In recent years, journalists and environmentalists have pointed urgently to the melting Arctic as a leading indicator of the growing effects of climate change. While climate change has unleashed profound transformations in the region, most commentators distort these changes by calling them unprecedented. In reality, the landscapes of the North American Arctic – as well as relations among scientists, Inuit, and federal governments – are products of the region's colonial past. And even as policy analysts, activists, and scholars alike clamor about the future of our world's northern rim, too few truly understand its history.
In Unfreezing the Arctic, Andrew Stuhl brings a fresh perspective to this defining challenge of our time. With a compelling narrative voice, Stuhl weaves together a wealth of distinct episodes into a transnational history of the North American Arctic, proving that a richer understanding of its social and environmental transformation can come only from studying the region's past. Drawing on historical records and extensive ethnographic fieldwork, as well as time spent living in the Northwest Territories, he closely examines the long-running interplay of scientific exploration, colonial control, the testimony and experiences of Inuit residents, and multinational investments in natural resources. A rich and timely portrait, Unfreezing the Arctic offers a comprehensive look at scientific activity across the long twentieth century. It will be welcomed by anyone interested in political, economic, environmental, and social histories of transboundary regions the world over.
Andrew Stuhl is assistant professor of environmental studies at Bucknell University, in Pennsylvania.
"Stuhl perceives climate change as an issue of human rights. It is simply the latest destructive incursion of the outside world; a tale of extraction and exploitation, of scientific, commercial, and colonial incursions that have pushed local people to the margins. The book puts a sharp focus on the far northern and western rim of the North American continent – Alaska and Canada – within a defined time period from 1881 until 1984. Stuhl examines environmental transformation in that part of the Arctic case by case in succeeding chapters, in an appeal to study the human history of the Arctic as an extranational phenomenon. The book is detailed and richly informed, not only by the thoroughness of its library research, but also by the author's personal on-site experience living and working in the Arctic environment. Arctic specialists will want to devour it. Essential."
"Stuhl animates, or 'unfreezes,' this history to bring it into the present – in other words, to place the Arctic back in time."
– Edge Effects
"Unfreezing the Arctic offers a powerful and provocative antidote to current thinking about the Arctic, challenging its consensus status as a newly industrializing global region. Unafraid to make bold assertions, Stuhl moves deftly and confidently to answer the question of how we got to where we are today in Arctic North America. He thereby opens a window into the present, revealing the new landscape of post-industrial science and decision-making – a remarkable story of sharing, exchange, negotiation, cooperation, and exploitation. Powerful and nuanced, Unfreezing the Arctic will shake up how we think about the future of the Arctic itself."
– Michael Bravo, University of Cambridge
"Beginning in the nineteenth century, contested visions of development transformed the lands and peoples of the Western Arctic: visions driven by the fears, dreams, ambitions, and knowledge of whalers and trappers, explorers and scientists, militaries and corporations, federal governments, and indigenous sovereign Nations. In opening our eyes to that dynamic history, Unfreezing the Arctic shatters the myth of a far North frozen in time."
– Gregg Mitman, University of Wisconsin-Madison
"Stuhl has written a clear, compelling analysis of the historical complexities of the Arctic in an era of climate change. He shows how relevant history can be for current debates, and he sheds welcome light on the ways that the Arctic's colonial past remains present in climate debates. Arctic ecologies and cultures have rich histories, and Stuhl makes a powerful case that sustainable futures require close attention to these histories."
– Nancy Langston, Michigan Technological University
"Lively written and boldly crossing geographical and disciplinary boundaries, Stuhl's innovative Unfreezing the Arctic does an important job in demonstrating how authority in Arctic science was always bound up with practice and politics, in fur trading, reindeer herding, military planning, oil drilling, and environmental conservation. Drawing on firsthand experiences from living in the Arctic, he creatively and responsibly forges archives and ethnographies into a truly integrative and original environmental and science historiography. Above all, in a time when the Arctic risks being reduced to climate and science, Stuhl tells us to turn to history for integrative social narratives and solutions that take Arctic postcolonial politics seriously. Offering friction to conventional wisdom, this slim, engaging volume moves Arctic history writing strides forward."
– Sverker Sörlin, KTH Royal Institute of Technology
"Unfreezing the Arctic is a highly original, extraordinarily fascinating, and persuasively argued book. Stuhl makes a significant contribution, both empirically and methodologically, to the history of Arctic science and exploration. This book will provide an exemplary model for junior and senior scholars intent upon studying the commingled political, economic, and social histories of transboundary regions anywhere in the world. It is a stellar contribution to the field."
– Tina Adcock, Simon Fraser University