Time Period: 1926 - 1971
Themes: Exploration, aviation, the role of the media, heroism
In June 1934, Richard Byrd lay alone in a small hut below the polar ice, hovering near death. No one before Byrd had ever experienced winter in the interior of the Antarctic. In an age of heroes, he was one of America's greatest. An explorer, aviation pioneer and scientist, Byrd was also an egotist, a risk-taker, and, his critics claim, a man who sometimes took credit for the accomplishments of others.
Before Viewing Discussion:
How do students define heroes? Do they have more than one definition? List some examples of heroes on the board and define what about their lives and actions made them a hero.
Before viewing the film, find out what students know about Antarctica. When was it discovered? What makes it unique? Have they ever known anyone who has visited it? What was it like? Why do they think people would be interested in it?
After Viewing Discussion:
Look back at students' definitions of heroes. Based on their definitions, do they consider Richard Byrd a hero? Why or why not? How do they balance his more human and fallible side with his heroic image? What do they think are the most important things he accomplished?
Why do you think Byrd's second expedition was such an important media event? [Answers may include the development of public relations, the need for escapism during the Depression, Byrd's greater notoriety, etc.] Have students research how the role of the media changed in the first four decades of this century. How did the field of PR develop? corporate sponsorship? (Another interesting American Experience film that explores this subject is "Mr. Miami Beach" which premiered last year.)
Split students into groups to do research on Antarctica. What was the 1959 Antarctic Treaty? How is the territory currently managed? What is U.S. involvement? What types of activity happen there, both scientific and otherwise? Does anyone live there on an ongoing basis? What are conditions like? What resources exist there? Why is it important?
Educators & Librarians: You may order "Alone on the Ice" at PBS Video.