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Frozen Empires

An Environmental History of the Antarctic Peninsula

Adrian Howkins

Publication Date - December 2020

ISBN: 9780197533550

304 pages
6.14 x 9.21 inches

In Stock

An environmental history of the Antarctic Peninsula


Perpetually covered in ice and snow, the mountainous Antarctic Peninsula stretches southwardd towards the South Pole where it merges with the largest and coldest mass of ice anywhere on the planet. Yet far from being an otherworldly "Pole Apart," the region has the most contested political history of any part of the Antarctic Continent. Since the start of the twentieth century, Argentina, Britain, and Chile have made overlapping sovereignty claims, while the United States and Russia have reserved rights to the entire continent. The environment has been at the heart of these disputes over sovereignty, placing the Antarctic Peninsula at a fascinating intersection between diplomatic history and environmental history.

In Frozen Empires, Adrian Howkins argues that there has been a fundamental continuity in the ways in which imperial powers have used the environment to support their political claims in the Antarctic Peninsula region. British officials argued that the production of useful scientific knowledge about the Antarctic helped to justify British ownership. Argentina and Chile made the case that the Antarctic Peninsula belonged to them as a result of geographical proximity, geological continuity, and a general sense of connection. Despite various challenges and claims, however, there has never been a genuine decolonization of the Antarctic Peninsula region. Instead, imperial assertions that respective entities were conducting science "for the good of humanity" were reformulated through the terms of the 1959 Antarctic Treaty, and Antarctica's "frozen empires" remain in place to this day. In arguing for imperial continuity in the region, Howkins counters the official historical narrative of Antarctica, which rests on a dichotomy between "bad" sovereignty claims and "good" scientific research. Frozen Empires instead suggests that science, politics, and the environment have been inextricably connected throughout the history of the Antarctic Peninsula region--and remain so--and shows how political prestige in the guise of conducting "science for the good of humanity" continues to influence international climate negotiations.


  • Focuses on the natural environment of the Antarctic peninsula and the relationship between environmental and diplomatic history.
  • Uses primary source research from Britain, the United States, Australia, Argentina, Chile, and the Falkland Islands to cover a 150-year period.
  • Shows how contemporary championing of "science for the good of humanity" has been used by nation-states to assert their sovereignty claims in Antarctica.
  • Argues for imperial continuity, offering a new perspective on the modern history of Antarctica.

About the Author(s)

Adrian Howkins is Associate Professor of History at Colorado State University.


"The careful and detailed research underlying this readable book is evident throughout....The book can be read with confidence by researchers, students, and those with a general interest in Antarctica." -- J. Donald Hughes, American Historical Review

"Drawing upon archival research conducted in Argentina, Britain, Chile and the USA, [Howkins] offers an alternative, highly illuminating, environmental and imperial perspective from which to view the [Antarctic] peninsula's history.... Its story offers interesting insights into British history, most notably concerning conservation, economics, empire, law, politics and science." -- Peter J. Beck, English Historical Review

"Deeply researched, well written, and strongly recommended for students and scholars, especially those interested in how Antarctica's political past may be prelude to humankinds environmental future." -- James Spiller, Isis Journal

"In Frozen Empires, Howkins offers a timely and much-needed intervention on this topic....Frozen Empires demonstrates, in short, the significant role that historians can and should play in environmental politics.."--Emma Shortis, Metascience

Table of Contents

    Introduction: Frozen Empires
    Chapter 1: An Imperial Environment
    Chapter 2: Environmental Nationalism
    Chapter 3: An Environmental History of Decolonization
    Chapter 4: Perón's Antarctic Dream
    Chapter 5: Antarctic Détente
    Chapter 6: Preserving Power
    Conclusion: Melting Empires?