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“Which is the counterfeit, and which the real man?”: intimate knowledge and imperial entanglements in the family archives of Sir John Franklin, c. 1820–1860

Recorded on 21 May 2024.

Speaker: Annaliese Jacobs Claydon (University of Tasmania)

This seminar examines a series of collisions between nineteenth-century Indigenous, humanitarian, and scientific circles, and how these were registered by the family of Sir John Franklin. Held in collections across three continents, archives with Franklin material have been mined by a wide array of scholars and writers, drawn by the disappearance and rediscovery of HMS Erebus and Terror. This seminar looks at this heterogeneous archive from a different angle, focusing on key moments (from Greenland to Tasmania) when explorers, intermediaries, and their families interrogated each other’s trustworthiness, as they tried to define what was and was not true, and who could and could not be believed. Doing so reveals interlocking circles of women, Indigenous interlocutors, humanitarians and white settlers, all of whom traded in information as they sought to define their own authority. Tracing these “Arctic circles” across the Franklins’ imperial lives reveals fascinating connections between Indigenous politics, imperial humanitarianism, colonial governance, and polar exploration over forty years, as well as new dimensions of the knowledge work of women and intermediaries in the early-mid nineteenth century.

Annaliese Jacobs Claydon is an Adjunct Researcher in the School of Humanities at the University of Tasmania. She earned her PhD in History from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 2015 and has more than a decade of experience as a public historian in Alaska and an archivist in Tasmania. Her first book, Arctic Circles and Imperial Knowledge: The Franklin Family, Indigenous Intermediaries, and the Politics of Truth is published by Bloomsbury Academic.

IHR Seminar Series: London Group of Historical Geographers