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Arctic Visible: Picturing Indigenous Communities in the Nineteenth-Century Western Arctic

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - ARCVIS (Arctic Visible: Picturing Indigenous Communities in the Nineteenth-Century Western Arctic)

Reporting period: 2019-08-01 to 2021-07-31

The research project “Arctic Visible: Picturing Indigenous Communities in the Nineteenth-Century Western Arctic” (ARCVIS) investigates the visual representation of Indigenous peoples and their local environment during expeditions to the Northwest Passage in the nineteenth century, a period that saw intense exploration in the region. Hundreds of sketches, paintings, and prints of Indigenous people in the Arctic were created by travellers from lower latitudes, particularly by those in British naval maritime expeditions. Yet, the dominant and enduring imaginary of the Arctic is of a space devoid of people. The project seeks to present the peopled western Arctic (Greenland, Canada, Alaska) encountered by maritime ‘explorers.’ The project’s objective is to create an online resource that gathers together representations of Indigenous people in the nineteenth century and links them to real places in the Arctic.
In contrast to enduring images of ice, the project aims to show the Arctic as a peopled environment with a rich history and heritage. By spatially connecting little-known archival materials (held in repositories worldwide) to their places of origin in the Arctic, the project seeks to virtually ‘return’ sketches and illustrations to their rightful ‘homes.’ The project planned to produce a minimum of two articles in peer-reviewed international journals, a variety of outreach and dissemination initiatives, and a portal containing two versions of the database.
Due to the Covid-19 pandemic it was not possible to travel to archives or to even order material from archival repositories for the majority of the project (17 months). As a result, the project became reliant on already existing resources available online and missed the opportunity for undiscovered material, a large part of what the project was about. The project gathered approximately 700 records of digital material and research was conducted to uncover the original geographical locations of the representations. This meant that geographic coordinates were attached to many records making the material easy to map. It is planned to publish a website of this material, linking it to geographical places, online in early 2022. Time and funding that could not be used on archival research and other activities involving travel (for example, dissemination) was channelled into revisions of my book “Visual Culture and Arctic Exploration,” which benefitted from the research done during the MSCA period. The publication by Cambridge University Press will be made available as a Gold Open Access publication, representing a significant and unforeseen output of the project. The project also will have published two open-access articles in peer-reviewed journals as planned. One has already been published and the other is due for publication early in 2022. A further article was published at the outset of the project, based on work I had done during the application.

What follows is the list of publications produced during the project, including publications on topics not directly connected to the project:

O’Dochartaigh, Eavan. Visual Culture and Arctic Voyages: Documentary Art and Literature of the Franklin Search Expeditions. Cambridge University Press (March 2022). In Press.

O’Dochartaigh, Eavan. “Social Encounters: Portraits of the Yup’ik Women of Taciq, Alaska, 1850-51.” Interventions: International Journal of Postcolonial Studies. Special Issue: Counter Stories from the Arctic Contact Zone. (2022). Under Peer-Review.

O’Dochartaigh, Eavan. “Arctic Visible: Mapping the Visual Representations of Indigenous Peoples in the Nineteenth-Century Western Arctic.” Post-Proceedings of the 5th Conference Digital Humanities in the Nordic Countries (DHN 2020), CEUR Workshop Proceedings 2865 (2021): 179-184.

O’Dochartaigh, Eavan. “Sweden is No Country for Heartfelt Cries of ‘We’re All in This Together.’ ” Sunday Independent (Ireland), 20 September 2020.

O’Dochartaigh, Eavan. “Covid-19 and the Swedish Experience: Notes from Umeå, Northern Sweden.” Moore Institute, 28 April 2020.

O’Dochartaigh, Eavan. Review of The News at the Ends of the Earth: The Print Culture of Polar Exploration, by Hester Blum. Journal for Maritime Research 22, no. 1-2 (2020): 212-214.

O’Dochartaigh, Eavan. “ ‘Exceedingly Good Friends:’ The Representation of Indigenous People during the Franklin Search Expeditions to the Arctic, 1847-59.” Victorian Studies 61, no. 2 (winter 2019): 255-267.

O’Dochartaigh, Eavan. “Arctic Visible: Picturing Indigenous Communities in the Nineteenth-Century Western Arctic.” Northern Notes 52 (fall/winter 2019): 25.

The project also produced conference papers, posters, and talks. However, many key events and conferences that I was due to attend from March onwards in 2020 as both delegate and speaker were cancelled or postponed, resulting in numerous missed opportunities for training, dissemination, and networking.
In a recent talk as part of a panel on Greenlandic art and museums, art historian and curator at the Nuuk Art Museum Nivi Christensen, commented that Greenlanders were “relying on people outside Greenland finding these pieces [artworks] and sharing them with us” (Greenland-Denmark Conference, Copenhagen, June 2021). Her observation underlines the scattered and fragmented nature of visual and textual archives of the Arctic in general as well as their locations in repositories often far from the Arctic itself and thus inaccessible for people who live there. This is as a result of much of the material being created by travellers to the region, often as part of larger imperial projects, who then left, carrying their records with them. Samples of Indigenous drawings were also often added to these collections, potentially providing us with multifaceted representations of the Arctic. Over the last decade, interest in the Arctic has rapidly increased, yet academically, the bulk of the research within the humanities focuses on the written text, often passing over the equally compelling illustrations and sketches that may lay alongside.
This project has gathered together over 700 records of images of Indigenous peoples in the Arctic and will be published online and disseminated in 2022. The compilation of the archival records and displaying them in their geographical contexts will provide an enormous resource for education as well as forming the basis for a second book. The data collected in this project has the potential to inform future research as well as drawing attention to the very peopled Arctic that exists and has a rich history. The book that is being published as result of the fellowship project will provide a valuable resource for those interested in representations of the Arctic. It examines the visual culture and literature of the search expeditions that explored the Canadian Arctic Archipelago in an effort to find Sir John Franklin and his crew who had set out to discover the Northwest Passage linking the Atlantic and Pacific oceans in 1845.
Edward Adams, Parsegotúr Iikutok Tribe. 1850-51. 2838458, Library and Archives Canada