Exploration, Celebrity, and the Making of a Transnational Hero: Fridtjof Nansen and the Fram Expedition

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The article examines why the Norwegian Fridtjof Nansen’s Arctic expedition on board Fram (1893–96) generated so much attention across Europe and America. The article analyzes previously unused manuscripts, geographical society journals, and print culture to show how Fram’s story traveled through three related networks: as a set of commercial products circulated through an expanding global market for commodities and media spectacle; as a set of scientific products circulated through an increasingly institutionalized network of universities, learned societies, and international congresses; and as a set of symbolic goods projected to the public through state networks via ceremonies and monuments. Section I outlines the origins of the expedition in the campaign for Norwegian independence, before Section II analyzes how geographical societies showered Nansen with awards. Speakers expressed a transnational discourse of heroic exploration and celebrated a scientific quest in the service of humanity, but ceremonies consistently positioned Nansen’s achievement to honor individual nation-states. Sections III and IV reconstruct the commodification of the expedition, revealing for the first time the full scale of Nansen’s lecture tours. Expeditions were engines of novelty, manufacturing new visions of heroic masculinity for sale in a global marketplace. Section V shows how publications across Europe and America deployed similar textual and visual strategies to project Nansen, his wife Eva, and daughter Liv through the optic of celebrity, manufacturing emotional bonds with audiences. By charting the circulation of products through entangled commercial, scientific, and state networks, the article explains the global reach of Fram’s story.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)68-108
Number of pages41
JournalThe Journal of Modern History
Issue number1
Early online date1 Mar 2021
Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2021


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