When most of us think of the earth, we imagine going “north” as going “up.” Modern maps, however, obscure many geographic realities, including the existence of an Arctic world, which unites the US, Canada, Russia, Norway, Greenland and other countries into a distinct geographic sphere. In this episode, Bob and Ben are joined by historians Heidi Bohaker and Alison Smith to discuss their work developing a course on the history of the Arctic at the University of Toronto. The conversation covers the diversity of indigenous groups in the region, the conquest of the Arctic by modern states, and the many ways that climate change may impact the world. As it turns out, there’s a lot to learn from a “top down” history of the earth.
Dr. Heidi Bohaker is Associate Professor of History at the University of Toronto, whose specialties are Native American history and digital history. She has a broad interest in the types of archives and categories of information both states and non-state societies kept and keep about their people.
Dr. Alison Smith is Professor History at the University of Toronto and a specialist in the history of the Russian Empire. She has published several articles and two books, the most recent of which is For the Common Good and Their Own Well-Being: Social Estates in Imperial Russia. (Oxford University Press: 2014). You can read her series of blog posts on "The Case of the Dead Cheese Master" at the Russian History Blog.
Alison also followed up with some recommended notes and links for those interested in learning more about the Arctic:
This is an interesting draft Encyclopedia Arctica: http://collections.dartmouth.edu/arctica-beta/index.html
The Scott Polar Research Institute at Cambridge is fascinating! https://www.spri.cam.ac.uk
As is the Museum of the Arctic and Antarctic in St. Petersburg: http://www.polarmuseum.ru/index.html
This is the site for Passage, the film that inspired us to teach together: https://www.nfb.ca/film/passage_edu/
This art exhibit was also something we used: http://vanishingice.org
We didn’t talk about it, but there’s a fascinating Glenn Gould radio composition, “The Idea of North” that influenced us (in part as a contrast to other ways of talking about the Arctic). Here’s an article bout it that includes a link to both the radio show and a television version that was later produced. https://www.cbc.ca/radio/ideas/revisiting-glenn-gould-s-revolutionary-radio-documentary-the-idea-of-north-1.4460709
We contrasted that with some 1960s-70s Soviet productions. Like Kola Beldy’s “I Will Take You Away to the Tundra” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NrBtOTstM-4 or “Song of a Polar Summer” about Norilsk: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g5SMUCMn_BQ
The Road to Now is part of the Osiris Podcast Network.
This episode was edited by Gary Fletcher.