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Department of Geography, University of Cambridge


The Inhabited Arctic: New Cartographies in the Study of Arctic Governance and Exploration

The Inhabited Arctic: New Cartographies in the Study of Arctic Governance and Exploration

Wednesday 17th June 2009,
Seminar Room, Department of Geography [please note change of venue]

Convenor: Michael Bravo

Directions to the Department of Geography are available.


Abridged biographies of the speakers are below.

10:00-10:30 am Welcome by Michael Bravo
10:30 am-12:00 pm Session 1: Governance [details below]
Panelists: Jackie Price, Tavis Potts
12:00-1:00 pm Lunch
1:00-2:30 pm Session 2: Exploration [details below]
Panelists: Christina Sawchuk, Marionne Cronin
2:30-3:00 pm Break
3:00-4:30 pm General discussion and concluding statements by Michael Bravo & Felix Driver
6:00 pm Colloquium dinner at Asia (66 Regent Street)

About the colloquium

Recent debates about arctic governance have seen protagonists propose new frameworks that would redefine the ways in which audiences visualize the region's political geography. The Arctic boasts many societies, eight different nations, and distinct and complex histories, so these constructed frameworks may have profound long-term consequences for its inhabitants, both positive and negative. One might begin a critical analysis of political and academic engagement with the Arctic by examining how such actors use cartographic or conceptual tools to represent the Arctic, and to persuade their primary and secondary audiences that they are viewing "true" north.

Young (2009) argues that sea ice loss is symptomatic of a general 'state change' in the Arctic's biophysical (including human) systems. Some writers go much further, claiming that the prospect of an ice-free Arctic Ocean will yield a new era of international geopolitical conflict over resources and security (Borgerson 2008, Hamilton 2009, Berkman and Young 2009). In turning the public's attention to the Arctic Ocean, many stakeholders are collectively inviting us to participate in a paradigm shift. Whereas the Arctic has traditionally been seen as a mosaic, albeit a contested one, of coastal states and cultures, new proposals invite a focus on the Arctic as an essentially maritime, offshore geopolitical space. Others, including many government officials around the Arctic, believe that the case for conflict is greatly exaggerated, and that reforms to governance can be managed quite satisfactorily with existing political instruments. The indigenous and non-indigenous inhabitants of the Arctic are naturally very anxious (Simon 2008) that their hard-won agreements over resources and rights not be eclipsed. Yet threats are emerging from powerful, ambitious interest groups, from governments increasingly concerned about natural resources, and from multinational corporations.

This colloquium will begin to identify how discourses about arctic political and cultural spaces are developed and deployed to promote competing geopolitical frameworks. Critical attention will be paid to the spatial vocabularies of arctic politics in order to understand how verbal and visual metaphors orient frameworks towards particular ways of seeing that purport to be objective or neutral. For example, where arctic states speak of 'backyards', more distant interests such as environmental NGOs and regional blocs like the EC increasingly seek political purchase by applying metaphors of conservation, common heritage, and the global commons to the Arctic.

The colloquium is also explicitly intended as an opportunity to reflect on the roles and responsibilities of university researchers in making historically-informed interventions in public policy. How should historians attempt to bridge the disjunctures often apparent in our understanding of the past and the present by mapping the continuities? How should Britain's history of wealth accumulation from the Arctic (e.g. whaling, sealing, oil and gas) inform current debates about how the history of arctic exploration is written? How can the responsibility to undertake independent peer-reviewed research be balanced against the opportunities to carry out advocacy in policy research? Does being situated in the United Kingdom enable researchers to write about the Arctic with the objectivity of a distant observer, or do our national interests and those of the European Community complicate the demands placed on researchers?

Session 1: Governance [Organiser: Jackie Price]

This session will explore the role of governance in mediating the relationship between place and people. The Arctic has acquired considerable relevance to understanding global spaces more broadly. Conversations on arctic governance include a broad spectrum of perspectives (indigenous nations, nation states, non-government organizations, and industry), all of which have their own understanding of the Arctic's purpose (homeland, peace zone, resource opportunity or world ocean). Governance systems and structures may be able to mediate the dialogue between these varied perspectives. This begs the question: is the goal of arctic governance to intervene externally to bring order or harmony to these perspectives? And, if so, how is this best achieved? If not, how does arctic governance provide an opportunity to maintain a diversity of perspectives as a means of maintaining critical engagement?

In light of calls by the European Union to establish a policy on the Arctic, the granting of observer status to China in the Arctic Council, and the occasional parallels drawn between Antarctica and the Arctic, it is clearly important to consider the role of 'non-arctic players' in arctic governance debates. Are their actions a present-day manifestation of the political legacy of polar exploration, in which the backyards of nation states were mapped, claimed or staked in the name of sovereignty or free trade? Or are they rooted in historically-informed global networks, where crises such as climate change, resource development, and international economic recession heighten the demands to treat Arctic "place" as an internationally regulated economic space? In either case, how are the multiple meanings of 'homeland' (e.g. indigenous roots, military security, global spaces) being contested and reworked? How might we proceed with a critical assessment of the relationship between representation and habitation of the Arctic? This session will consider all such questions.

Session 2: Exploration [Organiser: Christina Sawchuk]

Recently, a controversial motion to do with field research was tabled and defeated at the Royal Geographical Society. Its proponents advocated the resumption of the large multidisciplinary expeditions to little-known places that had characterized and lionized the Society in Britain and in the wider world. This (along with the successful reinvention of the big-screen Star Trek franchise) is a manifestation of the sustained desire to go, or to watch others go, where few have gone before. Exploration remains a powerful cultural and economic activity today. It plays a crucial role in representing and influencing geopolitical discussions about regions perceived to have geographical or cultural difference from ours. This session will propose new means of understanding the past and present symbiosis of arctic exploration in order to draw forth its involvement in, and implications for, current political and academic debates.

Of particular interest is the spatial turn that many disciplines have embraced. In assigning a special character to "writing from the North," Tim Ingold has foregrounded the issue of authorial perspective as one that needs unpacking and careful examination. One could also follow the fault-lines in conceptions of the arctic environment, now emerging under the strain of global attention suddenly swinging to the top of the world. What significance is there in envisioning the Arctic as a homogeneous maritime space, a place of rapidly fracturing "permanent" ice, or a coastal contact zone? Students of exploration are well positioned to examine past and present representations of arctic spaces.

Exploration, whether geographical or petrochemical, while purporting to know current landscapes in an objective sense, has also often sought to imagine future ones. As the circumpolar Arctic experiences an international renaissance and re-imagination, it is timely to reflect upon past exploratory visions, from pragmatic to utopian. To do so is to expose the historical continuities and ruptures in discrete traditions of arctic and exploratory thought, to the benefit of truth-seeking academics and politicians alike. It is also to offer a much broader palette of possibility from which to realize the twenty-first-century Arctic.

Symposium Committee

Abridged biographies

Barbara Bodenhorn is a Newton Trust Lecturer in the Department of Social Anthropology, University of Cambridge, and a Fellow of Pembroke College. She has worked in the Arctic since 1980 and in Mexico since 2004. She went up to Barrow in August of 1980 to work for the Inupiaq Community of the Arctic Slope (the regional 'tribal' govt) as their Director of Social Services. She returned to Cambridge to start her Nov. 1983, sponsored by Inupiaq History, Language and Culture Commission. after which she returned to the North Slope for 2 years of fieldwork, and a position with the City of Wainwright as a grants compliance/grant writer person. Since then she has done projects with AEWC, Ilisagvik College, and the Barrow Arctic Science Consortium. Her most recent interests include: knowledge practices, with particular attention to climate change, the science/non-science interface, and alliance building.

Michael Bravo is Senior Lecturer at the University of Cambridge and is Head of the Circumpolar History and Public Policy Research Group at the Scott Polar Research Institute. The group undertakes research relating to the history and governance of the Arctic at a critical time in its emergence as a region of global interest. Bravo is contributing through research collaborations and supervision to help develop the next generation of researchers writing from the Arctic. He played a key role in writing a humanities theme for the recent International Polar Year (2007-2009), the first such 'big science' polar event to include explicitly the importance of citizenship as well as the participation of northern peoples and social scientists. Following the International Polar Year, Bravo was the rapporteur for the international report on the Canadian Arctic Research Initiative (2008) commissioned by the Council of Canadian Academies. The panel's recommendations were recognised by the Government of Canada in its recent decision to invest $87 million in the renewal of research infrastructure in the Arctic. Bravo is editor of Narrating the Arctic (2002) and the author of many scholarly and popular articles.

Marionne Cronin is a Research Associate at the Institute for the History and Philosophy of Science and Technology and acted as a course instructor for the Scott Polar Research Institute's M.Phil. course in 2008-09. After completing her doctorate at the University of Toronto in 2006, Marionne took up a Smithsonian Institution Post-doctoral Fellowship at the National Air and Space Museum, Washington, D.C. Her dissertation research explored the relationship between technology and geography using as a case study the emergence of aircraft designed specifically for northern Canadian aviation. She is currently beginning some new research in the history of polar aviation with a focus on the decision by explorers such as Roald Amundsen and Richard E. Byrd to use aircraft in attempts to reach the poles during the 1920s and 1930s and the impact of this use on images of exploration and the polar regions. Bringing a geographical analysis of technology to the history of polar exploration, her research investigates the mutually shaping relationship between material objects, place, and practice. In particular, she is interested in how aircraft were incorporated into existing myths and narratives of polar exploration; how cultural images of the activity, the individuals, and the place were adjusted to accommodate this technology; and how the use of aircraft at the poles was incorporated into perceptions of aircraft as a heroic technology.

Felix Driver is Professor of Human Geography at Royal Holloway, University of London, and author of Geography Militant (Blackwell, 2001). His research is concerned with the relationships between geographical knowledge, empire and the cultures of exploration; geography and visual culture; and the history of geographical collections and collecting. He is currently supervising an AHRC research project on Hidden histories of exploration, which will culminate in an exhibition at the RGS-IBG in Autumn 2009. He is also working on the history of Victorian textile collections in a collaborative project with the V&A Museum.

Erin Freeland is from Sombake, Denendeh (Yellowknife, Northwest Territories, Canada). Her research focuses on the political ecology of indigenous communities simultaneously experiencing climate change and oil and gas development. Investigating this relationship through the lens of community health, Erin has trained Youth Video Research Teams who examine the question:
What insights can communities facing both oil and gas development and climate change teach the future about being sustainable? The broader scope of Erin’s work examines the articulations of ‘resource development’ and environmentalimpact assessments as they relate to Canada’sdomestic and foreign policy in the Arctic. Erin works with Beyond Canada’s Three Oceans an Institute of Ocean Sciences/ International Polar Year project to support community-based oceans monitoring of the Northwest Passage using Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit and
environmental monitoring to support healthy oceans and with the Dechinta project, a bush-based university programe in the NWT.

Mary Katherine Jones is a Ph.D. candidate in History at the University of Tromsø in Norway. Her doctoral research focuses on texts about Spitsbergen as a no man's land published in five European geographical journals between 1895 and 1920, when Norway gained sovereignty of the archipelago. Comparative analysis of reports of current events in the High Arctic in selected Norwegian, Greenlandic/Danish, Canadian and US newspapers forms a second strand of research that she hopes to develop more fully in the future. She presented posters relating to this topic at the 2008 and 2009 Arctic Frontiers conferences. She is an associate member of the Arctic Discourse research project at the University of Tromsø. Her M.Sc. (Research) in Scandinavian Studies from the University of Edinburgh is on "The Endless Utility of Spitsbergen: patterns of usage from 1596 to 1920".

Jotti Kingsley is currently a PhD student at Deakin University in Australia with Associate Professor Mardie Townsend on the health and wellbeing benefit of the natural environment with a focus on marginalised groups. Whilst he is here in the UK, he has a specific idea for a project to develop a tool that can measure the wellbeing benefits of the natural landscape that is culturally appropriate to a number of different groups in England and Australia. He has previously worked for the state government in Victoria (Australia) as a Senior Policy Officer (Indigenous Health) and has been working for the Victorian Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation setting up a public health unit. He completed a First Class Honours and Masters in ecological health with a focus on Aboriginal Australians' connection to their Traditional land, and has also been published in peer-reviewed journals on the health benefits of the natural landscape.

Bryan Lintott has a professional background in the heritage and museum sectors as a curator and director. He is a former Chair of ICOMOS NZ (International Council on Monuments and Sites, New Zealand), and as a Winston Churchill Fellow has studied heritage sites in the USA and UK.

Bryan is currently at Scott Polar Research Institute as a visiting scholar and is working, part-time, on SPRI's Polar Museum project. His PhD research, being undertaken through the University of Canterbury's 'Gateway Antarctica', is on 'The Antarctic Huts of Scott and Shackleton: Significances, Restoration, Conservation and Interpretation'. His involvement with the Polar Museum project focuses on both Polar Regions - a change from New Zealand's mono-polar perspective of looking south to 'The Ice'.

Tavis Potts is a lecturer in marine policy at the Scottish Association for Marine Science. His previous studies have covered the international governance of the oceans, particularly the North and South Poles, and the European Union's involvement in the regulation of oceans.

Tavis is currently researching the links between biodiversity conservation policy and marine industries such as navigation, fisheries and energy. He is also looking at the relationship between country borders and the demand for Arctic resources. His research will build on his recent publications including The Arctic: Current Legal Developments (2008). He is interested in the evolution of oceans' governance in a changing Arctic climate, the conservation of marine biodiversity, resource management, and the role of science in policy development.

Richard Powell studied at the University of Oxford (BA, 1998) and as a Canadian Rhodes Scholars Foundation Scholar at the University of British Columbia, Vancouver (MA, 2000). He was awarded his PhD by the Department of Geography and Scott Polar Research Institute, University of Cambridge, in May 2004. Richard held an ESRC Postdoctoral Fellowship at Cambridge and a Simon Research Fellowship at Manchester, before moving to a Lectureship (Grade B) at the University of Liverpool in September 2006. Richard's research interests include the geographies of science, ethnography, and the geopolitics of natural resources in the Circumpolar Arctic. He has conducted extensive archival and ethnographic research into the cultures and practices of the environmental sciences in the Arctic. This work has been published in a range of outlets and culminates in a monograph, Studying Arctic fields, that is currently under review.

Richard currently holds an ESRC/RCEP (Research Councils' Energy Programme) Interdisciplinary Early Career Research Fellowship, 2007-2010, entitled 'The socio-political, environmental and technological implications of climatic changes in the Circumpolar Arctic for UK Energy Security', through which he is writing a book, Arctic Futures, for IB Tauris. He has recently been awarded an ESRC Seminar Series, 'Knowledges, resources and legal regimes: the new geopolitics of the Polar regions', for 2009-11. For his research, Richard has received the Royal Geographical Society's Area Prize 2002 and the Environment and Planning A Ashby Prize 2007. He has advised UK and Canadian policy-makers about developments in the Circumpolar Region and has been interviewed by media outlets in the UK and US.

Jackie Price is a Ph.D. student with the Scott Polar Research Institute. The inspiration for her research is the regeneration of Inuit governance and her proposed research aims to draw out the link between Inuit governance and Inuit wayfinding knowledge and methods. She argues that the consistency in practice and principle between these two systems point to a consistency in relationship between homeland and people. Jackie's research will also consider the emerging opportunity, and responsibility, for Inuit to articulate the role of Inuit governance in Nunavut communities in response to the emerging debates on Indigenous and Arctic Governance.

Helen Reddick holds a collaborative AHRC doctoral scholarship between Newcastle University and the National Maritime Museum, and is undertaking research on the subject of children's literature and the culture of exploration. Investigating the evolution of the narrative and its cyclical implication on exploration and explorers themselves, Helen is interested to disseminate the continuing reverberations of the form in current texts and its wider implications. Her work to date has concentrated on British children's literature evolved directly in response to early nineteenth-century Arctic exploration and the re-emergence of its tropes, motifs and ideologies in the modern children's text. Helen has presented two papers to date on her research, in April 2009 at the Toulouse Museum of Natural History conference 'Enfance, Savoirs Et Environnement: La Vulgarisations Du Discours Scientifique Dans La Litterature De Jeunesse', her paper on 'Ice Boys, Ice Bears and Ice Men: Arctic Exploration and the Popularization of Science in Victorian Children's Fiction' argued for a revised view of the notion of science in the children's exploration narrative. In May 2008 Helen presented a paper at the 'ANSP North by Degree International Conference on Arctic Exploration' in Philadelphia on 'The Polar Trek and the Children's Book' which examined the striking relationship between a 1825 children's text concerning Arctic exploration and one written in 1997. Helen holds a Master's Degree in Children's Literature from the National Centre for Research in Children's Literature at Roehampton University, London, England, where her thesis demonstrated how children's texts of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries could be shown to contain traces of the then ultra-modern evolutionary ideas not yet acceptable in scientific circles.

Pamela Strigo is a staff member of the Canadian High Commission and conducts policy work about the Arctic.

Christina Sawchuk is a PhD candidate at the Scott Polar Research Institute. Her dissertation (in progress) examines the cultural history of northern Canadian exploration in the early twentieth century. It is particularly concerned with questions of truth, expertise, and representation. Reviewing the published and unpublished writings of four explorers (George Douglas, Guy Blanchet, Vilhjalmur Stefansson, and Richard Finnie), she posits the existence of an informal network of exploratory actors who created northern knowledge and shared it amongst themselves, their professional colleagues, and the public. As well as tracing the circulation of this knowledge throughout Canada and the United States, Christina attempts to reconsider and expand how the 'explorer' and 'exploration' were defined at that time, and to explain why such identities and activities fell out of favour and practice in the post-Second World War North.

Jessica Shadian is a Senior Research Fellow at the High North Center for Business and Governance at the Bodø Graduate School for Business and Governance in Bodø, Norway. Shadian completed a Ph.D. in Global Governance from the University of Delaware, USA. Her research investigated the implications of indigenous autonomy on Westphalian conceptions of sovereignty and Arctic governance as manifest in the work of the Inuit Circumpolar Council (and is presently the basis of a book project on this topic).

Dr. Shadian's current research explores the emerging political changes in the Arctic including the historical, legal and political issues of industrial development and sustainable resource management with a view towards understanding and mitigating relations between policy makers, private industry and local communities. Shadian's recent publications and public commentaries on these issues include: World Focus: Online radio show on polar politics; 'Hon na Arktídu' ('Arctic Security the Legal Way'), Zahranicna politika, 'Building Bridges (and boats) Where There Was Once Ice: Adopting a Circumpolar Approach in the Arctic,' Policy Options and 'Searching for the Indigenous Voice in a New Arctic Scramble: Berlin Conference Part II or a New Global Politics?', E-International Relations.

Bernard Stonehouse is an Emeritus Fellow at the Scott Polar Research Institute. He first visited Antarctica in 1946 as a Royal Navy pilot for the Falkland Islands Dependencies Survey (later the British Antarctic Survey). He studied penguins and seals on the Antarctic Peninsula, king penguins on South Georgia, and deer, Dall's sheep and other sub-polar species in the Yukon. For many years he was editor of Polar Record. His books include Animals of the Antarctic and Penguins and Sea Mammals of the World. His recent research interests include the history of whaling as well as the rapidly growing phenomenon of polar tourism.

Claire Warrior works on the history of material culture and museum collections from the Arctic and Subarctic. She has been interested in museums and the objects in them since her undergraduate training in social anthropology. She has worked in the museum sector since 1995, moving to the National Maritime Museum, London in 2001. Her regional interest in North America began when she wrote her Masters essay on model crest poles from the Northwest Coast of Canada. Since then, she has researched collections from the Southwestern United States and Subarctic and Arctic Canada. Her PhD research concerns the ways in which museums have shaped interpretations of polar collections, and how these interpretations have been presented to the public, British constructions of the Arctic, their contribution to national identity, and how they have changed over time.

Louise Watling is a research student in the Polar Studies M.Phil programme at the Scott Polar Research Institute, University of Cambridge. Her research is currently examining constructions of working class identity and masculinity in Robert Falcon Scott's famous South Pole expedition, with a special focus on Edgar Evans.

Glyndyr Williams is Emeritus Professor of History at Queen Mary College, University of London. He has been Professor of History at Queen Mary, University of London since 1974 and Emeritus Professor since 1997. He is the author of a number of classic studies about exploration, knowledge and empire including The great map of mankind : perceptions of new worlds in the age of enlightenment (with Peter Marshall), The British Search for a Northwest Passage in the Eighteenth Century, and most recently Voyages of Delusion: the Quest for the Northwest Passage.