Meet Dian Belanger: Historian, Writer, and AAUW MemberJanuary 30, 2009
I was looking forward to meeting Dian Belanger, a 1980–81 Career Development Grantee and long-time AAUW member. At her suggestion, we met in the National Gallery of Art’s atrium, where Dian told me about her recent book, Deep Freeze: The United States, the International Geophysical Year, and the Origins of Antarctica’s Age of Science. The book began as a National Science Foundation research project to record the oral histories of men living and researching in Antarctica during the late 1950s, but it quickly turned into something much larger. Dian conducted more than 40 interviews and relied on more than 30 others in telling the Deep Freeze story. Because of the book, people who were in Antarctica in the 1950s are now able to see their contributions in context, to see that they were part of a bigger historical moment. Deep Freeze describes the July 1957–December 1958 International Geophysical Year, when 12 countries, including the United States and Russia, came together to preserve Antarctica as a place for peace and scientific research. Although the 30 years of scientific research outlined by the Antarctic Treaty of 1959 ended in 1991, Antarctica continues to be a place where scientists from any country can research.
In January 2001, while drafting book chapters, Dian spent two weeks in Antarctica. “You get the feel of the place in your soul and begin to understand the vastness,” she said. During her trip Dian noticed that most of the equipment and structures that had been set up in the 1950s were no longer there. When she showed her interviewees the cafeteria where she ate during her stay, they were amazed, thinking back to the simple mess hall of the 1950s. Another significant change was the prevalence of women in Antarctica. While there are few women in her book and were no women in Antarctica during the late 1950s, Dian said that 25 to 35 percent of those now living and working in Antarctica are women. In fact, some people were doubtful of a women writing about Antarctica, but in the end Dian was able to break through that barrier and tap into the true story of Deep Freeze.
Before our interview was over, Dian and I delved into her extensive involvement with AAUW, which she joined for stimulating conversation and involvement in 1968 as a young mother living in New York. After serving in many leadership positions, including branch and state president and Middle Atlantic regional director, and receiving a grant from AAUW, Dian’s story is now coming full circle. An International Fellowship endowment, funded by the AAUW Rockville (MD) Branch, has been created in her honor. Dian is excited to have an international woman studying in the United States in part because of the fellowship in her name.
As we concluded the interview, I took one last look around the cavernous atrium. It seemed a fitting place to hear Dian’s story about the historic continent, as well as her journey to get there.