Indigenous tales of the Beaufort Sea: Arctic exploration and the circulation of geographical knowledge

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On 13th November 1905, the Danish sea captain Ejnar Mikkelsen presented his detailed plans to survey a hitherto uncharted region of the Beaufort Sea before the fellows of the Royal Geographical Society. Although much coveted ‘undiscovered land’ in this icy polar region had been hypothesised within geographical debates across Europe and the United States, no ‘intelligent and scientific’ geographical explorer had yet managed to conduct the essential surveying work required to prove or disprove this theory. With his planned expedition being met with approval, Mikkelsen then ventured into the frozen landscape of the American High North hoping to correct this intriguing geographical lacuna. It is here that the inexperienced Arctic explorer was to have a series of encounters with the indigenous inhabitants of the region from whom he learned more about the hypothetical landmass. Updating the RGS on his progress and communicating the details of these moments of indigenous encounter, Mikkelsen relayed a series of tales that had been gleaned from these local people. Considering these tales in terms of the circulation of geographical knowledge, this article will contribute to the growing body of literature that has highlighted the significant role that indigenous people have played in the exploration of the Arctic regions. More importantly, it will also highlight the ways in which these contributions have regularly been obscured or omitted from the prevailing historical record of Arctic exploration.




Martin, P. R. (2020). Indigenous tales of the Beaufort Sea: Arctic exploration and the circulation of geographical knowledge. Journal of Historical Geography, 67, 24–35.

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