Circumpolar Perspectives on Arctic and Subarctic Environments and Knowledge

AHA Session 111
Friday, January 3, 2014: 2:30 PM-4:30 PM
Marriott Balcony B (Marriott Wardman Park)
Ronald E. Doel, Florida State University

Session Abstract

Our roundtable speaks to contemporary interest in northern environmental history. Situating ourselves at the intersection of environmental history and the history of science, we will explore subarctic and Arctic societies, landscapes, species, and commodities, while raising questions about the place of "the north" in environmental history.  With specialists in the history of Alaska, Canada, Russia, and Scandinavia, our roundtable will encompass the entire circumpolar region.

The north is unique: characterized by harsh tundra, taiga, and permafrost, yet possessing resources that have attracted overseas and continental empires. It is also home to distinctive indigenous communities, whose experiences and epistemologies have shaped, and been shaped by, scientific and managerial perspectives imposed from outside the region. The themes of northern history have shifted over time, echoing both these local circumstances and larger histories of encounter, exploration, and exploitation in ways that illuminate the implications of imperialism, state power, scientific practice, and ideas about nature.

By exploring this dual character of the North – as unique, yet tied to developments elsewhere – we will demonstrate how this region both resists and embraces various approaches to studying people and nature in time. We will illustrate this by discussing specific episodes in northern history: whaling, conservation, and industrial development, and the study of permafrost, ice, and Arctic ecosystems; and by comparing local histories – Soviet, Canadian, Alaskan and Scandinavian – while examining their international dimensions.

We also intend to speak to contemporary concerns regarding global change. Placing these concerns in historical context, we will consider how northern regions have affected and are affected by historical processes such as knowledge production, colonization, industrial development, extinctions and other ecological transformations, and climate change.

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