Poles of Exploration and Exploitation: Olaudah Equiano in the Arctic


  • Henry Jacob University of Cambridge, UK


In 1773, former slave Olaudah Equiano accompanied one of the earliest British voyages toward the North Pole. Equiano occupied a liminal position as a willing participant in, and critical observer of, the voyage. On one hand, Equiano approached the mission with a sense of scientific duty. Yet he also questioned the reasoning undergirding the journey. In his 1789 autobiography, he subtly challenged British ambitions for glory as well as control over nature, knowledge, and people. Thus, Equiano provides a unique, relevant perspective into the nexus—and contradictions—between these poles of exploration and exploitation.

Author Biography

Henry Jacob, University of Cambridge, UK

Henry Jacob is a Yale graduate and currently completing an MPhil in world history at the University of Cambridge as a Henry Fellow. During the 2022–2023 academic year, he will be a Fulbright researcher in Panama. Jacob studies Anglo-American designs for interoceanic transit in tropic and polar regions. His writing has appeared in numerous peer-reviewed and online publications, including The Latin Americanist. He has won various departmental and university-wide awards, including Yale’s highest undergraduate honor. Outside of scholarship, Jacob leads two global organizations devoted to student publishing.