Exploring the Arctic at Venice International University

Scholars, indigenous activists and students from both sides of the Atlantic (or Pacific?) met at the small Venetian island of San Servolo from 14th to 19th of January 2018. I am reporting here as part of a group of three professors and five students from Russia who attended the international graduate seminar “Northern Territories and Indigenous Peoples: Comparative perspectives”.  Almost 40 participants from Canada and the US, from Italy, Belgium, Germany and Russia attend the event at Venice International University.


Maria Momzikova from the EUSP presenting her research (Photo Julia Kovyrshina)

“The crucial thing is the way one can inhabit space. We do not have the chance to evaluate space in the same way in the North of Russia and Canada with their vast territories and sparse population. Old labyrinth-like Venice taught me to be satisfied with a tiny imagination of possibilities of life in the era of global warming, among the melting ice.” Anastasia Karaseva from Saint Petersburg.


A. Karaseva with the blog-author on the Rialto bridge (Photo Julia Kovyrshina)

It might seem strange to travel to Venice in January to discuss the Arctic. There might be few places on earth that seem to be less similar to each other – Venice being a densely populated small island and the Arctic as a place including different continents whose borders and populations are even difficult if not impossible to define clearly. Also in historical terms – when the star of Venice was already declining, the Arctic just started to appear on the maps of geographers. Interesting connections start to evolve: one of the early geographical atlases “Ptolemy’s Geographiae Universae” edited by Giovanni Antonio Magini and printed 1596 in Venice by Heredes Simoni Galignani presents already maps of the Arctic. Among them, a description of Siberia called Tartariae Imperium. Venetian glass was popular at that time in Russia and reached the new established Arctic towns like Mangazeya. The hunger for northern goods fuelled the expansion of trade routes into the Arctic since the middle ages and provoked the time of explorations of the 17th and 18th centuries – when the hegemony in trade for Venice was already over.

20180117-_MG_1217And of course both the Arctic and Venice suffer from exotization being inundated with cliché and imagination. For the outside world they are the source of and endless stream of kitsch but also of the uncanny and demonic that is haunting the unconscious like in Hugo Pratt’s comic “Corto Maltese: In Siberia”. It might not be the best idea to start in Venice and go on a journey to Siberia in order to collect all exotic clichés and stereotypes. It might be more productive to make the reverse journey from the ‘periphery’ and try to take a sober look at the ability of both places to enchant imaginations but also to look at the social relations and power configurations behind them.


An unconscious reminiscence of “Don’t Look Now”

The program of the Graduate Seminar interestingly united quite diverse anthropological schools. The main group was formed by researchers from Canadian universities and the National Institute of Scientific Research (INRS) as a cooperation with the DIALOG- Aboriginal Peoples Research and Knowledge Network. The seminar constituted for them the 14th edition of the Nomadic University intensive training program.


The island of San Servolo with the Venice International University campus (Photo Julia Kovyrshina)

Another research tradition was present through researchers from Russia in particular from the High School of Economics and the European University at Saint Petersburg. Every of this schools represent different histories and developed different methodological approaches. They even differ in their view on the relations of indigenous peoples and other inhabitants of the Arctic. To look at social problems from the perspective of trauma and healing for instance is very unusual for researchers from Russia as it is for North-Americans to look at white people not as settlers. But research grounded in fieldwork dealing with everyday life of local inhabitants is easily understandable for scholars working in different parts and historic traditions in the Arctic.


Place of pilgrimage for Russians in Venice (Photo Julia Kovyrshina)

The main target group were PhD and master students from North America, Asia and several European countries doing research mostly on and with indigenous groups. Among the teachers were indigenous activists as well. To understand the different languages of academic disciplines and schools and to detect overlapping and differences might have been the most fruitful exercise during the seminar. A lot of discussion of course as always during scientific events happened at the corridor talk at coffee breaks, receptions and during the free time. Maybe even the town added some transcendental notes to the atmosphere of the seminar as one of the Russian participants put it. One of the Canadian participants told one of the students from Venice at the first session, when she admired the view over the lagoon from the window of the lecture hall: “It’s a shame to read the papers in this weather!” to which the Venetian student replied, “I live here – it’s a shame to study in Venice”.


View from the window of the lecture hall over the lagoon (Photo Julia Kovyrshina)


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Gateway to the Arctic V: Co-production of knowledge

24th to 27th January 2018 in Pyhätunturi (Lapland, Finland)

Arctic Centre (University of Lapland, Finland) hosts the 5th ‘Gateway to the Arctic’ (coordinator Dr. Anna Stammler-Gossmann). It is organized in cooperation with the Alfred-Wagener-Institute for Polar and Marine Research, Germany (coordinator Dr. Renate Treffeisen) and Université de Versailles Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines, France (coordinator Prof. Jan Borm).

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Care, assimilation and revitalization in Deanuleahki, Sápmi

We have the pleasure to host at the anthropology team Annikki Herranen-Tabibi, Doctoral Candidate, Department of Anthropology, Harvard University.

She is doing research on  kin-based forms of care, and the ecological and political context thereof, in Deanoleahki, Sápmi, and going to talk about her anthropological fieldwork plan, as well as answering any possible questions someone might have about Harvard.

The talk will be at 23 November, 14:00 in Rovaniemi, Finland in the Arktikum house, in the meeting room “THULE”. Coffee and cookies will be served.

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How do non-Arctic actors’ interests matter the Arctic? – debates around Arctic Circle assembly

From October 13 to October 19, 2017, the Uarctic Thematic network “Arctic Extractive Industries” held a masters/Phd course on the topic of Security, Governance and Geopolitics in relation to Arctic Extractive Industries. This time the organizers invited participants to Iceland. The course brought together students and faculty from Arctic universities and research centers from 10 different countries. The program came in three stages:

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Job for Anthropology lecturer, Oulu

If many of our colleagues send their application to this job offer, we may be able to get another Arctic anthropologist to our team. Please consider, it’s a great and rare opportunity.


The Faculty of Humanities of the University of Oulu publishes an open position of university lecturer in cultural anthropology as of 1 August 2018

Research at the Faculty of Humanities focuses on the theme of Understanding humans in change. The applicant’s research interests should coincide with this theme. In the past few years, the research activities of cultural anthropology have focused on the following themes: environmental anthropology (such as mining and climate change, particularly in northern and Arctic areas), political anthropology (such as environmental conflicts, epistemic struggles, and colonialism), multispecies ethnography (such as human-animal relations) and ethnohistory (especially histories of the Indigenous peoples of North America and the Saamis). In addition to the themes listed above, the program of cultural anthropology is interested in promoting its teaching and research in linguistic anthropology, medical anthropology and anthropology of technology, but experts in other subfields are also encouraged to apply.

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People, Places and Change

Exhibition – Research in the Arctic
Dr. Anna Stammler-Gossmann, Arctic Centre, University of Lapland, Finland

October 3 –19, 2017. Kopio Gallery, Faculty of Art and Design, University of Lapland

Exhibition Launch: Monday, October 2, 2017, 18:00

This poster exhibition is based on the materials collected during the anthropological fieldwork in the coastal areas of the Northern Norway and Russia. It represents the relationship of coastal inhabitants with and around seawater, and their ways of perceiving and experiencing changes in the coastal life.

Layout and film editing: Anna Maria Gossmann,International School of Design, Technical University of Cologne, Germany

Arctic Centre in cooperation with the Faculty of Art and Design (University of Lapland)

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Women as guardians of Human Security in the Arctic?

11 September, talking about Human Security. Is that by coincidence or a slight hint at the terrible events in New York in 2001? It was not quite a usual group of people for a scholarly conference who had gathered in Helsinki in the Foreign Affairs Institute to explore security beyond armies, military and sovereignty questions. I was told that there will be people from governments, embassies and the like.


Yuranebe Khada, Nenets guardian of a hearth on the Yamal Pensinula. She is the source of human security for the people who live on Gazprom’s largest terrestrial gas deposit (Foto Stammler)

When preparing the talk, I realised that the main argument that I thought was lacking from the point of view of an anthropologist on human security in the Arctic, is that humans feel secure there if they have a sense of home, of belonging, and of emotional-spiritual warmth and stability at their place. This fundamental condition of  human security is quite well epitomised by the symbol of the hearth, the fireplace in the middle of a nomadic tent, tended physically by the housewife, and spiritually guarded by the myad pukhutse, which is the Nenets word for the spirit that guards the tent and the hearth in it. Now notice: both of these figures, the housewife and the the guardian spirit are female. This means that the main guarantors of human security as a general condition in the Arctic are women! In all the male politician talk, or military talk, or industrialisation talk, or adventure talk, or reindeer herding talk – this fundamental condition about gender is not enough emphasized. This was my argument in the talk in Helsinki to these ambassadors. Of course, as everything, this is not new. The volume edited in 2010 by Thomas Hylland Eriksen emphasized already that we need to consider more immaterial notions of human security

After the talk I was a bit surprised to have seen, among others,  the ambassadors of countries that might have a bit different view on gender in the audience: Iran and Morocco 🙂 . To be honest, I was a bit surprised myself seeing myself talking like this about gender – considering that I am not at all a specialist in this field, and have never published on it. But it’s never too late…

At least there was no open outbreak of opposition in the audience, rather slight shaking of heads when they were listening to that argument.

If you are interested, you can listen to talks on that seminar here in the podcast, and comments are welcome of course!

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