The New Bedford Whaling Museum announced today the presentation of the 27th annual L. Byrne Waterman Award to Dr. Bjørn Basberg, an industrial archaeologist, distinguished historian, and professor of economics at the Norwegian School of Economics and Business Administration in Bergen, Norway.
The award was established in 1985 at the Kendall Whaling Museum in Sharon, Massachusetts, by Lyman Byrne Waterman, Sr., of Baltimore, Maryland, and was transferred to the New Bedford Whaling Museum in 2001 when the two museums merged collections. The award has been presented each October at the museum’s annual Whaling History Symposium, “in recognition of outstanding contributions to research and pedagogy in the Arts, Humanities, and Sciences,” and has been called the Nobel Prize of Whaling History. Lyman B. Waterman, Jr. presented the award.
Professor Basberg travelled from Norway to speak at this year’s symposium on “Mapping and Recording the Norwegian Antarctic Whaling Stations onSouth Georgia” but was not informed before hand that he was designated to receive the award. He spoke in the morning and was surprised by the afternoon presentation of the award, which cited his “outstanding contributions, in action and in print, to the industrial and economic history, archaeology, and preservation of historic whaling sites inSouth Georgia.” This was in acknowledgment of his having surveyed, charted, mapped, and published extensively about the once thriving but now abandoned complex of Norwegian and Anglo-Norwegian shore-whaling factories on the island of South Georgia, the threshold of Antarctica. Industrial-scale whaling was prosecuted there by Norwegian and British interests throughout the twentieth century, until the 1960s. And, famously, it was there in 1917 that Ernest Shackleton’s failed polar expedition fetched up on their heroic open-boat escape from the Antarctic ice.
Professor Basberg has been an Advisory Curator visiting Fellow on several prior occasions at both whaling museums. He also been a visiting scholar at Brown University, has co-hosted two international whaling history symposia in Norway, and serves on the governing board of the British foundation charged with preserving the historic sites and natural environment of South Georgia, including the world’s southernmost museum. In fact, the founding director of theSouth Georgia Museum, W. Nigel Bonner, was the recipient of a posthumous Waterman Award in 1994. Among Waterman laureates when the award was still at the Kendall are two Dr. veterans of the New Bedford Whaling Museum staff, John R. Bockstoce (1992) and Virginia M. Adams (1996). Other Waterman Award recipients include artist/naturalist Richard Ellis (1991), bestselling historians Joan Druett (1999), Nathaniel Philbrick (2001), and Eric Jay Dolin (2007), and the late scientist William E. Schevill of Woods Hole, the first to record whale “songs” in their natural habitat (1988).
The Whaling History Symposium, founded in 1975, is the world’s only regular international forum for the presentation and discussion of new ideas, pioneering research, and fresh insights into the history, fine arts, humanities, and sciences of whales and whaling. It is made possible in part by the Samuel D. Rusitzky Fund.
36th Annual Whaling History Symposium webpage.