Why Twitter?

This project is a retelling of Shackleton’s Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition, 1914-1917, for the 100th-year anniversary.

Members of the Expedition, Frank Hurley, 1914-1917

The story of Shackleton and The Endurance is one full of so many narrow escapes, near-misses, death-defying feats, and unbelievable events that it threatens to unsuspend disbelief.

Being a true story, this is a problem.

Every movie, and almost every book and chronicle, of the adventure has left out significant events in order to construct a believable narrative. In part, this is due to time compression. The several hours of a film, or the several weeks it might take to read a book, have only so much room, before the viewer or reader begins to suffer from that plague of the picaresque, novelty fatigue. Once novelty fatigue sets in, the adventure ceases to impress, or to cohere. There are simply “too many notes.”


The Endurance, trapped, as dogs look on, Frank Hurley, 1914-1917

One of the best books is one of the earliest, Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage by Alfred Lansing, published in 1959. Lansing was able to interview a number of the survivors. Then in 1999 came the exhibit at the AMNH that essentially re-booted Shackleton’s reputation, opening the gates for a steady stream of books, films, documentaries and reenactments that shows no signs of slowing. Lansing’s is still the most comprehensive account of the Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition in any medium. The others, even Shackleton’s own book South, exclude any number of hair-raising disasters in order to keep the narrative in reasonable trim.

Reasonable trim looks very different for Twitter tales. Telling the story in tweets takes at most few minutes a day, for a number of months. Any fallen disbelief can be restrung in the hours in-between. Although each tweet is short, they accumulate, and given enough time can combine to form complex characters — or almost unbelievable adventures.

This blog is a companion to the Twitter feed, and hosts supplementary material. But the real action is on Twitter. Join the expedition by following @EShackleton.