Environments, Movements, Narratives in the Circumpolar North

Organisers: Piers Vitebsky, Florian Stammler , Peter Schweitzer, John Ziker

Registration for this event , abstract submission, accommodation and evening events booking here.


Preliminary Programme  Histories from the North: environments, movements, narratives: October 28 - October 31

Wednesday 28 October

Arrival of participants

18:00-19:00 Registration for the BOREAS final conference and technical checking, entrance hall of Arktikum Arctic Centre building

18:30-21:00 reception and welcome dinner at Arktikum, glass hall of Arktikum Arctic Centre building, Pohjoisranta 4, phone: +358 (0) 404844278

Thursday 29 October

08:30 Registration for the BOREAS final conference and technical checking, entrance hall of Arktikum Arctic Centre building

09:00 Opening the conference by Piers Vitebsky, Polarium room

09:15-10:00 Keynote speech by Elina Helander, Polarium room

10:00-10:30 press conference, Auditorium room

10:00-10:30 coffee break, glass hall of Arktikum Arctic Centre building

10:00-19:00 review committee panel, Thule meeting room

10:30-12:30 session ’Inscribing’, Polarium room

12:30-14:00 lunch, Arktikum cafe

14:00-16:00 session ’Studying the endangered’, Polarium room

16:00-16:30 coffee break, glass hall of Arktikum Arctic Centre building

16:00-18:30 poster session, glass hall of Arktikum Arctic Centre building

19:30 dinner at the Amarillo restaurant, Koskikatu 4, phone: +358 (0)16 3322 580


Friday 30 October

09:00-12:30 collaborative research proposal meetings,
Auditorium room (UMCN group, SCENOP group), Borelias room (MOVE group), Aurora room (HHH group, NEWREL group), Thule room (CEE group), Office room (NORSAGA group)

parallel: for all non BOREAS members, optional social programme:

10:00-10:30 Arktikum museum, main entrance
10:30-11:00 coffee at Arktikum cafe
11:00-11:40 Rovaniemi city library (planned by Alvar Aalto)
11:40-12:30 Rovaniemi church (painted by Lennart Segerstråle)

coffee break will be individually. CRP members provided with tickets for Arktikum cafe

12:30-14:00 lunch, Arktikum cafe

14:00-16:00 session ’Environment’, Polarium room

16:00-16:30 coffee break, glass hall of Arktikum Arctic Centre building

16:30-18:30  session ’Narrating’, Polarium room

18:30 - 19:30 Scientific Committee meeting for the BOREAS programme (Sci Comm members only)

19:40 bus transfer to the Sky hotel Ounasvaara, entrance of the hotel (Hotel Aakenus, Cumulus Rovaniemi Hotel, Rantasipi Pohjanhovi Hotel, and Hotel Santa Claus)

20:00 dinner at Sky hotel Ounasvaara

bus transfer back to the hotel (Hotel Aakenus, Cumulus Rovaniemi Hotel, Rantasipi Pohjanhovi Hotel, and Hotel Santa Claus)

Saturday 31 October

9:00 keynote speech by Tim Ingold, Polarium room

10:00-10:30 coffee break, glass hall of Arktikum Arctic Centre building

10:30-12:30 session ’Movement and emplacement’, Polarium room

12:30-14:00 lunch, Arktikum cafe

14:00-16:00 session ’Individual and social’, Polarium room

16:00-16:30 coffee break, glass hall of Arktikum Arctic Centre building

16:30-18:30 round table chaired by Piers Vitebsky in discussion with the project leaders and others, Polarium room

19:30 dinner at Pohjanhovi restaurant and dancing, Pohjampuistikko 2, phone: +358 (0)16 33711

Updates will be provided as titles and abstracts  are submitted.


Conference Objectives

The BOREAS research on the circumpolar North focuses on the relationship between humans and environments. Challenging the image of a static Arctic, this research is exploring the importance of movements (both seasonal and long-term), especially those associated with the creation, permanence and dissolution of communities, and ways in which these are mapped in ancient and new social forms. Human engagement with a given or changing environment finds expression in narratives (histories, philosophies, mythologies, arts and other forms).

Teams of scholars from Europe and North America developed a series of international collaborative research projects (CRPs) in response to the European Science Foundation (ESF) EUROCORES program BOREAS: Histories from the North – environments, movements, narratives. The call for proposals required a multidisciplinary and transnational approach. The BOREAS EUROCORES program has facilitated a number of workshops and dissemination activities bringing together some personnel from the seven recommended CRPs. The research is entering its final stage for many of these teams. The final conference will take place in October 28-31, 2009 in Rovaniemi, Finland, to exchange results and plan future research.


Intellectual Merit

The circumpolar North is widely seen as an observatory for changing relations between human societies and the environments. This region, which includes the Arctic and the sub-Arctic, has also moved to the center of global debates on new post-cold-war partnerships and issues of post-colonial governance, strategy and regional sovereignty. For political and other reasons, the circumpolar region has only recently reemerged a "region," revealing past connections and current common problems and pointing to future challenges, such as the  relationships between communities and the modern state (whether Soviet, post-Soviet or Welfare), NGOs, climate change, and the global economy. Through its core focus on time, space, change and movement, the BOREAS projects aim to bring a common measure to the time scales of geophysics, archeology and lived human experience. The Final BOREAS Conference will explore local perceptions of environmental, cultural, social and economic change, thereby facilitating a dialogue between local and scientific models.
The conference will be organized into 6 panels. Presentation slots in these panels are for BOREAS researchers, and for non-BOREAS participants by invitation only. Suggestions for presentations can be sent to the panel chairs. Moreover, a poster session will inform of research carried out in the framework of the BOREAS collaborative research projects. Poster presentations are for researchers affiliated with a BOREAS project only. Listeners for the conference are invited to register as such. Please indicate the type of your participation on the registration website.


BOREAS final conference panel abstracts

suggestions for presentations to be sent directly to panel chairs, who are responsible for selecting according to suitability, topic, and other criteria specified by ESF and NSF

Session 1 Inscribing the Circumpolar North: Scientific and Local Ways of Knowing

Chairs: Rob Wishart (r.p.wishart(at)abdn.ac.uk) and Patty Gray (Patty.Gray(at)nuim.ie)
Logical positivism and contextualized local ways of understanding the world are often contrasted. Indeed much of colonial history around the world is punctuated by various inscriptions of this schism, where the former is often placed in a hierarchical relation to the latter. Under various subtle and not so subtle guises, it is apparent that the contrast often continues to inform centralised state governance (often from the South) of the Circumpolar North, and local reaction to these programs are often informed by similar arguments. However, scholars throughout the North have been working on ways to shed light on the complexities or even the lack of validity regarding this discourse of complete difference. In this panel, the presenters will look at ways that these divides can be transcended. More than ever scholars are engaging with ideas of entanglements or convergences between these ways of knowing. Now even in the most positivistic driven arenas of management, policy makers are for various reasons obliged to work with ways of knowing that their predecessors would have described as myth or superstition. By reflecting on the North in relation to other areas of the world with similar histories, we ask the question: Can these entanglements or convergences be considered a new form of inscription or do they merely continue a process of colonisation both in the physical and consciousness sense?

The papers presented will reflect the work of several BOREAS CRPs concerned with the generation of new ways of thinking about and ways of representing northern communities. It is a core topic of conversation bringing together many discussions that have been occurring between Boreans on modes of inscription in the North, including but not limited to the history of exploration, the history of movement and migration, statistical modes of representation, paleoenvironmental signatures of human activity, mythical and symbolic ways of knowing, sentient ecologies, narratives and other pedagogical forms, state governance, and the history of science. 

 Session 2:  Studying the ‘endangered’ beyond ‘museification of culture’

Chair: Florian Stammler (fms36(at)cam.ac.uk)

Social sciences and humanities in the North and elsewhere have developed a high awareness for the potential social and cultural losses brought about by recent changes. Indeed we are confronted with losses of linguistic, spiritual, biological, and other diversities, loss of different traditions – processes which have generated various approaches from ‘salvation ethnography’ to ‘conservationism’. While such efforts have been tremendously important, they also have contributed to a ‘museification of cultures’ which is not necessarily shared by local people themselves. In many cases the loss of some aspects is accompanied by the transformation into something new, in which ‘lost’ elements become reincarnated. Humans in the Arctic and elsewhere have proved to be very innovative in dealing with changes. This panel critically revisits the category of the ‘endangered’ and seeks to shed light on the ‘other side of the coin’ presenting research on the innovative ways in which local people may perceive change not only in terms of loss but new opportunities. Examples could be new ways of thinking and speaking in a dominant language after the decline of a native one, new forms of religiosity including syncretism after missionary activity, innovative economic practices after decline of ‘traditional economies’, new artistic expressions incorporating previously ‘museified’ traditional arts, new place-making after relocation, and other cases. The objective of the discussion would be to find ways to study the ‘loss’ aspect and the ‘innovation’ aspect as two parts of a socio-cultural reproduction process.

Session 3: A Many-Faceted Tale: Narrating the North

chairs: Astrid Ogilvie (Astrid.Ogilvie(at)Colorado.EDU)  and Ron Doel (rdoel(at)fsu.edu)

The term “narrative” refers to either a written or oral story or tale. A narrative account may be fact or fiction, or a blending of the two. Precisely what may be deemed to be “fact”, and what “fiction”, may, in certain cases, depend on a person’s particular cultural or disciplinary perspective, but the word itself is neutral. Narratives most frequently suggest prose, but the term is so broad that it also covers other means of description; for example, poetry, as in the genre “narrative verse”. The term is fundamental and powerful, for narrative is at once both the most basic, and the most eloquent, tool by which human beings describe and make sense of the world they live in. It covers both spiritual and secular means of description. Examples of narrative are thus virtually boundless; from the creation myths and legends of ancient peoples, to oral histories, to the infinite variety of written narratives drawn from innumerable genres, to accounts of natural processes employed in what may be termed the western scientific tradition. In this session, a very broad view will be taken of this very broad term. The papers will cover a wide range of Northern topics, including presentations based on oral tales drawn from indigenous communities, and on written historical documents. Both of these narrative genres offer information on environmental, as well as social, political, cultural and economic change. This panel will also draw on the concept of narrative in the form of results from scientific techniques which provide vital knowledge of northern environments. Examples include the “reading” of the annual “accounts” formed in natural archives (e.g. the growth rings in trees or the sediment layers formed in both terrestrial and marine deposits). This session will serve therefore to illuminate the wide variety of data and methods used to gain information concerning cultural, political, and natural environments of the north, and will pose questions related to their use and interpretation. As such, it has the potential to reflect the interests and research questions of all the Collaborative Research Projects funded by the BOREAS initiative.

Session 4: Humans, environment, and change in the North

Chair: Andre Costopoulos (andre.costopoulos(at)mcgill.ca)

This roundtable discussion brings together researchers from the various BOREAS projects to discuss aspects of human adaptation to the
environment in the North, in the light of the results of the various collaborative research projects.  Each participant will make a brief
presentation on one aspect of the human-environment relationship in the north.  The panel and the audience will then discuss how humans
adapt to northern environments and the challenges of studying that process.

Session 5 Movement and Emplacement: Migration, Place-Making, and Belonging

chairs: Peter Schweitzer (ppschweitzer(at)alaska.edu) and Lee Huskey (aflh(at)uaa.alaska.edu)

The circumpolar North has been characterized by population movements for millennia: from aboriginal settlement episodes to colonial intrusions to seasonal subsistence movements. At the same time, northern places and landscapes are important identity markers for indigenous peoples who consider these regions their homelands. Even many of the non-indigenous settlers, who supposedly came for economic gain alone and were expected to leave after a few years, have developed a strong sense of belonging to their new places of residence. This panel explores the relationship between a strong tradition of movement and a strong tradition of being tied to specific places. Emplacement, the process of place-making in known and unknown territories, is being explored as one of the strategies for overcoming the seeming tension between these two traditions.

During the 20th century, migration has changed the spatial structure, ethnic composition, and population structure in the North. First, the North became a receiving region for non-indigenous settlers, while recently the North has become a sending region with more people leaving than returning.  The northern experience provides a context for examining the tension between home and movement. How strong a tie is home to potential migrants? What do patterns of migration and movement tell us about the characteristics of a place that make it home?  The northern experience also helps us understand what movers are seeking when leaving home. There are many reasons for moving. How does the effect of place on migration differ across important groups of people? The comparative experience also allows us to determine how those moving into or out of the north make a new home. How do movers recreate those things that they lose by moving? What are the consequences of the loss of home experienced by movers?

Finally, the question arises whether the North is any different from the rest of the world in this respect. That is, are northern populations movements and processes of place-making qualitatively different from those in the South? Obviously, home and movement are important themes throughout the world and a better understanding of the northern experience adds to the general understanding of this relationship. Thus, the panel invites comparative perspectives movement and emplacement in the North and elsewhere.

Session 6: The Individual and the Social: Some BOREAS Accounts of Lived Experiences

Chair: David Anderson (david.anderson(at)abdn.ac.uk ) & David Koester (dckoester(at)alaska.edu)

This session addresses one of the key initial research focuses of the BOREAS programme: “lived human experience.” There has been a significant debate in the literature of South Asia and other more southerly areas about whether Western anthropology is biased toward an understanding of the unique self in society or of the individual in history and culture.  At the same time, there has been a critique of cultural and social theories that deny or underplay human agency in history. The aim of this panel is to encourage explorations of the relative role in actual lived experience of “the individual” and the “the social” (or “the cultural”).   Does Northern research over-individualize everyday life?  Do our descriptions adequately present and account for collective action and relations with others and with the non-human world?  In what ways does the study of individual motivations and the consequences of individual action enhance our general understanding of social process and cultural dynamics?  This panel presents examples of how study of the political, religious, philosophical and social histories of northern regions contributes to our understanding of these questions.