Bowdoin's interest and its active role in Arctic exploration are based on a record of exploration and achievement over a period of more than one hundred years.
In 1860 a party of twenty students from Bowdoin and Williams, led by Paul A. Chadbourne, professor of chemistry and natural history at Bowdoin, sailed to Labrador and Greenland. In 1864 Alpheus Spring Packard (Bowd. 1861) sailed up the Labrador coast as far as Hopedale. His book, The Labrador Coast, is a seminal work on the biology, geology, and history of that region. In 1891, under the direction of Leslie A. Lee of Bowdoin's biology department, another expedition to Labrador was organized, leading to the rediscovery of the Grand Falls of Labrador and the discovery and naming of Bowdoin Canyon. The grand tradition of Arctic exploration was carried on and brought to its culmination by Robert E. Peary (Bowd. 1877) and Donald B. MacMillan (Bowd. 1898).
With more than eighteen hundred titles on the Arctic, its people, and the history of the exploration of its regions, together with selected works on Antarctica, this fine collection includes Hans Egede's 1745 A Description of Greenland, the Hubbard edition of Robert Edwin Peary's 1910 The North Pole, The South Polar Times of 1907-14, and several works on the search for the lost expedition of Sir John Franklin.
Three major Arctic libraries constitute the collection:
Comprising nearly fourteen hundred Arctic titles, the collection was given to Bowdoin from the 1960s through the early 1980s. It contains volumes dating from the eighteenth through the twentieth centuries, with the latter predominating. Approximately five hundred non-Arctic titles are also part of MacMillan's library.
This small but important collection of approximately one hundred volumes, mostly from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, was presented to the College in 1968 by Henry C. Thomas (Bowd. 1957).
A large and well-rounded collection of over four hundred volumes from the eighteenth through twentieth centuries, with a special concentration on the nineteenth, it was purchased in memory of William M. Ittman from the Palmer estate, Yarmouth, Maine, in 1982.