Armstrong Terence

During the post-World War II era, a handful of scholars outside the Soviet Union attempted to study and understand the vast development and extraordinary changes taking place in the Soviet North. Such research was complex and rarely orderly because nearly all of the Soviet Arctic (Western Siberia, Eastern Siberia, and the Far Northeast) remained a controlled and closed region to Soviet citizens as well as foreign nationals. Foremost among these dedicated scholars was Terence Armstrong of the Scott Polar Research Institute, University of Cambridge, who was much admired and respected throughout the circumpolar world.

Armstrong's Russian linguistic abilities, travels in Siberia and elsewhere in the Arctic (Greenland, the Canadian Arctic, and Alaska), and understanding of social and economic geography combined to make him a leading figure not only in knowledge of Soviet activities in the Arctic but also as an influential contributor to the broader issues of human adaptation and change in the circumpolar north.

Early in his career Armstrong focused his dissertation research on the history of the Northern Sea Route. He published an expanded version of this doctoral work as The Northern Sea Route, Soviet Exploitation of the North East Passage. This volume remains the seminal work in English on the history of the Northern Sea Route from the 16th century to 1949, and it is based principally on Russian language sources. Armstrong followed this with The Russians in the Arctic (1958) and Russian Settlement in the North (1965), an authoritative treatise focusing on Russia's advance into the north from the 11th century to Soviet settlement during 1917-1959. Later, in 1975, he edited an equally important volume in the Hakluyt Society's series, Yermak's Campaign in Siberia. Interwoven with these scholarly activities were his visits to the Soviet North. By the early 1970s, Armstrong had made seven visits to the USSR, including three to northeast Siberia. He usually conducted these trips as an exchange visitor under the Anglo-Soviet Cultural Agreement in place during the Cold War period. An example of the access he was afforded came in July 1967 when he spent a week on a field expedition with the Soviet botanist Professor V.N. Andreyev on the upper Yana River, a remote region of Yakutia. One of his most notable visits to the Soviet Union was the first (May 28 to June 9, 1956). Armstrong and Brian Roberts of Scott Polar Research Institute visited the Arctic Institute in Leningrad (today the Arctic and Antarctic Research Institute) and other organizations in Leningrad and Moscow concerned with polar research. An exchange of visits had been proposed by Scott Polar in July 1955, and during April 18-28,1956 Aleksey Feodorovich Treshnikov and I.V. Maximov of the Arctic Institute visited Cambridge. Armstrong and Roberts returned with more than 100 Russian polar publications, which formed the nucleus of the Institute's unmatched Russian Arctic collection.

During the next three decades, Armstrong established publication exchanges with a wide network of organizations and institutes throughout Russia. Terence Armstrong also had early opportunities to fly over the North Pole with the Royal Air Force (1953) and sail aboard the Canadian icebreaker HMCS Labrador on its maiden voyage through the North West Passage (1954). These expeditions led to imaginative and pioneering contributions to the study and identification of Arctic sea ice. Armstrong devised a set of symbols to indicate the extent to which sea ice was an obstacle to shipping, a classification scheme he used in a 1958 atlas titled Sea Ice North of the USSR published by the British Admiralty's Hydrographic Department. With support from UNESCO, he later collaborated with Brian Roberts and Charles Swithinbank on the Illustrated Glossary of Snow and Ice (1966), which included equivalent terms and indexes in Danish, Finnish, French, German, Icelandic, Norwegian, Russian, and Spanish.

One of Armstrong's lasting legacies remains his scholarship for the Polar Record (the Scott Polar Research Institute's journal), to which he contributed for more than 40 years. The breadth of his research was remarkable: annual reviews of Northern Sea Route activities; ice atlases; northern agriculture and mining; northern peoples; railways; education, employment and wage differences in the Arctic; polar drifting stations and Arctic climatology; Arctic place names; ethical problems of northern development; as well as scores of polar historical notes and obituaries of prominent polar personalities. He collaborated with George Rogers of Alaska and Graham Rowley of Canada to write a standard reference, The Circumpolar North: A Political and Economic Geography of the Arctic and Sub-arctic (1978). This influential work on Northern affairs described in a single volume the range of differing political, economic, and social systems in the North. During Armstrong's career and travels throughout the circumpolar world, he took great care to visit with the indigenous residents of each region. From the mid-1970s to the end of his life, he worked closely with Frank Darnell of Alaska to improve the education of Arctic and Subarctic indigenous peoples.

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