Fridtjof Nansen

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Fridtjof Nansen bigraphy, stories - Norwegian explorer

Fridtjof Nansen : biography

10 October 1861 – 13 May 1930

Fridtjof Nansen ( ; 10 October 1861 – 13 May 1930) was a Norwegian explorer, scientist, diplomat, humanitarian and Nobel Peace Prize laureate. In his youth a champion skier and ice skater, he led the team that made the first crossing of the Greenland interior in 1888, and won international fame after reaching a record northern latitude of 86°14′ during his North Pole expedition of 1893–96. Although he retired from exploration after his return to Norway, his techniques of polar travel and his innovations in equipment and clothing influenced a generation of subsequent Arctic and Antarctic expeditions.

Nansen studied zoology at the Royal Frederick University, and later worked as a curator at the Bergen Museum where his research on the central nervous system of lower marine creatures earned him a doctorate and helped establish modern theories of neurology. After 1896 his main scientific interest switched to oceanography; in the course of his research he made many scientific cruises, mainly in the North Atlantic, and contributed to the development of modern oceanographic equipment. As one of his country’s leading citizens, in 1905 Nansen spoke out for the ending of Norway’s union with Sweden, and was instrumental in persuading Prince Charles of Denmark to accept the throne of the newly independent Norway. Between 1906 and 1908 he served as the Norwegian representative in London, where he helped negotiate the Integrity Treaty that guaranteed Norway’s independent status.

In the final decade of his life, Nansen devoted himself primarily to the League of Nations, following his appointment in 1921 as the League’s High Commissioner for Refugees. In 1922 he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his work on behalf of the displaced victims of the First World War and related conflicts. Among the initiatives he introduced was the "Nansen passport" for stateless persons, a certificate recognised by more than 50 countries. He worked on behalf of refugees until his sudden death in 1930, after which the League established the Nansen International Office for Refugees to ensure that his work continued. This office received the Nobel Peace Prize for 1938. Nansen was honoured by many nations, and his name is commemorated in numerous geographical features, particularly in the polar regions.

Death and legacy

Nansen died of a heart attack, at home, on 13 May 1930. He was given a non-religious state funeral before cremation, after which his ashes were laid under a tree at Polhøgda. Nansen’s daughter Liv recorded that there were no speeches, just music: Schubert’s Death and the Maiden, which Eva used to sing.Scott, p. 256 Among the many tributes paid to him subsequently was that of Lord Robert Cecil, a fellow League of Nations delegate, who spoke of the range of Nansen’s work, done with no regard for his own interests or health: "Every good cause had his support. He was a fearless peacemaker, a friend of justice, an advocate always for the weak and suffering."Reynolds, p. 276

Nansen had been a pioneer and innovator in many fields. As a young man he embraced the revolution in skiing methods that transformed it from a means of winter travel to a universal sport, and quickly became one of Norway’s leading skiers. He was later able to apply this expertise to the problems of polar travel, in both his Greenland and his Fram expeditions. He invented the "Nansen sledge" with broad, ski-like runners, the "Nansen cooker" to improve the heat efficiency of the standard spirit stoves then in use, and the layer principle in polar clothing, whereby the traditionally heavy, awkward garments were replaced by layers of lightweight material. In science, Nansen is recognised both as one of the founders of modern neurology, and as a significant contributor to early oceanographical science.Huntford, pp. 475–477

Through his work on behalf of the League of Nations, Nansen helped to establish the principle of international responsibility for refugees. Immediately after his death the League set up the Nansen International Office for Refugees, a semi-autonomous body under the League’s authority, to continue his work. The Nansen Office faced great difficulties, in part arising from the large numbers of refugees from the European dictatorships during the 1930s. Nevertheless it secured the agreement of 14 countries (including a reluctant Great Britain) to the Refugee Convention of 1933. It also helped to repatriate 10,000 Armenians to Yerevan in Soviet Armenia, and to find homes for a further 40,000 in Syria and Lebanon. In 1938, the year in which it was superseded by a wider-ranging body, the Nansen Office was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.