An Odd Assortment of Foreigners in Greenland: Towards the Political Implications of Arctic Travel during the Late Interwar Years

  • Susan B. Vanek
  • Andreas Mentrup-Womelsdorf
  • Jette Rygaard
Keywords: Travel, Expedition, Sovereignty, Art, Greenland

Abstract

The interwar years, 1918-1939, saw an increase in both the number and variety of travelers headed to the Arctic. Employing new technologies that allowed the region to become more accessible, knowable, and visible to the globe, these ventures to the North both reflected and contributed to the widespread geopolitical, social, and economic shifts occurring during this period, laying the foundation for how the Arctic is understood and framed today. However, many of these travelers remain marginal or completely overlooked in discussions of the region. This paper argues that greater attention to the increasingly odd assortment of foreigners traveling to the Arctic between World War I and World War II can offer a more nuanced understanding of both the geopolitical transitions underway in the region during this period and the broader political implications of travel. As an initial investigation of this ongoing research topic, this paper concentrates on three of the slowly increasing number of travelers with direct or close ties to the United States who ventured to Greenland in the late interwar years. It focuses on the travels of American artist Rockwell Kent, wealthy California socialite and amateur scientist Louise A. Boyd, and the Hollywood-sponsored filming expedition of German filmmaker Arnold Fanck, who all traveled to Greenland between 1931-1932. Approached not as singular endeavors but as part of the changing complex of Arctic expedition and travel, this paper argues that attention to these travelers provides greater insight into shifts in colonial policy, increasing cooperation between states, and the upsurge in global interest in the island, as well as the shifting relations between Denmark, the US, and Greenland. It also raises issues about the changing relationship between politics, science, and art.

Author Biographies

Susan B. Vanek

Susan B. Vanek completed her MA degree at University of Alaska Fairbanks and is currently a PhD Candidate in sociocultural anthropology at Binghamton University (State University of New York). She was Co-PI on the recently completed 5-year project, Rockwell Kent and Early 1930s Greenland, funded by the US National Science Foundation and is currently conducting research on infrastructural development in Greenland as part of the InfraNorth project. Her research interests include political economy, political ecology, the nation-state, policy, and the history of the Arctic as a region.

Andreas Mentrup-Womelsdorf

Andreas Mentrup-Womelsdorf is a PhD candidate at the Department of Social & Cultural Anthropology at the University of Vienna. Andreas is a historical anthropologist with a specific interest in the intersection of environmental histories, histories of diplomacy, and global histories of Arctic colonization. In his PhD research project, Andreas focuses on the creation of the international boundary between Alaska and the Yukon Territory in relation to the establishment of salmon management along the Yukon River.

Jette Rygaard

Jette Rygaard is PhD Associate Professor Emerita from the Department of Language, Literature and Media at Ilisimatusarfik (University of Greenland). Her research interests include literature, literary theory, media studies, methodology, cultural studies and visual anthropology. She was Co-PI on the recently completed 5-year project, Rockwell Kent and Early 1930s Greenland, funded by the US National Science Foundation and is currently completing additional research on Kent.

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Published
2022-12-12
How to Cite
Vanek , S. B., Mentrup-Womelsdorf, A., & Rygaard, J. (2022). An Odd Assortment of Foreigners in Greenland: Towards the Political Implications of Arctic Travel during the Late Interwar Years. American Studies in Scandinavia, 54(2), 36-60. https://doi.org/10.22439/asca.v54i2.6737