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October 10: Fridtjof Nansen

Fridtjof Nansen (1861)

Fridtjof Nansen

It was on this date, October 10, 1861, that Norwegian explorer Fridtjof Nansen was born Fridtjof Wedel-Jarlsberg Nansen. He grew up in Frøen, on the outskirts of Christiania (now Oslo), at that time a rural area that hardened Nansen for his life's work. Nansen loved the outdoors and his parents instilled in him the virtues of integrity, independence and courage.

He entered the University of Christiania in 1880 and studied zoology, taking an "internship" aboard the sealer Viking, giving Nansen his first experience of the Arctic and sealing his future interests. He took his doctorate at Christiana in 1888 and, in that same year, began a successful exploratory crossing of Greenland, vastly increasing scientific knowledge of the interior.

Nansen made a total of three Arctic and two oceanographic expeditions, including a famous voyage on the Fram, and added to his résumé Curator of the Museum of Comparative Anatomy at Christiania University, professor of geology and professor of oceanography there, as well as Norwegian Minister in London (1906-1908). He was also a distinguished humanitarian, promoting the League of Nations and helping in the repatriation of prisoners of war following World War One, and relief efforts during the Russian famine from 1921-1923 and during the Greco-Turkish war in 1922.

Nansen was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1922, the proceeds of which he redirected to famine relief. The Nansen International Office for Refugees won the Nobel for Peace in 1938. Fridtjof Nansen died on 13 May 1930 at his home near Oslo, while working for disarmament. Like his countryman, the poet and writer Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson, he was an Agnostic. In Science and the Purpose of Life, a 1909 lecture published by the British Rationalist Press Association, Nansen says that "the religion of one age is, as a rule, the literary entertainment of the next."

Originally published October 2003 by Ronald Bruce Meyer.

Ronald Bruce Meyer

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