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Writing on Ice
The Ethnographic Notebooks of Vilhjalmur Stefansson
Vilhjalmur Stefansson; Gísli Pálsson, ed.; Gísli Pálsson, intro.




Dartmouth College Press
2001 • 393 pp. 48 illus. (18 color). 2 color maps. Fig. 6 x 9"
Anthropology / Arctic Studies / Ethnic Studies / Biography & Letters


$35.00 Hardcover, 978-1-58465-119-2



An extensive account of the often elusive anthropology of a famed Arctic explorer.

Between 1906 and 1918, anthropologist and explorer Vilhjalmur Stefansson went on three long expeditions to the Alaskan and Canadian Arctic. He wrote voluminously about his travels and observations, as did others. Stefansson's fame was partly fueled by a series of controversies involving envious competitors in the race for public recognition. While many anthropological works refer to his writings and he continues to be cited in ethnographic and historical works on indigenous peoples of the North American Arctic, particularly the Inuit, his successes in exploration (the discovery and mapping of some of the last remaining land on earth) have overshadowed his anthropological work.

Writing on Ice utilizes his extensive fieldwork diaries, now in Dartmouth's Special Collections, and contemporary photographs and sketches, some never before published, to bring to life the anthropology of the Arctic explorer. Gísli Pálsson situates the diaries in the context of that era's anthropological practice, early 20th-century expeditionary power relations, and the North American community surrounding Stefansson. He also examines the tension between the rhetoric of ethnography and exploration (the notion of the "friendly Arctic") and the reality of fieldwork and exploration, partly with reference to Stefansson's silence about his Inuit family.



Vilhjalmur Stefansson (1879 - 1962), son of Icelandic immigrants in Manitoba and North Dakota, was affiliated with Harvard's Anthropology Department and Peabody Museum. His association with Dartmouth began in 1929, and his later visits laid the foundation for the polar study program formally established in 1953.

Gísli Pálsson is Professor of Anthropology and Director of the Institute of Anthropology at University of Iceland. He has written extensively on such issues as environmental debates, property rights, fishing skills, fieldwork, biotechnology, language, and cognition. His newest book is The Textual Life of Savants: Ethnography, Iceland, and the Linguistic Turn (1997).






Fri, 8 Aug 2014 11:56:11 -0500