This May, Arctic Encounters inaugurated a series of conferences, lectures, workshops and events which it will be hosting over the next several years. The launch event was a two-day post-graduate conference held at the University of Leeds School of English.* Entitled The Postcolonial Arctic, the conference brought together some 50 early-career and advanced scholars from across a range of disciplines to discuss a number of debates and concerns pertinent to past, present and future Arctic spaces – in Europe, Russia, North America and further afield. The conference sought to address issues linked to both the region’s colonial pasts and presents, understanding postcoloniality as a negotiation of historical legacies and as a reckoning of a range of new modes of contemporary (governmental, commercial, ideological, etc.) colonialism surfacing in today’s globalised world.
Dr. Michael Bravo from the University of Cambridge’s Scott Polar Research Institute presented the opening keynote lecture (one of three keynotes) at the conference, the content of which is soon to be published in a volume in concert with Arctic Encounters research. In his talk, Michael asks why colonial histories persist in the Arctic, and what these mean for scholars of the region. He discusses the resonance of past scholarly decentering in how the Arctic is understood today, drawing attention the absence of historical sensibility circumscribing much policy dialogue on the region. Michael explains how postcolonial analysis is germane to the increasing appropriation of the Arctic as a “resource”, and stresses how looking at the Arctic through postcolonial lenses can offer insight into the processes of resisting dispossession – through research on incarceration, sedentarisation and onomastics, to take just a few examples.
In his talk, Michael also speaks about his recently launched, counter-narrative web project on pan-Inuit trails, an atlas of Inuit Arctic trails offering fascinating insight into North American discursive colonial cartography histories. This project makes evident that, as he puts it, “changing colonialisms can be hard to distinguish”. Michael’s digital cartography project, his keynote and indeed much of his research in general speak to the emotional, symbolic and ontological “braiding” – of people, ideas and histories – which holds things in tension in the Arctic. As Michael sums it up in his closing words, “Our inner selves … are highly braided with those of our neighbours, and each other and each other’s lives.”
This autumn, Arctic Encounters will be making a selection of the talks from The Postcolonial Arctic conference available online. You can listen to Michael’s engaging keynote lecture from the Postcolonial Arctic, introduced by Dr Simone Abram, in its entirety by clicking here [64.6mb MP3 file].
*The event was facilitated by the Leeds Humanities Research Institute (University of Leeds) and the Leeds Institute for Colonial and Postcolonial Studies (ICPS).