The Human and Geographical Sciences in the Arctic, Priorities and Perspectives : An Introductory Outline
by Franco Pelliccioni, Italian Geographical Society, Rome
Paper read on the 15 May 1997 at the International Workshop held at Ny Ålesund (Spitsbergen Island, Svalbard), during the Official Opening of the Italian Arctic Base of the CNR "Dirigibile Italia"
In the last months more than once I referred, after the discovery of the "false" flight of Byrd, to what gradually revealed to be the Italian record, not only a symbolic-one (but of enterprise and science), in the "conquest" of the North Pole. Thanks to the1926 Norge N-1 airship expedition of Nobile, Amundsen and Ellsworth. As regards myself, I only remember that in the by now far 1983, within the First North Pole International Congress it was approved an important resolution, that so recited: "les données dont nous disposons aujourd'hui ne permettent pas en vérité, de parvenir à des conclusions scientifiques certaines à propos de la controverse sur Peary et Cook. Le premier conquérant indiscutable du Pole par voie de surface, en l'état de question, en moto-neige, est l'Américain Ralph Plaisted, le 20 avril 1968. Le Britannique Wally Herbert conquiert le Pole en traineau à chiens, le 6 avril 1969". (Malaurie, 1993: 230).Therefore the moment is arrived for the historians of all the world to take hand to encyclopedias, handbooks and schoolbooks to review and, then, rectify what, for so long, has been kept unchanged. Without holding in due consideration what showed itself to be the historical truth. This extraordinary circumstance, also if for many experts did'nt arrived at all unexpected, couldn't not offer to our country new responsibilities, greater engagements and further duties. Not only from a moral point of view. But, above all, in the field of scientific research, and of the deepening of Arctic world knowledge. From a physical and naturalistic point of view, as from a human and cultural-one. In collecting "in the field" the essential data and background materials. But also in carrying out observations, comparisons, works and detailed studies on Arctic aspects and problematical areas with well delimited scientific and significant borders, both theoretical and applied. A region of the world generally, if not at all, ignored by Italian researchers of yesterday and today. And not only by them! The Italian science is called,now, to offer a contribution of quality, starting from next future. This is another challenge, that must not be only limited to the heuristic field, but should especially aim towards more practical and applied goal. Seen the importance, at all prominent, that the polar region holds in the ecological equilibrium of the planet, and for its diversified micro and macro-territorial realities, that invest the same future of the numerous peoples that from time immemorial live there.
The Base "Dirigibile Italia"
The name, its specific location, the contemporaneousness of today celebrations: all this attest clearly the indissoluble connection binding, not only for a formal and merely logistic aspect, the two Nobile flights to the National Research Council (CNR) Base. And the same central position of this well equipped station, from a geographical point of view, as from a scientific-one, in future it will become, according me, one of its best characteristics. As we know, the island of Spitsbergen, not too far away from the Pole, is placed in an archipelago that for centuries for several explorers and navigators was the starting point along the "European route" to the North Pole. As from here they launched their final attack. From a more strictly scientific point of view, we are now included in the head group together, not only with the Nordic Countries, but also with those, like English and French, that from long time are in the van of the so-called Polar studies, with a long continuos tradition in Arctic exploration. The mission, that could become permanent, could act, indeed, as a precious "fly-wheel" at not much distance from the Polar ice cap. An eventual future availability of air or naval crafts (on the pattern of those owned, or upon which the Norskpolarinstitutt may always rely on), from Longyearbyen or Ny Ålesund, would offer to our research further and rich prospects. Allowing us to start from these places to carry out prominent scientific "attacks", towards East and South East (Franz Jozef Land, Arctic Russia, Siberia), as well as towards west (Greenland, Arctic Canada and Alaska). As we are well aware how solid pack-ices are, so to be able to make land four-engined aircrafts! Using the same Trans-Polar Route so brilliantly inaugurated from the Norge flight (1926), that since many years enabled commercial airlines to get advantage just from the Polar centrality. Otherwise "areal scientific reconnaissances", or low cost regional surveys would become possible. It could also be thinking to the attendance of Italian researchers to the Arctic cruises, like scholars from other countries do. First of all it could quietly been said that from this Base a strong impulse to a better knowledge of the archipelago should be given. Especially from an etno-anthropological point of view (and not only). In this field researches were totally nonexistent, at least up to the one carried out by me in 1994. In a second time the international airports of Oslo and Copenaghen (in addition to Tromsø) could be used as relay, to carry out missions beyond the Svalbard, in other Arctic regions, Euro-Asiatic as well as American. When the economic and financial situation of our country will return to "normalization," we will be able, perhaps, to range more autonomously in the Arctic. My deeper and sincere wish is that from here we will able to make a scientific good job. Like the excellent-one our colleagues in Antarctic and on the Everest-K2 have already done and they are still going on in doing it.
The Contribution that Italy could bring to Arctic Knowledge
Italy has been called to carry out a first-rate rôle in the Arctic. Till now mostly nonexistent, excluded some rare, often out-dated, exception. Sometimes, however, of very high importance. A rôle that should be "invented", therefore. But this only, not the human resources, that we know are numerous. Italy doesn't possess neither background, nor the know how of the Nordic states. Among which, furthermore, the great powers of the world or, anyhow, the more developed-ones are included. Not even of those countries, like Great Britain, that owe to their old overseas colonies continuity and "thickness" in their Arctic studies. What after a first consideration it could look like as a sort of our serious handicap, in comparison with other IASC member countries, in reality clears the field from ancient fogs, swamps, obstacles, routes, schools or, however, preset itineraries. Consequently we should not try to servilely imitate works already made by others, or to be attracted by thematics already examined thoroughly by others. Our "Polar stars" should be formed by those people who, however, preceded us in the Arctic regions. I remind Cristoforo Negri, the founder of the Italian Geographical Society in the half of the XIX century, who has been an irresistible supporter of Polar expeditions. All the more the Society financed three foreign expeditions, as well. But those were other times, evidently...
The Italians and the Arctic
The personages to whom we can refer to, somehow, if we were going to make a short history of Italian explorations and researches in the Arctic, aren't so numerous. As regards the "classical" explorations, in which it moved a never drowsy anxiety of knowledge, always dense of expectations, I want to remember the activities of some Navy Officers: Parent, who attended the Nordenskjöld expedition (1872), or the famous Bove, who ploughed the "mythical" North-East Passage aboard the Vega, always of Nordenskjöld (1878-1880), or De Rensis on the Djimphna (1884), blocked by ices in the Kara Sea. Besides the maritime expeditions of the last quarter of the century to the North Pole , that would be carried on, at the very beginning of the II Millennium, with the Duca degli Abruzzi expedition (1900), and to the "Passage," the Italians had known how to conquer a certain scientific leadership towards an other Arctic region: Lapland. Francesco Negro in a voyage carried out between 1663-1666 reached North Cape. But relations with Lapland of Italian travellers and researchers, also ethno-anthropologists, went on in the eight hundred century, thanks to botanist Filippo Parlatore, with his 1851's journey, and to Sommier and Mantegazza, who went to Scandinavia and Lapland in 1879. Sommier wanted to know "quel piccolo popolo che abita nell'estremo nord di Europa, in regioni desolate, ove per il rigore del clima e la sterilità del suolo, non potrebbe vivere nessun altro popolo europeo" (Sommier, 1881: 40). He was among the first to make observations on the Kvens, the Finns emigrated in northern Norway. In Finnic Lapland in 1883 he was preceeded by Lamberto Loria. Between a trip and the other, Sommier pushed up himself as far as Western Siberia, exploring the course of the Ob river, taking an interest in Nentsy (Samoyeds) and Khanty. At the end of the XIX century Count Zileri went with Enrico, Prince of Borbone and Parma, in a first exploration to Svalbard and New Zemlia (1891). How don't remind, naturally, the scientific results originated from the two Nobile flights? Or the one, that became a forced reconnaissance of the great North-East Island of the Svalbard, searching for the red tent survivors? Made by Engenieer Albertini (1928) who, still in 1929, explored Spitsbergen, Franz Josef Land and New Zemlia. And by the alpine Captain Sora, the discoverer of the Isola degli Alpini. And what about the fine Italian alpine-scientific exploits: from Svalbard to Greenland, to Baffin. Up to the recent Messner crossing of the Greenlandic ilandsis already experienced, at the end of the XIX century, on a shorter route, by the great Nansen. Finally let me have the pleasure to mention a colleague, the late Zavatti. In the '60 he carried out five missions among the Canadian and Greenlandic Inuits and Lapps. He founded a Polar Museum and the magazine Il Polo.
Lastly I should remind my own experiences of Arctic researches. In 1983 I carried out an anthropological survey in a sample of six Inuit communities in the Canadian Arctic. In 1994 I worked, instead, to a project concerning both the national components (Norwegian and Russian) that are present in the Svalbard: in the fields of ethnicity, development and man-environment relationship. My intention for the future is to go on with the research. Besides to carry on with the job, started long ago within the frame of my "Program on Northern Atlantic Maritime Communities," with a research in a "sample" community of Iceland.
The Arctic Peoples, between Europe, Asia, America
The peoples living in the Arctic, apart from single differentiations and particular life-rhythms, show an amazing background homogeneity. We can, therefore, refer to a well definitive cultural cluster, that of the Arctic Peoples; the Sami Hætta speaks about a "circumpolar culture" (1993: 13). The basis of these cultures has adopted, not only ergological and survival systems (based on hunting, fishing and, in Eurasia, reindeers breeding), but also control mechanisms, that try to protect and to keep the unity of the group, at a family level, as well as at a collective level. And with the contemporary presence of cultural features and elements that, to an external observer, could result "strange" or terrible. The linguistic families of Boreal peoples, that live the immense expanses of tundra or taigà of the Great North, group themselves in three big entities: Paleo-Asiatic, Ural-Altic, Eskimo-Aleuts. The rigid climatic conditions of the Circumpolar area for centuries has prevented to the white people and their mass culture to penetrate deep into the Arctic. The only historical example that comes straight away into my mind concerns the two Viking settlements in Southern Greenland, that didn't oulive the swift climate deterioration. Also because they found themselves in a sudden and violent collision with the Inuit, that were pushing through their territory.
At a whole the demographic consistence of Circumarctic autochthnous peoples is around almost eight hundred thousands individuals: 600,000 Northern Siberians and Northern Russians, besides 100,000 Inuits (Eskimos) and 55,000 Sami (Lapps).
The Etno-Anthropological and Geographical Studies
The Cinderella of Arctic studies is personified by the sciences that here I represent, the ethno-socio-anthropological and geographical-ones. As in 1994 it was evident, during my field-work in this archipelago. My research has been the first in the history of the islands. In spite of the fact the Svalbard have been, for long time, an unicum in the world, an authentic, outstanding social and cultural laboratory (not at all "utilized"), in which life-styles and cultures, ideologies, strongly antithetical economic systems have had the chance to pacifically coexist among themselves, for decades. As a matter of fact the studies belonging to the exact and natural sciences have always been more privileged, here and elsewhere. I remind that the seed of an Arctic Science has been laid down by Martens, an Hamburg surgeon, who in 1671 made the first botanical collections in the island of Spitsbergen. Instead An Account of the Arctic Regions, of 1820, written by the whaler Scoresby, formed an authentic, imposing summa of the knowledges there were up to that moment.
For time reasons, that I know unbreakable, is not possible for me, now, going on in speaking on ethno-anthropological matters, as I wished. That of today afternoon is necessarily only one very modest introduction to a review of the human and geographical sciences in the Arctic, job whose integral layout has a wider extension. As it is possible to see in the summary has been handed to you together with my paper. There I have had the possibility to deal with scientific priorities, of single Arctic regions, as well as through focusing numerous problematic areas that are part of my discipline (in its different specializations) and of the geographical sciences. If it will be still allowed me, I would like only to conclude in hinting to an aspect I believe extremely useful and important for the same future of Italian Arctic research: that concerning scientific popularization, that in parallel should follow any scientific activities, and of this be of support, in order to establish a favorable attitude and an informed consent to our Arctic activities. The Italian public opinion could, as it happened with other enterprises carried out in distant regions, the space, or, recently, for Himalaya and Antarctic, be sensitized and acquired better knowledge and interest for activities of an "apparent" exotic taste. Such an informative-cognitive input could act in future on two levels: a) as a moral support to the activity of our scientists in the Arctic; b) as a precious fly-wheel and propeller, towards mass media and political administrators, for further and more profitable involvements in Arctic research activities. In a complex world like the one we are living in, where nevertheless everything remains emotionally, still for so many, too many... absolutely flat and grey, solicitations of this kind could draw an unexpected, but welcome, wave of consent and interest, tickled by a taste for adventure and the "different". The same famous Malaurie discloses how the support given to him by an attentive public opinion was also owed to the numerous interviews and presences, granted and made, on newspapers, radio and television. Also if he was well aware of the fact that not all his university colleagues, afterwards, were going to agree on this! He maintains, likewise, that "vulgariser, ce n'est pas abaisser (...) A la télévision, les films sont des moyens d'éducation et de communication aussi importants et nécessaires que le livre. Je reste convaincu que, par-delà mes séminaires aux Hautes Etudes, il est une plus grande université: celle du public. Et il convient toujours de faire appel à son intelligence" (Malaurie, 1993: 400).
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F. PELLICCIONI " Le prime esplorazioni scientifiche russe nelle Svalbard (1764-1902)", L'Universo, 1997, in press
F. PELLICCIONI .1996 "Le esplorazioni scientifiche russe nelle Svalbard, II Fase: 1912-fine anni '20", L'Universo, 1997 in press
F. PELLICCIONI ,1996 "I Pomori russi e le isole Svalbard" (titolo provvisorio), Archeologia Viva, in press
V. ROMANOVSKY Le Spitzberg et la Sibérie du Nord, Paris, Payot,1943
ROYAL MINISTRY OF JUSTICE; Report No. 40 to the Norwegian Storting (1985-86) Concerning Svalbard, (unofficial translation) (s.d.)
ROYAL MINISTRY OF JUSTICE Treaty of 9 February 1920 relating to Spitsbergen (Svalbard). Act of 17 July 1925 relating to Svalbard. The Mining Code for Spitsbergen (Svalbard), Oslo, 1988
T. SVEUM, P.K. REYMERT, M.A. HAUAN Svalbardlitteratur.En Bibliografy,Tromsø: Universitetsbiblioteket iTromsø, Tromsø Museum, 1987
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