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Economics of Ice: Globalization and the Polar Regions

Kristy Leissle

March 31, 2013

by Kristy Leissle, PhD, Lecturer, University of Washington

I am very pleased to be offering the first humanities and social science based course on the polar regions, Economics of Ice: Globalization and the Polar Regions, at UW Bothell in spring quarter. My scholarly interest in the polar regions arose after what I thought would be a purely recreational expedition trip to the Antarctic more than a year ago. Upon my return, I began to consider the geopolitical parallels between the Antarctic and my primary geographical area of study, sub-Saharan Africa. As I expanded my polar interests to include studies of the Arctic as well, I realized that, much like sub-Saharan Africa, the polar regions have been major and crucial locations of resource extraction, helping to fuel the global economy both historically and today, and at the same time under-discussed and under-represented in both popular media and social scientific academic studies. While the melting of the Arctic sea ice especially has opened new windows onto polar discussion, there still remains, I believe, a significant gap between the scale of political, economic, and historical contributions the polar regions have made to global flows of ideas, people, and goods, and the frequency with which they are discussed in popular discourse and studies of globalization within the academy.

My seminar will introduce the importance of the Arctic and Antarctic regions to global economic, political, and environmental processes, especially climate change, through both social scientific analyses and — just as importantly — analyses of representations in text and film, to explore the ways we think about and imagine the poles. My students will explore human interactions with the poles, regarding indigenous peoples, the age of European exploration, contemporary cultures (especially food), sovereignty, resource extraction, climate change, and contemporary tourism. We will look especially forward to an April visit from Antarctic veteran and author Jason Anthony, whose recent book Hoosh: Roast Penguin, Scurvy Day, and Other Stories of Antarctic Cuisine (2012), is required reading for the course, along with Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage by Alfred Lansing (2007), and The Future History of the Arctic by Charles Emmerson (2010). Throughout the course, we will interrogate academic and popular media depictions of the poles, both textual (especially explorer accounts) and filmic. My goal is to emphasize the fragility and importance of the polar regions to global environmental health, resource flows, and historical knowledge of our planet. Students will give presentations on their research papers, which may cover any issue discussed in the course for either pole, on June 3 and June 5 on the Bothell campus. If you are interested in attending their presentations, please do contact me – we’d love to have you join us for what will undoubtedly be enlightening and lively presentations.

Kristy Leissle is Lecturer at the University of Washington Bothell and Seattle. Her research areas are, broadly, feminist international political economy, global trade, and sub-Saharan Africa, especially that continent’s political-agricultural and colonial histories. Specifically, her work has been on the cocoa-chocolate trade between West Africa, Europe, and North America.

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