Tuesday, November 28, 2017


Cover art from A. Greely's Three Years in the Arctic showing a man struggling in a storm with a compass in the background pointed north.Feeling stuffed after your Thanksgiving dinner? Our latest digitized collection, David Brainard's Diary, may make you appreciate that overly-full feeling. In 1881, Lieutenant Adolphus Greely led an expedition into the Arctic as part of the First International Polar Year. After a period of relative comfort and success, bad luck hit the expedition and they were forced to retreat southward to Ellesmere Island to await rescue. From March 1st to June 21st, 1884, young Sargeant David Brainard kept a meticulous diary. At the start, there were 25 living crew members; in the end, only six survived--most died from starvation (one was shot for stealing food from the others). At least some who survived resorted to "the last dread alternative," a euphemism for cannibalism.

Page 221 of Brainard's diary
Brainard's diary, now housed here in Special Collections, elides the incidents of cannibalism, but he carefully documents the daily life and struggles of the crew as they slowly perished. Independent scholar Laura Waterman transcribed Brainard's diary and she has allowed us to put up her transcriptions side-by-side with the scanned page images. Laura also provided an essay that introduces Brainard's story and the diary. The diary is a harrowing read: Brainard had a talent for writing, and the diary puts you on Ellesmere Island with him. It will make this winter's weather seem like nothing, and it may inspire you to make good use of those holiday leftovers.

To see the actual diary, ask for Stef MSS-189.

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