Karin Granqvist leads IPY Project 30, Representations of Sami in Nineteenth Century Polar Literature: The Arctic 'Other'
My research scrutinizes how Sámi were represented in text and images in four natural scientists’ combined travel and scientific journals and letter correspondence during the nineteenth-century. They are Göran Wahlenberg (1780-1851), Lars Levi Læstadius (1800-1861), Sven Lovén (1809-1895) and Axel Hamberg (1863-1933). They were all based in Sweden, but did field studies and field research trips in northern Finland, northern Norway and to Spitsbergen, besides Sweden. Their main research fields were within natural science and/or natural history, but they met, mapped and explored Sámi too, since they met Sámi during their research field trips in the regions that were inhabited by Sámi.
The four scientists’ contribution to the knowledge about Sámi in the northern regions of the Nordic countries is essential. Before the nineteenth century had Sámi been depicted and described in historical chronicles, such as in Olaus Magnus’ Historia de gentibus septentrionalibus (1555) and Johannes Schefferus’ Laponia (1673), and missionaries’ histories. The Swedish researcher Carl von Linné broke that trend in the second half of the eighteenth century as a natural scientist mapping and describing the Sámi, and the four natural scientists became his followers in that research genre. The four natural scientists’ works contain a lot of information about different Sámi groups in Sweden, Norway and Finland. Wahlenberg’s and Lovén’s works contains of many detailed ethnographical descriptions of Sámi, and Lovén did also many anthropological representations of Sámi, such as “Sámi character” and “Sámi nature”. Their method, their way to map and describe the Sámi, can be defined into a natural scientific Sámi ethnography and a natural scientific Sámi anthropology, since they used the same natural scientific method when doing research on Sámi as well as on glaciers, snow, plants, rocks and animals.
Within natural science at that time, “objectification” was quite common: the researchers identified, mapped and explained their normal objects for research. Sami were similarly objectifed in the researchers’ works. The impact of the then-new scholarly field of Social Darwinism gave credence to their efforts to depict the Sami as a scientifially constructed “species.” It was also a common practice during the nineteenth century to discover “new” people and “new” cultures, and collecting information about them as well as describe them. The interest for the Sámi was a part of that trend. The researcher’s material on Sámi can also be labelled with an all-embracing conception: Arctic literature/works or Polar literature/works about Sámi.
The discovery of “new” cultures and “new” peoples was a part of colonial process as it can be defined for that century. People and cultures were designated as ‘the Other’ to define the researchers, or for the Europeans, what the former were not, i.e. Europeans. Lovén was one of the researchers that often described the Sámi as ‘the Other’. Nevertheless, the type of relation these researchers had to the Sámi coloured the representations of them in some cases. The closer the contact the researcher had with the Sámi, the less objectified they were, which is clear in the relation between Hamberg and his Sámi assistant Tuorda for instance. The natural scientists’ desire to acquire Sámi knowledge of (and experience with) nature, landscape and animals thus affected the representations of the Sámi. When the researchers had less need of Sámi knowledge, they once again became objectified, which is obvious in Lovén’s works. The natural scientists’ research on Sámi in field can be seen as a colonial tool in a process of a northern type of colonialism.
Their research in field about Sámi, and the development of two new forms of natural scientific research, ran parallel with the process with underwent big economical and political changes in the Nordic countries. Natural resources were found and the political changes would turn the earlier tight bound together Nordic countries into a process were they all became more and more separated from each other. The focus on Sámi as a people with a “specific character” was also descriptions that later on were used when describing the Nordic countries Norway and Finland in a century when the Nordic politics made them more or less completely political independent from Sweden.
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Saturday, 24 May 2008 05:52
Representations of Sámi in Past Cultural and Natural LandscapeWritten by Karin Granqvist
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