as specimen, station, negative, and photograph catalogues, and copies of field notes.

Individual field notebooks include diary entries, observations, details of specimens, and sketches. These were written and maintained by each individual and later amalgamated by Walter Brian Harland (1917-2003) after each expedition (and its subsequent research) was completed.

The collection also includes glass plate photographs, miscellaneous tapes, photograph albums, offprints of articles, maps and plans, index cards & notes (specimen catalogues), curation reports (1990s), and some objects. There are also a series of records (reports) of the Norsk-Cambridge Svalbard Expeditions (NCSE) and Cambridge Archive Shelf Programme (CASP).

Administrative / Biographical History

The Cambridge Svalbard Exploration Collection documents many decades of scientific work undertaken by (mostly) Cambridge researchers from 1938 until the early 1990s. These were mostly led by Walter Brian Harland (1917-2003), who also became the collator of the materials collected in Spitsbergen. The documentary archive complements the physical collection of geological specimens collected during those expeditions.

Svalbard is located in the north-western corner of the Barents Shelf 650km north of Norway, and is named after the Dutch Captain, Barents, who is credited with the modern discovery of the islands in 1596 and after whom the Barents Sea is named.

A treaty in 1925 (when Norway assumed administrative responsibility) gave Spitsbergen as the name for the archipelago. The main island had previously been known as West Spitsbergen. The term excluded the outlying islands (Storoya, Kong Karls Lane, Hopen Island (Hope island) and Bjornoya (Bear island). After another revision, Spitsbergen now refers only to the main island, and excludes Nordaustlandet (North East Land), Barentsoya, Edgeoya, and Prins Karls Forland. The name Svalbard was formally introduced by A.K Orvin in Place Names of Svalbard (1942), by the Norsk Polarinstitutt (NP), and all official names have been Norwegianized since then.

Svalbards long record of geological history provides essential evidence for all theories of Arctic evolution. The rock successions span the Phanerozoic and extend well back into the esoproterozoic; fragments of Palaeoproterozoic and even Archaean 'basement' provide glimpses of an even older history.

Most of the expeditions (approx. 28) were directed by Harland, a Cambridge graduate, who wrote extensively on the area and was himself a demonstrator, lecturer and reader in the Department of Geology (which would later become the Department of Earth Sciences). Harland established the Cambridge Arctic Shelf Programme (CASP) in 1975 as a scientific research company and charity that would foster Anglo-Norwegian (and broader international) scientific co-operation. CASP continues today as a very active scientific research company with charitable status.

According to Brian Harland the expeditions underwent a major change in the early 1960s. Up until then, they had been organized on a "largely ad-hoc basis, with poor finance and limited objectives- each one was often the last. After 1960 the opportunity for exploring wider areas came with grants from Government Research funds and the oil industry". [Report NCSE R34.4].

The Svalbard geological expeditions averaged about 9 members divided into 3 person project parties, each led by a graduate (research) geologist with (mainly) undergraduate geologist assistants. Of the persons participating 87 were graduate geologists including staff research assistants and 28 research students. From this work there were at least 250 geological publications.

The specimen collection is comprehensive including igneous and metamorphic rocks as well as structural, geochemical, geophysical and subsurface samples. Fossils were collected during the expeditions along with the rock not only for taxonomy but for their environmental significance and tectonic importance.

Summaries of each expedition were usually published in the Polar Record Journal. [copies available].


Brian Harland explained in 1940 that: "…it is of paramount importance to follow an efficient system which leaves nothing to memory and lacks nothing in convenience for recording and reference" (Ref; E9, pt 2). Records were therefore given great importance on each expedition, and there is reference to them in many bulletins provided each year. The records have been arranged by Brian Harland into different themes (expedition, equipment, maps, reports, etc). The contents of most files (especially the expedition records in ledgers) are in good order, usually chronologically. Indeed Harland noted in a memorandum (1992) that 'Field records and associated catalogues and reports are arranged by season' (CASPDOC.116).

All the files are therefore arranged chronologically [wherever possible] within each series and sub-series. The collection has been provisionally arranged into 6 series to reflect the activities and records created and maintained.

CSEC 1 Account/Administration Files (A)

CSEC 2 Expedition Files (E)

CSEC 3 Equipment Files (EQ)

CSEC 5 Maps (M), plans and stratigraphic sections

CSEC 6 Reports (R) and publications

CSEC 7 Specimen Catalogues

Access Information

The papers are open for consultation by researchers using Sedgwick Museum of Earth Sciences. However, as the papers have not been appraised, there may be some closures.

The Geological Conservation Unit [Brighton Building] is open from Monday to Friday, 10:00-13:00 and 14:00-17:00. A prior appointment made at least two weeks in advance, and two forms of identification are required.

Acquisition Information

The records have been amalgamated and arranged by Walter Brian Harland (1917-2003), who led many of the geological expeditions and went onto to establish the Cambridge Arctic Shelf Programme (CASP) in Cambridge.

Other Finding Aids

A spreadsheet is available listing the contents of the collection. The expedition, equipment, and administration/finance files have been listed in some detail, but hierarchical arrangement is still to be undertaken.

Basic listing and re-packaging work will continue by volunteers in 2014 until a Permanent Archivist is in post to oversee the continuation of this project.

Lists of those who took part in each expedition, each year, are available as are lists of the "letters" used to identify individuals notebooks/specimens/localities.

Physical Characteristics and/or Technical Requirements

Some map diagram records (Ref CSEC 2) in the collection are very fragile (on a type of tracing paper, possibly Ethulon) and are not accessible. They are currently being digitised by a museum volunteer, Cherry Booth, please ask staff for more information.

Archivist's Note

Project Archivist, Sandra Marsh, was employed (with funds from the Isaac Newton Trust, Trinity College) April 2013-December 2013 to complete a basic inventory, re-box records, and appraise and arrange some material. She was assisted by Aislinn Hendrix, Cherry Booth, Janet Bayliss, Deborah Rohan, and Henri Hill.

This collection level description was created by Sandra Marsh in September 2013 using information from the papers themselves, Walter Brian Harland's entry in Who Was Who (A and C Black, 1997) the Dictionary of National Biography, and "The Geology of Svalbard" by W.Brian Harland, 1997.

Conditions Governing Use

Photocopies, photographs, and printouts from scanned images may be provided. Charges may apply. Readers may also use their own digital cameras subject to copyright legislation and in-house rules.

Researchers wishing to publish excerpts from the papers must obtain prior permission from the copyright holders and should seek advice from Sedgwick Museum Staff.

Please cite as Sedgwick Museum of Earth Sciences, The Cambridge Svalbard Expedition Collection, CSEC

Appraisal Information

The collection is still to be appraised.

Custodial History

The Cambridge Svalbard Exploration Collection (both documentary and specimen) was accumulated from successive Cambridge Spitsbergen Expeditions (CSE) latterly renamed Cambridge Svalbard Exploration (CSEX) when the activity became a division of the Cambridge Arctic Shelf Programme (CASP). CSE operated from 1948 until 1975 (except 1950) and continued under the CASP umbrella until 1992.

In 1953 Brian explained that "From a scientific point of view it is the records which matter…." . He went onto say that "We have now found it necessary to claim both original field book and copied notes here for continued research. The expedition records are available here for continued research and although in publication acknowledgement is made of the part each has played, there is a pooling of permanent value to anyone who wishes to refer to them" (ref E49, 1953).

In return for services provided by the Department of Earth Sciences, they had the right to all specimens collected on each expedition. Originally the seasons collection in one project was assembled for research in the individuals room and then incorporated into the collection at the conclusion of that (eg. PhD) project.

The growing collection was difficult to house, and was relocated a number of times, from the Sedgwick Museum to the Dixon temporary building (now McDonald Archaeological Building), then to the Oppenheimer Building which became the British Antarctic Survey (BAS). The last main move was to the Cambridge Research Laboratories in 1992, with the assistance of Professor Oxburgh [Ernest Ronald Oxburgh], who was head of the Department of Earth Sciences, University of Cambridge 1980-1988.

The specimens (numbering some 60,000 rocks, fossils and geological cores) are in rows of connected portacabins, and the documentary records were housed in a separate office. The archives consisted of 53 metres of open shelving documents (in box files), 16 filing cabinets, 28 map drawers, and 50 boxes of small index cards.

The archive records were transferred from these buildings to the Sedgwick Museums' Geological Conservation Unit [Madingley Road, Cambridge] in December 2012, where they are now stored. The specimens are still to be relocated (as of January 2014).


Further acquisition of records may take place in 2014 from Brian Harland's family specifically in relation to Svalbard Exploration.

Location of Originals

The Thomas Manning Polar Archive (Polar Museum) also has records of the Norsk-Cambridge Spitsbergen Expeditions (NCSE).


There are (probably) in excess of 3,000 publications which document the work undertaken in Svalbard itself or concerning the specimens recovered from each expedition.

The Geology of Svalbard by W. Brian Harland. 1997. London: The Geological Society (Memoir 17) ISBN 1-897799-93-4

Polar Record. Cambridge University Press on behalf of the Scott Polar Research Institute (SPRI) ISSN 0032-2474 (print) 1475-3057 (web)