Kingdoms of Ice and Snow: Exploration in Writing and Film

Module code: EN3190

The exploration, mapping, and conquest of distant lands has long captured the British imagination, and formed an essential part of colonial ambitions. Why do these stories of human endurance, physical and psychological suffering, and death, continue to haunt us? How do they relate to the rest of the era - especially the First World War? And what do they say about ideas of national character?

This module aims to explore the major role that writing and film have played in this myth-making process. It will introduce students to works which are, for the most part, not the product of the study or film studio, but convey with startling immediacy the first-hand experience of exploration, Captain Scott’s journals, for example, were written throughout his Antarctic expedition and were recovered from his frozen body on the return journey from the South Pole, while the expeditions’ official cinematographers developed pioneering techniques of working in sub-zero conditions.  

We will question why writing and film played an important part in the process of exploration, and what purposes they were deemed to serve as records — official or unofficial — of the expeditions, and as later reflections upon their triumphs and failures.You will explore the changing significance of exploration accounts in relation to the First World War and the Empire, as well as other responses to them later in the 20th century. By critically analysing key texts and films, we will consider the artistic legacy of expeditions to places of extreme cold, but also of great beauty.