Friday, January 6, 2017

Andrew Stuhl's "Unfreezing the Arctic"

Andrew Stuhl is an Assistant Professor of Environmental Humanities at Bucknell University. He teaches environmental history, history of ecology, environmental humanities, and Arctic studies.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Unfreezing the Arctic: Science, Colonialism, and the Transformation of Inuit Lands, and reported the following:
Flipping to page 99 of my book, I find myself in the middle of an exploration of permafrost, a term coined by engineers and geologists in the 1940s to describe the phenomena they found under the surface of the tundra in Arctic locations: that is, ground that appeared to be frozen for most of the year. After World War II, the US Navy established the United States' first laboratory in the Arctic in Alaska, where the principal object of study was permafrost; Canada followed suit with a similar research center in the 1950s. In my research, I analyze these scientific developments in light of the political and economic context surrounding it, following the simple, but penetrating question "Why did scientists and governments suddenly become so interested in Arctic subsurface environments in the mid 1900s?" I write, "Through [research on soil moisture] permafrost scientists could help better locate power plants, barracks, hangars, and even hospitals..."

It may seem outlandish from today's perspective, but such sentiments galvanized circles of bureaucrats, oil company executives, and scientists in the 1940s and 1950s in both the US and Canada. The dream was to use new information on the subsurface environment to figure out how to build this infrastructure, take advantage of rich hydrocarbon resources, and finally settle the last frontier. Or perhaps this does not seem so outlandish, given that current discourses around the Arctic in North America have many of these same elements regarding politics, economic exploitation, research, and environmental conditions. Indeed, the main thrust of my project in the book is to forge connections between past and present and ask readers to ponder more carefully the many layers of the Arctic, as it undergoes rapid social and environmental change today.
Visit Andrew Stuhl's website.

--Marshal Zeringue