corvette La Recherche
The corvette
La Recherche

northern lights
Bossekop, 1839

Xavier Marmier
Xavier Marmier

the Sami
The sami, 1839

The La Recherche Expedition
Between 1838-40, a large French expedition explored the northern regions of Europe. This expedition was led by the French naval surgeon Paul Gaimard (1793-1858). Their journeys took them to Iceland, the Faroese Islands, Northern Norway, Archangel and Spitzbergen. Investigations into both the natural sciences and anthropology were to be conducted by this team, and the expedition was named after the vessel with which they sailed upon, the corvette La Recherche. The French scientists were joined by Scandinavians, among others the swedish botanist L.L.Laestadius, and this gave the expedition an international trait. Artists, too, were brought along and these created unique books with plates based upon topography and the natural sciences. The results of the expedition were reproduced in 16 narrative volumes and 5 plate volumes.

Oceanographic experiments were conducted underway to Svalbard, and it was there that atmospheric studies (by balloon) and glaciological investigations were carried out, in addition to studies of plant and animal life. Some of the expedition members stayed in Finnmark, to conduct various observations, during the winter of 1838-39. These observations were directed towards the northern lights, in particular.

The cultural-historical investigations were primarily attended to by Xavier Marmier (1809-92), a renowned French humanist. He was interested in people's ability to adapt to harsh conditions, something which the Parisian Marmier regarded as rather excessive in this part of the world. He studied the school system and the development of people's intellectual capacity under these inhospitable conditions. But the Sami were those who fascinated him most. Marmier criticized the superficial and unjust image that numerous travellers had imposed upon these people, and he himself gained greater insight into the lifestyle of the Sami after having shared food and lodging with them. Marmier published his own accounts from the journey in his Lettres sur le Nord where he paints a lively and unbiased picture of life in the far north.

Some of the places visited by the La Recherche Expedition.


   © University Library of Tromsø - 1999.
The Northern Lights Route is part of The Council of Europe Cultural Routes. The Cultural Routes are an invitation to Europeans to wander the paths and explore the places where the unity and diversity of our European identity were forged.