The Arctic Imagined

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaperpeer-review


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. The increasing militarization and the military tensions and activities 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.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 28 Oct 2023
Event16th Polar Law Symposium - University of the Faroe Islands (Fróðskparsetur Føroya), Tórshavn, Faroe Islands
Duration: 26 Oct 202328 Oct 2023
Conference number: 16


Conference16th Polar Law Symposium
Country/TerritoryFaroe Islands
Internet address


  • Arctic
  • Travel writings
  • Arctic Humanities


Dive into the research topics of 'The Arctic Imagined'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this