Case study 02


The Open Polar Sea 

Petermann’s theory

This case study addresses the development of the idea of undiscovered, fertile lands beyond the ice-covered seas and its links to the related imagination of a mythical Eden in the northlands. A key source here is the work and archives of the German cartographer and geographer August Heinrich Petermann (1822-1878), who pioneered the theory of the ‘Open Polar Sea’. Petermann developed the Justus Perthes publishing house at Gotha into the major centre for the publication and dissemination of cartographical and geographical knowledges in the mid-late nineteenth century through the journal Petermanns geographischen Mitteilungen. He also spent nearly a decade in Britain (1845-1854), and through this became a major influence on British and American Arctic expeditions of the period.


This project involves a focus on nineteenth-century theories of the Open Polar Sea, focusing on Petermann and then tracing his influence across attempts at Arctic exploration and expeditionary science from Germany, Great Britain, Sweden and the U.S. In turn, Petermann was a key influence on understandings of space within the German geographical and intellectual traditions during the later nineteenth century.