by Peder Roberts
On November 9-11, 2013, the Division of History of Science and Technology at KTH hosted a workshop titled “Northern Nations, Northern Natures,” which was funded by the Network in Canadian History and Environment (NICHE) and Formas. Eighteen scholars took part from Canada, the United States, Russia, Sweden, Denmark, Finland, and Norway. The aim of the workshop was to bring eight senior scholars working in northern environmental history – broadly construed – into conversation with ten graduate students and younger scholars, in order to share ideas and develop networks. Over the course of two and a half days, the participants gave presentations on a range of topics, including the politics of fisheries management in the Barents Sea, the transplantation of muskoxen to Scandinavia, the commodification of iceberg water as a luxury product, the relationship of certain Inuit communities to forestry, and a great deal more.
In addition to provoking stimulating discussion (and not a few moments of genuine astonishment), the workshop raised some important questions about both the differences and similarities in various circumpolar environments. The diversity of experiences and opinions of indigenous peoples – as articulated by themselves as well as by others – was identified as an important issue, especially in relation to processes of modernization and industrialization. So too were the range of means by which states express claims to northern territories, from science to military occupation. Perhaps the most important theme running throughout the discussions was the breadth of material encompassed by the term ‘northern environmental history’, which participants agreed could function as a loose frame for all manner of interesting studies without the need to be exclusive or programmatic. The connections between polar and temperate regions (and even tropical regions, through the tentacles of the Danish colonial empire for instance) are clear from the age of European expansion right through to the concerns for global climate change in the present. Moreover, by emphasizing that nature can be constructed with particular national flavors – rather than being a foundational component of national identity – a more interesting take on the relationships between people and northern environments becomes possible.
The organizers of the workshop, Peder Roberts (KTH) and Tina Adcock (University of Maine), are extremely grateful to all the participants for a fascinating set of discussions and for an atmosphere of enthusiasm and goodwill throughout. Special thanks are also due to Sverker Sörlin, without whose guidance and efforts the workshop would not have been possible. A number of posts resulting from the workshop discussions will appear on The Otter, the NiCHE research blog, and on the workshop’s website.