The class this field trip was intended for was an Applied Anthropology class. Because of that, I wanted to express some ideas regarding the role of anthropology in Greenland. After two weeks (okay, three with delays), I saw so much potential for my discipline. While arctic research seems to be dominated by the natural sciences, there is incredible potential for more social scientists.
Throughout my time in Greenland, I was given a brief glimpse into a huge range of topics. As an applied anthropologist, I couldn’t help but notice all the potential for anthropology in the many areas of research, life, and work I was exposed to. As I mounted a defense for anthropology before I left, I want to end this trip circling back. For my students, anthropology colleagues, and those in fields that may benefit from an anthropological infusion, here are some thoughts regarding the growing potential for anthropology in Greenland.
Heritage tourism: The future of Greenlandic tourism was on everyone’s minds. How can this island nation benefit from what is likely to be a huge uptick in visitors, without suffering the consequences of unsustainable tourism? This conversation was happening concurrent to talk about archaeology and cultural heritage. How can archaeologists help build sustainable tourism in Greenland? The National Museum has been exploring what a focus on heritage tourism can build. They are developing site specific guidelines for archaeological sites targeted by the tourism industry, as well as collaborating with community partners like the adventure guide school and cruise companies. Chatting with a cultural educator with Adventure Canada one evening, I learned how a combination of tourism management, an arctic guide certification, and an archaeology degree could be mobilized into a career in heritage tourism. Imagine if every cruise ship or tourism company visiting sites of archaeological importance hired an in-house archaeologist. Archaeologists specializing in heritage tourism could help with decision making for companies striving to sell responsible travel (a growing trend, thankfully). They could also offer exciting opportunities to guests, many of whom would love to be educated while entertained. The tourism industry is monstrous. If archaeologists and anthropologists continue to infiltrate, it may mean better outcomes for the places of history people flock to each year.
Small museum management: Many of Greenland's museums, such as the one managed by the women in the video below, are small operations with limited budgets, personnel, and space. Despite these limitations, they have a huge job to do in the coming years. Thousands of archaeological sites have been identified and labelled at risk in the warming environment. Any efforts to save them will need to be matched by capacity to curate and care for the evidence of the past. As such, there is a huge role for anthropology, archaeology, and museum studies in this context.
Heritage craft revitalization: During this trip, I introduced readers to Pituaq and Barse, two craft specialists whose work showcases traditional art in the Inuit world. The heritage craft industry all over the world is seeing traditional knowledge disappear. Some countries are actively tracking it and some institutions (like Potsdam) are actively reteaching it. There is much room for growth in these efforts. From what I can tell, there is no shortage of interest from people who want to incorporate the joy of craft into their lives, be it a skill from ancestral traditions or as a way to learn about another culture. The loss of tradition extends to intangibles as well. In Greenland, skills such as drum dancing and subsistence hunting are in-danger of fading with the current generation. While the loss of heritage craft is seen around the world, the loss of traditional knowledge in Greenland is more complex. There, its a part of a complex story of colonialism, economic repression, and social stigma. Indeed, indigenous communities around the world face a seemingly uphill battle against lost traditions. Here, anthropologists can help study the underlying factors limiting generational transmission of knowledge as well as partnering with communities to mobilize support (and funds) for revitalization movements.
Climate change social science: All around Greenland, natural scientists are studying the dramatic shifts coming from climate change. But the social science front is quieter. There is significant room for more social scientists such as anthropologists to join research aimed at understanding and preparing for climate change impacts. The human factors must be considered. Likewise, there is a need to counter-balance Western, scientific narratives of environmental change and resource loss in the Arctic as well. In Greenland, Inuit communities have much to add to this research. Anthropologists around the world have played a role in amplifying efforts to combine scientific and indigenous knowledge. In Greenland, more anthropologists engaged in what is often called the 'co-production of knowledge' could grow these partnerships.
Business anthropology: I couldn’t help note that during Greenland Science Week, the business community was just as engaged as the research community. Of the many academic conferences I’ve attended, I think this is the first where this blend was so welcome. I heard talks from ‘industrial PhDs’, students pursuing research as a part of a specific industry or company. Their work is designed to be applied from the start. For example, I learned about the work of an industrial PhD student examining the science of food quality and storage limitations for seafood sold by Royal Greenland and another studying effective ways to alter tourists’ behavior. Both were affiliated with an academic institution and a company. Likewise, a panel discussing how to make science matter included a professor, a scientific researcher, the director of the Greenlandic fishermen and hunters union, and the Director of the Greenland Business Association. It is clear that scientific research is not just for the scientific community in Greenland. As such, I can’t help but see a huge role for business anthropologists, professionals who provide human insights into the business world. They are a bridge between science and industry. They have the capacity to push more responsible economic initiatives by enticing companies to consider the human impact of their work, both in Greenland and elsewhere. Using anthropology, this collaboration between the economic and human sectors of society can continue to grow their often tenuous relationship.
Science communication: There is incredible research being done in and around Greenland. Some of it reaches the public in great science communication pieces...but much of it doesn’t. In a world where science communication has taken unprecedented importance, there is work to do in communicating the amazing work done by researchers in the Arctic. Anthropologists are trained in both science and cultural studies. They make excellent translators of science. Not insignificantly, they also make excellent translators to host communities. The people living where science is conducted are too often the last to learn about research discoveries. A better bridge between scientists and the local communities in Greenland could be built with the aid of more anthropologists.
Who are the anthropologists I think should step into these roles? Greenlanders. And non-Greenlanders. PhDs. And professionals with just a few classes in anthropology. Many of these areas would benefit from an in-house approach as well as an international collaboration. Some of these areas need graduate-level experts in anthropology. Others could use professionals who combine some training in anthropology with another specialty. There is room in the Arctic for many types of anthropologists.
I truly hope to see some movement in these areas in the coming years. The world will continue to shift in one direction or the other. Anthropologists need to choose to engage with the desperately needed agendas that often come with complicated partnerships. Having anthropologists in all of these sectors can mean significantly better outcomes in terms of respect for human diversity, sustainability, and a long-term perspective on humanity. There is a huge role for anthropology in Greenland. Only time will tell just how many choose to fill it.
I am an anthropology professor, writer, researcher and global traveler. In fall of 2021, I led an experiential eLearning project connecting US students (and others) with the people, places, and industries of Greenland. I redesigned a research trip into a virtual field trip for my students who didn't have any Study Abroad options. All of the videos, photos, interviews, and storytelling are still here to enjoy!