The Path to Northern Supremacy

Following the trail of a few footnotes in the fascinating book “The Future History of the Arctic” by Charles Emmerson, led to some interesting papers:

Early twentieth century anthropologists built on the ideas of climatic determinism developed by Yale Professor Ellsworth Huntington. It remains a controversial topic having arisen during a time of eugenics and social Darwinism, but was still being concidered in the 1970s as evidenced by the graph below.

The leadership in world civilization is inseparably linked with climate. With advance in culture it has been transferred toward colder lands, and when extant culture has declined, leadership usually has retreated southward. [1]

From Lambert[1]. Click for full-sized image

The above graph is based on an earlier one by GilFillan (1923) who explicitly invoked Huntington (and which can be seen here.)

Scandinavia has in recent decades shown great cultural activity, as if preparing to lead the world next. Russia is rousing herself from a sleep of ages. In I914 the most virile architecture was that of the apartment houses of Berlin. In 2000 it will perhaps be found in Detroit and Copenhagen, in 2100 in Montreal, Christiania and Memel.

Farther we need not go. There is no necessity for civilization to be driven into Arctic snows; the law of coldward progress could be restated in such terms as would hold true for the past yet not require northward journeying indefinitely in the future. But that will require strange new houses and industries that cannot be discussed here. I see no reason to think that this 5ooo-year-old process will be altered within the 20th century.[2]

These ideas provided some, such as the controversial explorer Vilhjalmur Stefansson with evidence for what he saw as a kind of northward Manifest Destiny. He attempted to supplant romanticized notions of a desolate Arctic, approachable only through heroic effort, with a resource-rich one which could flourish if approached with wisdom.

[1] Lambert, L. Don. “The Role of Climate in the Economic Development of Nations”, Land Economics, Vol. 47, No. 4 (Nov., 1971), pp. 339-344
[2] GilFillan, S. C. “The Coldward Course of Progress”, Political Science Quarterly, Vol. 35, No. 3 (Sep., 1920), pp. 393-410
» Posted: Monday, December 27, 2010 | Permanent Link