Explorer Mikael Strandberg

Academics versus explorers

First of all, congratulations to Mario Vargas Llosa for the Nobel Prize! Being a lover of the Latin american way to write, I am very happy. I hope this will mean he will stay out of Peruvian politics! Because, every person should do what he is best at, I think. Or not? Well, that brings me to the theme of todays blog report…

An academic I know very well asked me today, why is it that you explorers and professional travelers are pretty much unknown in the academic world? She continued:

“I have been listening to academics talking about Syria all day, most of it almost makes me fall asleep, and I ask myself, why don´t they invite professional story tellers and explorers to give a different perspective of a country or a cause?”

Well, that is a very good question. Because, reality is that it works the other way, academics get invited often to Explorer events, see most events at the Explorers Club for example. And, I have, personally, only twice been invited to talk in front of an audience of academics. I have done many lectures and talks in my life. The first one, which was cancelled because it turned out they didn´t like me, by Svenska Sällskapet för Geografi och Antropologi, and the second one, I will write about next week. Non-Swedish of course. And I know from my explorer friends, that this fact applies to them as well. I think it is pure protective measures by a club of members who doesn´t want to be challenged. And think that their research is the best and only existing regarding all the living topics on earth. Yawn. This issue has also split the historical Royal Geographical Society in two parts. Explorers versus academics. Right now, even though the president is the honorable and great traveler,  Michael Palin, a major part of the organisation is made up of academics who are into geography. It has gone so far that the organisation has removed the word Expedition from the agenda! This has caused a drama, of course, and the Beagle Campaign have been set up. The academics think that the money the Society has should go to what they consider is scientific Expeditions, because they say, and think, that explorers can get money from the media and sponsors in a way they can´t. Explorers disagree. The  issue is far from resolved. The honorable British newspaper The Times wrote in an editorial this about the issue!

I personally think it is a disaster separating the two! Instead we should connect and open each others horizons. But the academics disagree. And, oddly enough, it seems to be few explorers who are academics. or the other way around. I know, really, only about my friend Tim MacKintosh-Smith, who is a specialist on Yemen and is accepted in both areas. Amazing really, when both wants the best for everyone…..and I believe my friend Justin Marozzi, one of the founders of the Beagle Campaign, hit the spot when he wrote this article!

Anyway, next week, I will write about my great honor as a visiting professor, when I asked, professor of what…the answer was..PhD in Life and how to live to its full……an event which occurred two weeks ago!


  1. This is a very interesting post. You are right of course: academics tend to invite each other to lecture rather than non-academics. Why? There may be some snobbery here but I also think it’s a matter of approach. Historians of exploration, like me, study explorers – their actions, ideas, motivations, biases, etc. So to invite an explorer to speak at a conference is, on one hand, exciting because you are listening to someone who is in the thick of it – experiencing those elements that are key to your work as a historian. On the other hand, it is uncomfortable because the explorer is also the object of study. Sometimes it is hard to take off the anthropologist hat.

    This is a problem for many research disciplines. For example, my field of training, history of science, also has a sometimes uneasy relationship with scientists for the same reason.

    Still I agree very strongly with your idea that explorers and academics should join hands across the table. There is much to be gained from this. I’ve been writing about space exploration lately and my latest piece (on the exploration of Mars) was critiqued and reviewed by some space scientists who worked on the Mars program. It was an interesting experience to be on the other side of the table! And it was quite helpful to me in revising my piece. Thanks for writing this.

  2. Thanks Michael, I am very happy to have an answer like yours and I agree fully with your assessment. I´d be interested if you also commented the present blog report about Fakes and Cheats……take care now! M

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Time limit is exhausted. Please reload CAPTCHA.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.