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Have you ever stood on the seashore looking horizon-ward wondering what was beyond?  Have you ever been entranced by the hypnotic sound of the waves?  Have you ever gone on a difficult journey determined to arrive, but wondering if you ever would?

Such curiosity, fascination and endeavour may too have lived somewhere in the mind of historic seafarers.

The search for maritime passage from the northern Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean, which perplexed seafarers for centuries, is the focus of the British Library’s current Lines in the Ice exhibition in London.

From the 16th century onward, names like Frobisher, Billings, Cook and Franklin all brandished national, maritime and voyaging honour in pursuit of an elusive channel enabling sea travel from Europe to the Orient, via the Arctic regions of Canada.

The British Library exhibition takes the visitor on their own short virtual voyage.  It uses maps, journals and stories – of European mariners and indigenous peoples of the Arctic region – to bring to life those lives put at risk and often lost in search of the ‘Northwest Passage’.

The exhibition is visual, aural and emotive.

The blue cast of the displays conveys a calm mood belying the treacherousness of the real adventures. The permeating and haunting ocean sound subtly transports the mind to the icy and perilous, but not yet charted, waters.  Proof of fair passage is at first suspended in favour of mythical island tales, political dispute, nautical failure and tragedy.  All of which thwarted complete success in travelling the Northwest Passage by sea until the early 20th century.

The exhibition matches any mood for a momentary maritime adventure and, together with the lives of European explorers, reveals the impact on Saami, Inuit and other indigenous peoples of the Arctic.

Lines in the Ice: Seeking the Northwest Passage is on at the British Library in London until 29 March 2015 and entry is free.

© Laura Claire H 2014

See: British Library

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