Southern Ocean Explorers

Ref: C2419182

Greek philosophers and cartographers presumed a great southern continent (Latinised as Terra Australis Incognita). Captain James Cook discovered it was not there, but deduced the existence of a south polar continent in the 1770s. From then on persistent explorers, sealers and whalers pressed farther and farther south until they found bits of the Antarctic coast. The lure of this ice-covered land, proved irresistible. Explorers found fossils and charted geographic, magnetic, meteorological and oceanographic peculiarities. Parties penetrated inland and two of them reached the South Pole, with tragic consequences for Scott's. Later a Commonwealth expedition traversed the continent from ocean to ocean. The U.S. established a permanent base at the South Pole and an international treaty abolished all national claims to any part of the Antarctic.

Course aim

Narrate the history of southern exploration from mythical Terra Australis Incognita via the race for the South Pole to modern permanent bases and the international continental treaty.

Do I need any particular skills or experience?

  • No skills or experience needed
  • This course aims to broaden students' general knowledge and will benefit from their interest and willingness to ask and answer questions.

By the end of the course I should be able to:

  • Outline the history of southern exploration
  • Explain the significance of sealing and whaling in this context (however much one might disapprove of such activities now).
  • Give instances of scientific or geographic discoveries made during the exploration exploration of these southern regions
  • Consider the importance of research and planning for expeditions going into a cold and hostile environment
  • Decide upon something to research further e.g. a person, expedition or topic that seems interesting.

How will I be taught?

  • The WEA tutor will use a range of different teaching and learning methods and encourage you and the group to be actively involved in your learning
  • Tutor presentations will often provoke discussion and comment. Students may choose to bring in books, internet print-outs or any other relevant material to enliven the classes.

What kind of feedback can I expect?

  • A range of informal activities will be used by the tutor to see what you are learning which may include quizzes, question and answer, small projects and discussion

What else do I need to know?

  • Nothing else is needed

Pre-course work, reading and information sources

  • No pre reading or pre course work is required
  • Any student may choose to do some preliminary reading and, perhaps, Shackleton's "South" is the most vividly readable example. Not essential - I just could not resist mentioning it.

What can I do next?

  • Progress to another WEA course
  • Progress to a course with another provider

Download full Course information sheet

Southern Ocean Explorers


You can if you meet all of the following requirements:

  • are paying the standard fee or are on any of the qualifying benefits
  • are paying with a credit/debit card or are not paying a fee because of a qualifying benefit
  • have a valid email address
  • have been resident in the UK, EU or EEA for the last 3 years
  • are aged 19 years or older on 1st September 2017
  • have read and accept the standard terms and conditions
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