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School of Arts, Languages and Cultures

Scott of the Antarctic: the making of a hero

Revelations from previously unused sources and a re-examination of prior research debunk popular conspiracy theories which claim the British Admiralty covered up Scott’s failings to make him a national hero. A new play brings this revised narrative to the public.

Exterior photograph of the Natural History Museum with the caption 87,000 visitors
87,000 visitors flocked to the Natural History Museum's Scott exhibition in London.

A play premiered in 2014 showing how Captain Scott’s status as a national hero helps us understand the generation who fought and died in the First World War

Captain Scott's fateful expedition to the Antarctic remains one of the most gripping of all our national stories. The research of Dr Max Jones explains why Scott’s legend continues to fascinate a century after his death.

New research refutes popular conspiracy theories and the portrayal of Scott as a 'bungling idiot'. Jones shows how Scott's role as a national hero helps us understand the generation which volunteered to fight in the First World War.

Jones' work has educated large audiences through public lectures, media coverage and a new theatrical production:

  • 23 public lectures since 2003, including major events at the Scott Polar Research Institute, and the Royal Geographical Society and their regional lecture series (heard by 2,000 people), as part of the South Pole expedition centenary commemorations
  • Consultant to BBC2's The Secrets of Scott’s Hut documentary, initially inspired by Dr Jones’ research
  • Interview for the BBC Radio 4 series Amanda Vickery on Men which dedicated an episode to explorers on the advice of Dr Jones
  • Adviser for Exhibition at the Natural History Museum in London which integrated a video interview with Dr Jones, seen by 87,000 people
  • A new theatrical production about Scott, inspired directly by Jones' work

Dr Jones has reshaped public thinking about Scott, rebutting representations of Scott as incompetent, highlighting his scientific legacy and stimulating wider debate about the nature of masculinity and heroism.

Dr Jones has reshaped public thinking about Scott, rebutting recent representations of Scott as incompetent

Photograph of Dr Max Jones with caption 2,000 people
2,000 people heard Dr Jones' lectures to the Royal Geographic Society and their regional partners.

Our research

Dr Jones has provided a fresh interpretation of Scott and his rise as a national hero, in spite of his defeat by Norwegian Roald Amundsen in the race to the South Pole.

His studies have followed three key strategies:

  • Use of previously ignored sources (including personal testimonies, newspaper reports and periodicals) covering the British response to Scott’s death, revealing that the expedition team members were often portrayed as 'martyrs of science'
  • Re-examination of previously analysed sources, producing evidence to refute the claims of Scott historian Roland Huntford that censorship of Scott’s journals lay at the centre of an Admiralty conspiracy to cover up Scott’s failings and create the legend of 'Scott of the Antarctic'
  • Application of cultural history methodologies to analyse representations of Scott’s death, revealing that people with very different political beliefs had a common understanding of heroism in 1913 – that manliness was forged through struggle

Lead academic