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Arts & Sciences grant supports first interdisciplinary graduate course in Arctic Studies

December 31, 2013

Above: Two students from the course – Elle Roelofs, Education (far right) and Jason Young, Geography (next) – meet with Alexina Kublu, former Language Commissioner for Nunavut, Mick Mallon, Inuktitut instructor, and Robyn Davis, FLAS Coordinator (back) to learn more about Nunavut and the Inuit language.

In Fall Quarter 2013 the Center – in conjunction with College of the Environment and the Future of Ice initiative – offered a graduate course on the Arctic entitled, The Arctic as a Global Emerging Region.

As a result of climate change, the Arctic is fast becoming a region of considerable scientific and geopolitical interest. In the Arctic, global warming is occurring at twice the rate of the rest of the planet – for the first time in history we will witness the emergence of a new ocean. At the same time, the Arctic is a focus for global geopolitics with unique characteristics including the prominence of environmental security and, the effective role of Arctic indigenous peoples in international affairs. The Arctic is now a top foreign policy priority for Canada, Russia, the Scandinavian countries and the United States as well as for sub-national entities such as Québec and Alaska. Even China, Japan, Singapore, India and the Republic of Korea now have a role on the Arctic Council. The Arctic is a paradox – it serves as the global barometer for climate change while presenting new ways forward in global geopolitics. How do we understand the complexities of this “new” global region?

This seminar explored the Arctic as an emerging region in the 21st century from a variety of perspectives – climate and ocean change, human rights, changes to the cryosphere (sea ice, permafrost, glaciers), indigenous concepts of Arctic territory, fisheries management and economics, community security (education, health, housing and food), international customary law, past human-environmental dynamics, global geopolitics, resource extraction and environmental ethics, and the interactions between the Arctic indigenous peoples and state entities in the policy dialogue.

The course was structured to facilitate the writing of research proposals for the Arctic Research Fellowships. Eighteen students (nine from the College of Arts and Sciences and nine from the College of the Environment) attended a weekly seminar. In each seminar a panel of UW faculty or researchers, local artists, the Canada Fulbright Chair in Arctic Studies and even guest speakers from Canada presented on their research or artistic work as it concerns the Arctic as a distinct region. This seminar marked the first time that UW students – and faculty – had the opportunity to see the wealth of activity that is occurring in Arctic Studies at the UW. “This was a real eye-opener for me,” one student commented.

Speakers included Cecilia Bitz, Atmospheric Sciences; Kristin Laidre, Oceanographer, Applied Physics Laboratory, Polar Science Center; Sven Haakanson, Department of Anthropology and Burke Museum; Marc Miller, School of Marine and Environmental Affairs; David Fluharty, School of Marine and Environmental Affairs; Terrie Klinger, School of Marine and Environmental Affairs; Sandy Parker-Stetter, Aquatic and Fishery Sciences; Maria Coryell-Martin, Expeditionary Artist; Michelle Koutnik, Department of Earth and Space Sciences; Tony Penikett, Canada Fulbright Visiting Chair in Arctic Studies; Peter Geller, University of the Fraser Valley; Nadine Fabbi, Canadian Studies Center, Jackson School of International Studies; Jennifer Marlow, UW School of Law; Fran Ulmer, Chair, U.S. Arctic Research Commission; Jody Deming, Oceanography and Astrobiology; Axel Schweiger, Applied Physics Laboratory, Polar Science Center; Saadia Pekannen, Henry M. Jackson School of International Studies; Vince Gallucci, Aquatic and Fishery Sciences and Canadian Studies; George Hunt, Aquatic and Fishery Sciences; and Chris Anderson, Aquatic and Fishery Sciences.

Panelist discussions covered a wide-range of perspectives on the Arctic region including the salience of Inuit political mobilization, how the Age of the Arctic compares with the Rise of Asia, fisheries management as fish stocks move north, sea ice biology and the role of marine microorganisms in ocean ecology, and the impacts of climate change on Alaskan communities and on tourism in the north, to mention just a few of the subjects addressed. Students were asked to attempt to incorporate new content beyond their own disciplines into their understanding of the Arctic as a distinctive region.

The students each gave presentations on an area of research concerning the Arctic that was of keen interest to them. These areas of interest included Québec’s Arctic policy, the role of the Russian Association of Indigenous Peoples of the North, the role of Asian countries on the Arctic Council, Canadian government policy concerning funding for Arctic research, use of new technologies by the Inuit civil society organizations to further community goals, impacts of climate change on the boreal forest and on ice modeling, and differing concepts of ice (Western scientific vs. indigenous). Some of the students may apply for an Arctic Research Fellowship – a program open to any UW graduate student.

The Arctic Research Fellowships provide a $5,000 award to about eight UW students working on research that addresses the Arctic as a distinct world region in area studies. Students are encouraged to examine the Canadian, Russian or Scandinavian Arctic regions, or analyze interest in the Arctic by Asian countries, from an interdisciplinary perspective (natural sciences, social sciences, humanities, arts). The funding is provided by an Arts and Sciences grant awarded to the Canadian Studies Center with co-PIs from the Program on Climate Change and Atmospheric Sciences.

The course was taught by a faculty team including lead instructor, Ben Fitzhugh, Anthropology; Jody Deming, Oceanography; Nadine Fabbi, Canadian Studies Center; Vincent Gallucci, Aquatic and Fishery Sciences and Canadian Studies; and, Christine Ingebritsen, Scandinavian Studies and West European Studies.

For more about the course and Arctic Research Fellowships, visit

This course and the research fellowships are made possible thanks to a grant from the College of Arts and Sciences for the project entitled, Re-imagining Area/International Studies in the 21st Century: The Arctic as an Emerging Global Region to enable the Canadian Studies Center – in partnership with the Center for West European Studies, Ellison Center for Russian, East European and Central Asian Studies, Center for Global Studies, and East Asia Center (all in the Jackson School), Anthropology and Scandinavian Studies, Aquatic and Fishery Sciences, Atmospheric Sciences, Oceanography, Program on Climate Change, and the Quaternary Research Center – to take the first steps in building a Graduate Certificate in Arctic Studies at the UW