The Endurance


How does Shackleton’s voyage fit into the tradition of maritime imperial legitimizing efforts despite existing in the age of imperial decline?

Despite benefitting from the technological advancements of the early 20th century and being driven by Shackleton’s desire for prestigious adventure, the Imperial Trans-Atlantic Expedition of 1914-1917 did not achieve its principal goal of crossing the antarctic continent. Why, in this case, was Shackleton’s voyage later recognized as a feat of British grit, instead of as a defeat? In this case study, we aim to demonstrate why this failed expedition captured the hearts and minds of a war-weary British population.

Exploration and Motivation

Beyond this page is a tale of defeat, endurance, and a fight for survival in one of the most dangerous environments on our planet. Exploration has many motivations and differs widely from person to person. For some, moving to another state for college is enough. For others, being the first to be within 100 miles of the South Pole is not enough. How do we prepare for such journeys? What do we do when disaster strikes? And how does history look back at us? The story of Shackleton answers these questions and may give us insight into our own tales of exploration, just maybe not half dead with scurvy.

A 3:36 minute clip with video footage from the Endurance wreck and a bit of an overview of the ship’s story. From PBS News Hour.

Aftermath and Significance

Shackleton’s guidance led the crew to safety… eventually. His pleas with various foreign governments as well as the willingness of the British Empire to fund and plan the several rescue attempts ensured the survival of all Endurance crew members even after being stranded for months. However, Shackleton’s expedition was undoubtedly a failure. Yet, he arrived in ports to fanfare and attained a legendary status as a world-famous explorer. This leaves several questions, such as why did Britain throw money at the rescue attempts amidst WWI? How was Endurance‘s history rewritten to suit a particular narrative? And finally, what caused the Endurance to be the end of imperial exploration?

Maddy Sriver

Maddy is a first-year student at Carleton College. She comes from Minneapolis, Minnesota and hopes to major in either environmental science or art history. For the Shipwreck project, she wrote about the background of The Endurance as well as doing much of the research into Shackleton.

Jacob Sanders

Jacob is a Junior history major at Carleton College. For this case study of The Endurance for the Shipwreck project, he wrote the Voyage & Entrapment section, detailing the major events, activities, and equipment of Shackleton’s ill-fated voyage to Vahsel Bay.

John Rosseel

John is a freshman at Carleton College. He lived in Connecticut until a recent move to the Twin Cities and is planning on being a math and physics major. He wrote the aftermath and significance portion of this project. Through his sections, he details the impact of the failed expedition on the crew and the British population.

Endurance Bibliography