In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section The Arctic

  • Introduction
  • Polar Geography Journals

Geography The Arctic
Heather Nicol
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 May 2023
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199874002-0258


Driven by the interests of explorers and scientists, polar geography emerged from the quest for territory, fame, and recognition. Until the second half of the twentieth century, “polar geography” was a field for physical geographers and until fairly recently, human geographers were more interested in the Arctic than Antarctic. The end of the Cold War and subsequent focus on Arctic environmental conservation, the looming specter of climate change, and the International Polar Year (2007–2008) were largely responsible for reinvigorating geographical research in the north and for advancing knowledge concerning both the North and South Poles. There was growing recognition of the environmental vulnerability of the Arctic region to global patterns of pollution, industrialization, and climate change. But there has also been considerable development in the study of Indigenous communities’ adaptation and resilience in the Arctic region, and a new and growing interest in traditional knowledge in light of climate change and its local impacts. Similarly, knowledge of the relationship between policy, governance, and sovereignty has grown, and has led to a resurgence of geopolitical assessments of the Arctic, as well as new research concerned with understanding the relationship between human security and economic development. At the same time, human security broadly defined has emerged as an important topic for geographical consideration. Over the past decade or so, polar geography—particularly that of the Arctic—has developed a renewed interest in environmental events as a consequence of climate change and globalization, but has also become a much more collaborative and interdisciplinary exercise as the roster of new publications derived from research on human development, and social resilience shows—see Arctic Resilience Report 2016 (cited under Environments and Climate Change: Books and Edited Volumes) and Human Development Report: Regional Processes and Global Linkages (Arctic Human Development Report Volume II) cited under General Overviews of the Arctic: Books and Edited Volumes. The citations below reflect this broad range, beginning with introductory, general, and seminal works on the geographies of the Arctic and following with a series of links to journals and collections of articles and websites organized by relevant topics and themes.

General Overviews of the Arctic

In the early twenty-first century, geographical research at the poles has undergone a renaissance. A diverse set of research areas has emerged. Almost any library will have an extensive introductory-level literature of general works on the Arctic, many written from the perspective of history, but also by popular writers, journalists, and others. Many were produced in the second half of the twentieth century and as such decidedly have a colonial bias from the perspective of our current era. There are fewer comprehensive and contemporary textbooks on polar geography, although these are growing in number. There is instead, a growing body of work consisting of edited interdisciplinary volumes, written from various thematic perspectives. Some (see Coates and Holroyd 2020 (cited under Governance: Edited Books and Volumes and, Nuttall, et al. 2018, under General Overviews of the Arctic: Books and Edited Volumes), are broadly pitched, while others are more finely focused on issues and environments and are better situated within narrower thematic categories. More resources and scholarly coverage of the Arctic can be found than in any time in the past. There are the many Arctic Council documents, including both versions of the Arctic Human Development Report (cited under General Overviews of the Arctic: Books and Edited Volumes), and the series of reports produced through the Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Program, CAFF, PAME, and other Arctic Council working groups. Other general works encourage a critical reading of the current issues facing the North under conditions of climate change. Gender, food security, critical geopolitics, and governance are increasingly important to a growing literature. Overall, the academic study of the Arctic regions has become more complex and environmentally oriented, more focused upon Indigenous peoples and governance. There is recognition and respect for the epistemological diversity of different peoples and cultures. The study of the Arctic has moved away from a descriptive understanding of the physical environment and history of the continent to a nuanced discussion of current and intersecting discourses on science, governance, and environmental protection. It is also a highly future-oriented scholarship.

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