Arctic Studies Minor


A new interdisciplinary minor in Arctic Studies at the University of Washington has been established by the Canadian Studies Center, Henry M. Jackson School of International Studies, College of Arts and Sciences, and the School of Oceanography, College of the Environment, in collaboration with University of the Arctic. The purpose of the Arctic Studies minor is for undergraduates to have an opportunity to gain skills relevant to addressing major science and policy issues in the Arctic.
Arctic Minor Brochure 1
Arctic Minor Brochure 2


The Canadian Studies Center, Henry M. Jackson School of International Studies, College of Arts and Sciences, and the School of Oceanography, College of the Environment established a new interdisciplinary minor in Arctic Studies at the University of Washington (UW). The Arctic is one of the most critical emerging regions of the world. The environmental, social, economic, and political changes occurring in the Arctic present challenges in both the natural and social sciences. Future leaders in the region will be those who can combine interdisciplinary knowledge covering policy, culture, and science to address the unique and urgent challenges to the region. This undergraduate minor responds to student interest and to the opportunity for the UW to combine its strengths in polar science with growing expertise in the social sciences to become an international leader in Arctic Studies.

The purpose of this minor is for undergraduates to have an opportunity to gain skills relevant to addressing major science and policy issues in the Arctic. Students may pursue research topics such as indigenous governance; adaptation of northern communities to environmental and social change; security issues; northern economies; processes that are controlling the physical and biogeochemical changes in the Arctic; impact of physical changes on marine ecosystems and biodiversity; and the changing transportation pathways in the Arctic Ocean.

By partnering with northern institutions and organizations, the minor encourages arctic-subarctic research collaboration fostering future professional networks. The minor will train students to work with international organizations, national governments, and sub-national organizations and/or to pursue graduate study at the intersection between science and policy in the polar regions. Already the Jackson School and Oceanography have had notable success in student placement and advanced study in Arctic related fields. The minor will enable the UW to facilitate further success in this endeavor.

Henry M. Jackson School of International Studies & Oceanography – Partnering for Excellence

The Henry M. Jackson School of International Studies (JSIS) and Oceanography are the ideal administering units for the Arctic Minor. JSIS and Oceanography are among the first units on campus to offer Arctic-specific courses (JSIS 495 Canada Task Force on Arctic Governance; and OCEAN 122 Arctic Change & 482/508 The Changing Arctic Ocean). These courses have been highly subscribed and successful including placement of students in advanced degrees in Arctic studies and Arctic-based professional fields. Both units also share the largest Arctic collection on campus. Librarians Sion Romaine and Louise Richards created the Arctic and Northern Studies Subject Guide and provide research training sessions on the Arctic for U.W. students.

JSIS has an interdisciplinary faculty
 with expertise in area and international studies. The undergraduate 
and graduate curricula, including a new doctoral program, are designed to build in-depth knowledge and understanding of world areas, civilizations, and their interactions on the global stage. JSIS is home to 13 academic programs and 14 centers including centers that represent seven of the eight Arctic nation-states on the Arctic Council (Canada, Russia and the Scandinavian countries) and non-Arctic nation-states with strong interest in the Arctic region (European Union, China, Japan and Korea).

Canadian Studies leads the Arctic Initiative in JSIS. The Center established the International Studies capstone course on Arctic governance and security, fostered several scholarly publications on Canada and the circumpolar world, and sponsored dozens of lectures, symposia and conferences on the region over the last few years. Canadian Studies is also the first National Resource Center in the nation to award Foreign Language and Area Studies fellowships in Inuktitut, the Inuit language. Canada is the world’s second largest Arctic nation-state – home of the Northwest Passage and Arctic Archipelago – and plays a leadership role in the Circumpolar World. The Arctic is one of the top foreign policy priorities for both the governments of Canada and Québec; the Inuit in Canada are among the most politically active and effective indigenous people in the world.

The School of Oceanography, also host to a strongly interdisciplinary faculty, fosters continued advancement of the ocean sciences, solutions to problems of societal relevance, and public awareness of the marine environment. It is at the forefront of generating knowledge and understanding of the ocean through observation, experimentation, theory, modeling and technological innovation. The School focuses on learning and discovery, equipping students with knowledge and insights, scholarly methods, scientific tools and communication skills. Its research programs encompass the physical, chemical, biological, and geological sciences and the interfaces between these natural sciences and climate change, the foundation of Arctic change. The School of Oceanography has a highly integrated relationship with U.W.’s Applied Physics Laboratory, one that benefits its linked educational and research missions, and both Oceanography and the Applied Physics Laboratory perform world-leading Arctic research.

The Arctic Ocean is critical to the study of Arctic change, influencing all elements of the Arctic system and connections to the rest of the planet. Interactions between polar seas and ice play a major role in shaping the trajectory of climate and sea level change. As the Arctic sea ice cover continues to thin and recede, access to natural resources is increasing, new shipping lanes are opening, and ecosystems are changing. Sea ice is also integral to the lives of the Inuit whose culture, identity and food security are based on free movement across land and frozen sea.

The Arctic Minor & UW’s Future of Ice Initiative

The Arctic minor is part of a parallel initiative between the College of Arts and Sciences and College of the Environment: The Future of Ice: A Polar Regions Science and Policy Initiative to enhance UW’s profile in research, education and public engagement about the polar regions. The February 2013 report submitted by the Future of Ice Task Force to the Deans of the College of the Environment, College of Arts and Sciences, and Director of the Applied Physics Laboratory, calls for a significant commitment to polar regions scholarship including a cross-college interdisciplinary education program centered on the Arctic minor; a new Scholars Program for graduate students, post-doctoral and visiting scholars; new hires in the science and policy of the polar regions; and a strategy that ensures the flow of knowledge between the University and community of stakeholders in the polar regions, including indigenous peoples.

Cross-College Partnerships & University of the Arctic

The proposed Arctic minor has the support, and interest, of 20 departments in the College of Arts and Sciences, the College of the Environment, and Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences at UW Bothell. In addition, the Arctic Minor includes further development of an established partnership with University of the Arctic (UArctic). UArctic is an international cooperative network of institutions from around the circumpolar world, and UW is one of just two UArctic members in the lower 48. Courses available in collaboration with the UArctic enable UW students to participate in a global classroom with colleagues from around the circumpolar world including from Canada, Russia, Greenland, and the Scandinavian countries. Curriculum design for the UW minor in Arctic Studies includes two on-line Bachelor of Circumpolar Studies (BCS) electives from UArctic (BCS 321 & BCS 322 Contemporary Issues in the Circumpolar World).

Integrating Policy and Science – A Unique Vision for the Arctic Minor

The Arctic Minor has the unique vision to build knowledge and understanding of Arctic change from a social sciences, natural sciences and human studies perspective. This will enhance student understanding of the Arctic and its role in the global system. One of the keys goals of the Arctic Minor is to introduce policy to students from the natural sciences and humanities, and natural science courses to students from the social sciences and humanities, effectively improving literacy across the disciplines. The ARCTIC 200 course will introduce science and humanities students to the elements of policy writing and the role of policy in Arctic geopolitics; OCEAN 235 will provide Arctic-centered content to educate non-scientists about scientific issues in the Arctic. Evaluation of the students in ARCTIC 400 (capstone) will take into account the differing abilities of the students (a higher level of sophistication in writing policy for the students from the social sciences, and a great degree of expertise in the physical or biological sciences for the natural science students). The differing strengths of the students will create a dynamic and relevant approach to resolving Arctic issues particularly as the students will work in teams on their final written projects. The Arctic Minor will expect all students to gain a fundamental knowledge in Arctic oceanography, climate change, policy, and Arctic indigenous peoples made possible by the required core courses and capstone experience.