Photo: Inger Lise Næss

Exploration, Exploitation and Exposition of the Gendered Heritage of the Arctic

Our research examines the cultural construction of polar history by asking what kind of Arctic and Antarctic realities museums fashion, uphold or even turn a blind eye to – and what role museums have to play in creating a better future for the polar regions. The XARC group is interdisciplinary and our members draw on different social science and humanistic approaches. We share a common interest in polar history, gendered research perspectives and critical museology.

For XARC, exhibition-making is conceived as a particular way of doing research and a valuable method for unstraightening the grand narratives of the historical museum (cp. Ahmed 2006). The Polar Museum in Tromsø is XARC’s base and research laboratory, and our members have been involved in several exhibition projects.

The ambitions of XARC are:

Our members are involved in the following projects:

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The Queering Polar History exhibition

From the late 19th century, medics, psychologists and legislators ventured boldly into unknown terrain. They measured hormones, described gender variations, formulated sections of laws and, for the first time, mapped the homosexual as a separate human type or sexual orientation.
The mapping of the polar regions, which took place in the same period, is even better known.
Museum collections are sources of history. Skis, compasses and logbooks depict how Nansen and Amundsen’s expeditions conquered new lands, while daring hunters and trappers harvested from the high polar nature. Can a fur anorak tell us about gay life lived in the Tromsø in the 1940s, and can a walrus tusk shed light on gender transgressions observed in the field in Siberia?
The Queering Polar History exhibition explores the queer sides of a polar museum’s collection. In the light of new source material – specialist literature, interviews, newspaper articles, archive photos, fiction and urban myths – familiar historical perspectives are reversed. Queer polar history is neither right-angled nor complete but covers conceptions about and people who broke with norms for gender and sexuality in polar regions in the period 1890–1970.
The exhibition was The Polar Museum’s contribution to the national Queer Culture Year 2022, which marked 50 years since the decriminalization of homosexuality in Norway.
Researchers and curators were Silje Gaupseth and Marit Anne Hauan.
Photos: Mari Karlstad, UiT Norges arktiske universitetsmuseum.

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