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The Polar Regions An Environmental History von Howkins, Adrian (eBook)

  • Erscheinungsdatum: 20.11.2015
  • Verlag: Polity
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The Polar Regions

The environmental histories of the Arctic and Antarctica are characterised by contrast and contradiction. These are places that have witnessed some of the worst environmental degradation in recent history. But they are also the locations of some of the most farsighted measures of environmental protection. They are places where people have sought to conquer nature through exploration and economic development, but in many ways they remain wild and untamed. They are the coldest places on Earth, yet have come to occupy an important role in the science and politics of global warming. Despite being located at opposite ends of the planet and being significantly different in many ways, Adrian Howkins argues that the environmental histories of the Arctic and Antarctica share much in common and have often been closely connected. This book also argues that the Polar Regions are strongly linked to the rest of the world, both through physical processes and through intellectual and political themes. As places of inherent contradiction, the Polar Regions have much to contribute to the way we think about environmental history and the environment more generally. ADRIAN HOWKINS is Assistant Professor at Colorado State University


    Format: ePUB
    Kopierschutz: AdobeDRM
    Seitenzahl: 248
    Erscheinungsdatum: 20.11.2015
    Sprache: Englisch
    ISBN: 9781509502011
    Verlag: Polity
    Größe: 1464 kBytes
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The Polar Regions


The Polar Regions Up to 1800

Few things differentiate the Arctic from Antarctica more than the scale and chronological scope of their early human histories. By the year 1800, people had been living, traveling, and hunting north of the Arctic Circle for thousands of years. Only some islands, inland regions, and the extreme far north had no human populations. In contrast, the first recorded sightings of Antarctica did not take place until 1820; the size and hostility of the Southern Ocean barred the presence of people. It would not be until the middle of the twentieth century that the first permanently occupied settlements would be built on the Antarctic continent. While large parts of the Arctic therefore have a history of human occupation stretching into the deep past, at the turn of the nineteenth century the Antarctic continent remained completely unseen and unknown. A case could be made that prior to 1800, everything in Antarctica was myth while the Arctic already had a long human history.

In contemporary western culture, the word "myth" is often used to imply something that is not true while the word "history" is usually assumed to have some relationship to what actually happened. While such a distinction has been widely challenged and would not be recognized by many cultures around the world, it is a dichotomy that retains much of its power, at least in the west. Rather than suggesting a stark distinction between Arctic history and Antarctic myth, a study of the two Polar Regions up to 1800 reveals myth and history to be much more fluid than is often believed. In many parts of the Arctic, the elaborate myths that are told about a place are fundamental to the way people make sense of their environment. It makes little sense in this context to ask what is true and what is not, since myths are a fundamental part of the history. In Antarctica speculation about the existence of a southern continent existed long before the first recorded sighting, and this speculation has become part of the history. In particular, very few books on the history of Antarctica begin without some reference to the classical geographies of Aristotle and Ptolemy that hypothesized the existence of a southern continent. 1

Myths and histories are seldom politically neutral, and the way we perceive the distant past shapes the recent past and the present. By telling stories about Greek and Roman speculation, for example, Europeans have created for themselves a longstanding connection with Antarctica that goes back more than ten times further than the continent's known existence. In the twentieth century, such a historical connection proved politically useful for the European countries that sought to assert their ownership of the southern continent. In both north and south, in the triumphalist stories of Enlightenment explorers such as Captain Cook, the act of exploration is presented as the replacing of the unknown with the known, myth with history. Over time, however, the historical deeds of these explorers often become myths in their own right through frequent retelling and embellishment. 2 In the Arctic, European colonialism often began with the appropriation of indigenous myths. Colonial anthropologists such as Knud Rasmussen sought to rationalize and make sense of Arctic belief systems, rather than taking them purely on their own terms. Colonial powers sought to replace indigenous myths with supposed Christian and scientific truths, thereby creating disconnects with place and the environment and facilitating land removal and political control. Historical resistance to such a process has often focused not on direct competition, but on the perpetuation and valorization of the myths that connect people to the land.

The blurring of myth and history has important implications for the field of environmental history. It highlights the importance of

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