The Greenland Trip: A Recap
If you missed the virtual field trip in November (2021), you can still find out what happened! Read on to get the recap of what we did… and what may be coming next.
In fall 2021, our team of researchers from Scotland, Greenland, and the United States (see the Teams post) joined forces to explore topics of heritage, science communication, and virtual learning in Greenland. Over the course of two weeks, we conducted a pilot collaboration meant to set the groundwork for future projects. For those who missed the trip and want to learn more, below you will find a document containing all the blog posts in chronological order (much easier to read than a journey back through the blog itself).
DIGITAL HERITAGE WORKSHOPS & SPEAKING EVENTS
From November 3rd-7th 2021, as a part of Greenland Science Week, our team delivered 3D heritage workshops to a variety of audiences. The workshops were held in Sisimiut and Sarfannguit, Greenland. While close geographically, these two places represent very different communities inside the Arctic Circle. Sisimiut is the second largest city in Greenland, while Sarfannguit is a small settlement of roughly 90 people living inside the country’s newest UNESCO World Heritage Site. In these two communities, we worked with everyone from school groups to individual members of the public to explore how technology and heritage can come together for creative purposes.
Some of the workshops we hosted over the course of the trip were organized teaching events. They included planned lessons and hands-on instruction. Local students had the opportunity to experience archaeological recording methods and contribute to the post-excavation work of a real-world project. While learning the technology, students scanned artifacts recently uncovered in the Narsannguaq excavation in Sisimiut's city center. The students studied their own local history while exploring new technology for preserving and sharing evidence of Greenland's past. While learning from us, we also had a chance to learn from these students. Their perspectives on life in the Arctic, past and present, were invaluable for our own understanding of what innovative heritage projects can do in Greenland.
In addition to structured student workshops, our time in Greenland was also spent hosting more casual, drop-in sessions. A call on social media and in the local paper encouraged people to stop by with an object and learn about 3D digital technology. At these events, we scanned items of community-wide and personal value, including local archaeological artifacts, personal family heirlooms, as well as the contemporary art of local carvers.
While the drop-in community workshops produced beautiful digital reproductions, almost more important were our interactions with those in possession of the objects. Like the student events, the community workshops gave us the chance to talk to people about culture, heritage, and life in Greenland. Through casual conversations, stories emerged. These stories perfectly portrayed how much meaning an object can hold, whether it's modern or historical. For example, the object below, a knife with a decorated handle, was brought in during one of these drop-in sessions by local translator Hanseeraq Jonathansen. While the heirloom was quite interesting by itself, time spent creating a 3D model of the knife prompted it's owner to share stories related to the object. While scanning it, Hanseeraq shared the story of it's discovery by his father on a hunting trip decades ago. He recalled his youthful fascination with the knife, as well as other childhood memories spent with his dad, exploring the natural landscapes of their home.
Our community workshops brought not only those with family heirlooms to share, but local artists as well. Master carver Barse Lyberth Svendsen stopped by one day with a sample of his work. He scanned a number of pieces to share online, including the pendant below, an object typically worn on the body. During this session, Barse talked about his work using local raw materials. He shared with us his journey into the craft (the result of an accident that prompted a career change), as well as his time spent teaching workshops to other aspiring carvers. A few days later, we met one of his students in the settlement of Sarfannguit, witnessing the results of knowledge-sharing amongst the art community in the region.
In some cases, casual conversations led to a series of informal recorded interviews. The production of these simple videos gave us the chance to dive further into personal narratives. They also ended up as much-loved content for those following our research trip remotely.
While student and community workshops kept us busy, we also took advantage of more formal presentation opportunities. During our two weeks, we shared our ideas with community members, researchers, and academics through presentations at both the UNESCO World Heritage Festival in Sisimiut and the Public Science Talks in Nuuk, Greenland’s capital. In total, our team of three produced 10 workshops and presentations for a wide range of audiences. It was a very busy two weeks.
THE VIRTUAL FIELD TRIP
Hosting workshops, interviews, and speaking engagements were not the only activities taking up our time in Greenland. We also produced content for a virtual field trip. With a vast majority of study abroad programs still on hold in fall of 2021, we decided to take our already planned research trip and add a virtual learning experience for my American students. While the pandemic increased the need for virtual international learning programs, there remain many reasons to continue building these kinds of opportunities in coming years . I hope this part of our project inspires others to combine their field research with student learning outcomes.
We decided to explore how remote learning could be used during our trip. Students enrolled in my Applied Anthropology course at SUNY Potsdam became active participants in our work. While the virtual field trip was initially designed for them, the decision to host it on my open access website rather than a closed learning management system allowed hundreds more to follow along. In addition to reading and watching the activities of travel and research, participants posted comments, asked questions, and took surveys. Those in my Anthropology class went on to write about the experience in course assignments. Their reflections, both publicly on the blog and in private assignments, were incredible to read (see document below for a sample).
While much of the excitement of the trip happened by following along in near-real time sharing, those who missed the event can still access the content. Given how clunky it can be clicking through old blog posts, I created this document for easier reading. Download and read through in order if you are interested in the full story! Otherwise, the table of contents includes links to direct you to a particular piece online while the page numbers can help with a more targeted reading of the PDF.
As mentioned, this was a pilot project. With two thirds of the team new to Greenland, we hada lot to learn. Like any great pilot however, we hope to do much more down the road. While I previously shared many ideas regarding the future of anthropology in Greenland, we are busy narrowing down what is next. Unfortunately, nothing specific can be revealed right now, but I do hope to share some new projects soon. As a diverse team of anthropologists, our interests are strongly tied to the role of applied anthropology in the Arctic, digital and community-based heritage, and heritage tourism. As such, we are looking to use the groundwork from November to design impactful projects related to these themes. So stay tuned.
Gratitude is due to the individuals and organizations that made our November trip possible. Many many thanks to the United States Consulate in Nuuk, the Lougheed Center for Applied Learning at SUNY Potsdam and the University of Dundee for financial support. Thank you to other collaborating partners whose assistance with logistics, advertising, access, and community involvement were necessary as well. These partners include Sisimiut Katersugaasiviat // Sisimiut Museum (especially Dorthe Katrine, Paninnguaq Boassen and Sofie Frydenrejn Johansen), Nunatta Katersugaasivia Allagaateqarfialu // Greenland National Museum & Archives, the Greenland Science Week Team, Activating Arctic Heritage, and the community of Sarfannguit. I would also like to thank the Virtual Field Trip’s content manager, SUNY Potsdam graduating senior Charlie Sarkioglu for his dedication before, during and after travel. On a personal note, gratitude is also due to our families. Thank you for helping us run off into the Arctic sunset in search of opportunity to make an impact, both in Greenland and at home.
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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!