The Arctic Imagined

Activity: Talk or presentationOral presentation


Based on literary studies the lecture focuses on how narratives about the Arctic – accumulated over centuries – prevail in discussions and may influence decision-making in and especially outside the region today. Investigations into historical accounts, geographical publications, travel writings and literary fiction published from the 17th century and onwards reveal presentations of the Arctic as something “beyond” – an uninhabited, remote world. This way of looking at the Arctic can be retraced all the way to the ancient Greeks, who considered the Far North and Arctic to be outside “the eucumene”, i.e. outside the inhabitable world. The famous French author Jules Verne in 1864 described the Arctic as a Desert of Ice (“Le désert de glace”). Travel writings from the region have focused on sea and ice and empty or sparsely populated places.
Many writings and debates about the Arctic today clearly reflect these old perceptions and tend to disregard that there are people and societies, including cultural traditions etc., in the region. Pictures from the Arctic tend to include the colours blue and white, sublime experiences, and exclude for instance houses or urban environments. With reference to the famous literary scholar Edward Said, you could call this an “imaginative geography”, created through texts, images, stories and based on desires rather than facts. Arctic research of today mainly focuses on climate change, access to resources and military strategies. A strategic paper from the French foreign ministry in 2019 symptomatically stated that the “Arctic belongs to no-one”.
Nordic cooperation is largely about culture, values, traditions and people. Many of the countries and areas included in the Arctic are Nordic. The new contextualization of these countries and areas as part of the Arctic is a dramatic change in the way they are perceived by the outside world. The Faroe Islands are not exactly a part of the Arctic, but they are frequently described as a “gateway to the Arctic” and as their Nordic neighbours, they are heavily affected by ongoing developments. The increasing militarization and the military tensions and activities in the Arctic raise questions of how relationships between countries and areas in the region will develop in the future. Looking into narratives can help highlight some present ethical dilemmas and foreseeable challenges
Period28 Oct 2023
Event title16th Polar Law Symposium
Event typeConference
Conference number16
LocationTórshavn, Faroe IslandsShow on map
Degree of RecognitionInternational


  • Imaginative Geography
  • Travel Writing
  • Image
  • Law and Literature
  • The Arctic Region
  • Militarization