One of the main objectives of our 10-day stay in Nuuk was to connect with people and institutions to build a better understanding of the social context of our scientific research. Basically, we wanted to hear what Greenlanders think foreign scientists should know about Greenland.
Thanks to a well cultivated academic partnership, the University of Greenland graciously hosted a 4-part lecture series for us. The series gave us a really rich way to explore social and cultural issues from a Greenlandic perspective. The lecture topics were: “History of Greenland” taught by Professor Thorkild Kjaergaard in the History Department, “Living Conditions in the Arctic” presented by Professor Birger Poppel, an Economist, “Greenlandic Literature and Oral Tradition” by Professor Karen Langgard of the Language, Literature and Media Studies Department, and “Ghost Stories in Greenlandic Culture” by Professor Birgit Kleist Pedersen, also from the Language, Literature and Media Studies Department.
A clear take-home message, which tied these lectures together, is that Greenlandic, the indigenous language, is the language of power within Greenland. Greenlandic is an Inuit language that came to Greenland with the Inuit migration from Canada and it has a rich history of survival through the colonial era and into the present. Today, a majority of Greenlanders speak Greenlandic at home, and Greenlandic is the official language of the government. Coming from America, where English is so pervasive that we rarely think about the importance of language at all, I could not help but be struck by how closely Greenlandic is tied to personal identity and is seriously discussed in relation to national political and social issues, such as industrial development and immigration policy. We covered a lot of ground during the lecture series and, even though we could only skim the surface of some very complicated topics, the new material has undoubtedly given us a richer understanding of how our research–and even just our presence in Greenland–fits into the bigger picture.
We are extremely grateful to the University of Greenland faculty members for putting together such an informative lecture series! We are particularly appreciative that it could happen despite the fact that our visit coincided with the summer break. The University facilities are brand new, spectacularly beautiful, and technologically top-notch (whoa, Smartboards!). It left me hoping that I will be able to return during the school year to meet more students and get a better sense of the student body.
While it might seem to make a lot of sense to partner with the local academic institution, the background of the series development is not entirely straight forward. The challenge that the program coordinators faced in negotiating the academic partnership stems from the absence of science programs at the University of Greenland. Why no science? The University is growing, but the main student body still only has 150 students, which is not enough to generate the student demand or resources required for the upfront and long-term investment in sciences. Lenore Grenoble and Ross Virginia, the IGERT faculty who have been cultivating Dartmouth’s relationship with the University, entered the discussions knowing that the expertise amongst the faculty does not directly overlap with our fields of research. As I understand it, Ross and Lenore simply ask the University faculty what they might be able to contribute that could inform our understanding of Greenland. The great advantage of the 4-part lecture series was that it took advantage of their expertise and did a lot to broaden our understanding of social-cultural dimensions of Greenland. We owe many thanks to the University of Greenland and Lenore and Ross for coordinating such a valuable opportunity–Thanks so much!