The greening of Antarctica: environment, science and diplomacy, 1959 - 1980

In the years following the signing of the Antarctic Treaty in 1959, Antarctic affairs developed in a direction not anticipated by its signatories. The 1959 Treaty was negotiated by twelve states to defuse and resolve conflicts over territorial sovereignty and permit peaceful scientific access to the continent. Instead of simply fulfilling and maintaining their original intentions, the Treaty parties slowly built an environmental regime. Deliberately and incidentally, consciously and unconsciously, the Treaty parties added to their foundational yet tenuous charter agreements which delimited a growing Antarctic region as a space for environmental protection and management—always with science and scientists at its heart. They were wresting from the cold and sterile views of geophysics a new vision of a living, fragile and green Antarctic. How did this major conceptual shift happen? How did Antarctica become green?

This paper, the pre-submission seminar of my PhD candidature, will give an overview of the questions, themes and arguments of my thesis, which is titled The greening of Antarctica. Contributing to the small but growing field of international environmental history, my thesis explores the changing and competing visions of Antarctica by analysing its international treaties and agreements and the scientists and diplomats who negotiated them. The first two decades of the Antarctic Treaty regime have received little attention from historians, yet they saw the negotiation and signing of major environmental protection agreements as well as considerable debate about issues, especially relating to the exploitation of resources, which continue to shape Antarctic affairs.

Date & time

Wed 20 Nov 2013, 4.15–5.30pm


McDonald Room, Menzies Library ANU

Event series


School of History


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