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Between Spectacle and Science: The Aurora in Central Europe, 1870s–1880s

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The article discusses the return and reception of two Austro-Hungarian arctic expeditions in 1874 and 1883, respectively. Both expeditions conducted extensive auroral research. The article focuses on the media discourse of the time: how the expeditions including their scientific aims and outcomes were perceived in the Viennese press and society. The reception given to each of the expeditions and the manner by which each was covered in the press differed greatly; accordingly, the aurora borealis, a quintessential polar phenomenon itself, was ascribed with strikingly dissimilar meanings in the media. Whereas in 1874 domestic interests were projected onto the Arctic, with the aurora symbolizing the monarchy's bright future, in 1883 media attention focused on local events such as the International Electrical Exhibition in Vienna; the Arctic no longer served as a potent symbol for Austro-Hungarian affairs. Analyses of various forms of media such as texts, poems, and illustrations show the cultural situatedness of scientific knowledge and its popularization. Representations and interpretations of the aurora can only be understood within the political, social, technological and cultural contexts of the time.
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Keywords: Arctic discourse; Aurora borealis; Austria–Hungary; Polar expedition; Popularization of science

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Sogn og Fjordane University College, Sogndal, Norway

Publication date: 2012-12-01

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