English 193A: “Arctic Dreams and Nightmares”
Prof. Craciun, Spring 2017
The Arctic is a unique region, where the three continents of North America, Europe and Asia converge around an ocean. It has been imagined, defined, and experienced in numerous ways: as a “commons” of shared stewardship, a theater for masculine imperial adventure, a home inhabited by Inuit for millennia, a sublime icescape for spiritual quests, a laboratory for climate change and ecological collapse, and a lawless terra nullius (“no man’s land”). Questions our seminar will explore include: How does the enduring fascination with an “otherworldly,” “unspoiled” Arctic shape 21st-century environmental and geopolitical questions in the Arctic? What are the roles of Indigenous people in shaping the history and future of the circumpolar North? We will encounter diverse visions of the North and the Arctic in fiction, exploration narratives, travel and nature writing, oral accounts, ethnography, visual art, film, and geopolitical and environmental humanities, from the 19th to the 21st century. We will consider Inuit stories, art, and film, and works by Arctic voyagers and writers from Africa, Great Britain, and Europe. We will examine how the distinct human and environmental histories of the Northwest Passage, the North Pole, Greenland, and Svalbard have generated different Arctic visions. We will also look at the enduring fascination with the Victorian John Franklin disaster, whose ships were recently discovered and which has inspired the new AMC cable series, The Terror. Readings may include Tété-Michel Kpomassie, An African in Greenland; William Vollmann, The Rifles; Alootook Ipellie, Arctic Dreams and Nightmares; and Philip Pullman, The Golden Compass.