Eskimology

Contemporary research in Eskimology covers a diverse field of studies of language, culture, and history in Arctic societies. By definition, research is confined to the Arctic region, and furthermore to the Inuit, Yupiit, and Aleut societies. Eskimology has traditionally had a particular focus on Greenland studies owing to the long-standing relationship between Denmark and Greenland established in the early 18th century, and the academic discipline of Eskimology is today centered at the University of Copenhagen. In the early days of Danish colonialism, the task of gathering information about Greenland and its inhabitants was part of the duties of missionaries and trade employees. Works describing language and people, geography, and zoology by missionaries Hans Egede, Poul Egede, Heinrich C. Glahn and Otto Fabricius, and the Danish trader Lars Dalager have been of continued importance to Eskimology.

The establishment of institutions such as Seminarium Groenlandicum (Greenlandic Training College) in Copenhagen in 1737 and a lectureship in Greenlandic language in 1761 show the early involvement of the Danish state in the production of knowledge about Greenland. Hans Egede was the first head of Seminarium Groenlandicum. The so-called Greenlandic lectureship, initially held by Poul Egede (1761), then Heinrich C. Glahn (1779), and Otto Fabricius (1803), was not a university chair. Affiliated to Missionskollegiet (The Royal Mission Board), its purpose was to manage the education of future missionaries at Seminarium Groenlandicum and to supervise the mission board on Greenland matters. A number of pioneering linguistic works such as grammars, dictionaries, and bible translations derive from these first lecturers, although the systematic Greenlandic grammar and orthography created from the 1840s by Samuel Kleinschmidt, a German Moravian missionary in Nuuk, remained until very recently the standard works of Greenlandic linguistics.

During the 19th century, the engagement of the Danish state in scientific research in Greenland intensified remarkably, partly because of the state policy to increase Danish control with the colony, and partly as a result of the general development of the modern academic disciplines. Kongelige Gr0nlandske Handel (KGH, The Royal Greenland Trade Company) increased its presence in Greenland through the establishment of a large number of new trade posts along the west coast and the initiation of large-scale systematic, statistical surveys in the form of regular censuses and the maintaining of annual catch and trade records. Hinrich Rink, Inspector of South Greenland and later director of Kongelige Gr0nlandske Handel, was an important figure behind these new research initiatives and himself contributed with several works of lasting significance to Eskimology in Danish and English. Examples are Greenland: Its People and Products (1877) and Tales and Traditions of the Eskimo (1875).

Geological and geographic research in Greenland was to become of major interest to the Danish state. In 1878, a commission for geological investigations in Greenland was established and directed by professor of mineralogy Frederik Jonstrup. The commission gradually broadened its focus, and from 1931 it was known as The Commission for the Direction of Scientific Investigation in Greenland. One of the main initiatives of the commission was the launching in 1878 of a broad scientific periodical Meddelelser om Gr0nland (Messages about Greenland), the first regular journal of Arctic studies, which is still published today. In the 19th and early 20th centuries, state interests of sovereignty played an important role in research initiatives in Greenland. East Greenland was colonized in 1894 and a permanent Danish presence in Thule in Northwest Greenland was established in 1910. Danish sovereignty over the whole territory of Greenland was finally established through the verdict by the international court in The Hague in 1933. One work of special importance to Eskimology produced during this process was naval officer Gustav Holm's Ethnological Sketch of the Angmagssalik Eskimo originally published in Danish in Meddelelser om Gr0nland in 1888/1889. Holm's monograph represents, together with Franz Boas's The Central Eskimo from the same year, the starting point of genuine ethnographic studies in the Arctic.

Studies in Eskimo language and culture were established as a university discipline in 1920 at the University of Copenhagen with the single staff of William Thalbitzer, who was appointed professor extraordinarius in "Greenlandic (Eskimo) language and culture" in 1926. Thalbitzer retired in 1945 and was succeeded by Erik Holtved, who was appointed professor in 1951 and retired in 1967. The term "Eskimology" was not common until 1967, when a genuine department was established and officially named the Department of Eskimology.

During the days of Thalbitzer and Holtved, only a couple of Ph.D. students graduated. During the 1970s and early 1980s, the department expanded, under the appointment of Robert Petersen, a Greenlander and a student of Holtved, as professor in 1975. The number of students increased, and the staff came to include, among others, anthropologists Helge Kleivan, and Jens Dahl, eskimologist Inge Kleivan, and linguist Michael Fortescue. Historian Finn Gad and sociologist of religion Birgitte Sonne were also associated.

Thalbitzer's approach to Eskimology was philological. He was a student of the renowned linguist Otto Jespersen and combined studies in Greenlandic linguistics with cultural studies, for example, Inuit mythology and oral literature. Generally, he was international-minded and corresponded, for example, with the German ethnologist Franz Boas and the French anthropologist Marcel Mauss. However, mainly due to personal disagreements with the head of the Ethnography Department at the Danish National Museum, Thalbitzer kept a distance from the ethnographers and archaeologists there. Considering Thalbitzer's early radical critique of the Danish administration in Greenland, and being one of few at the time to speak of a Greenlandic Nation and People, different political opinions on Danish colonialism might have also played a part in the controversy between Thalbitzer and the museum. Thalbitzer's contemporaries Knud Rasmussen and Kaj Birket-Smith regarded research in Greenland as a Danish national task and duty. Early Eskimology seems only on the sideline to have influenced the works of Kaj Birket-Smith and Terkel Mathiassen from the National Museum. Although Holtved, formerly employed at the museum and actively engaged in archaeology, probably lessened tensions, the separation between the Eskimology university discipline and ethnography at the museum influenced Eskimology until the 1970s, when anthropologists became part of staff at the Department of Eskimology.

From the late 1960s, Eskimology changed its focus toward increasingly contemporary and global political issues. The discussions of cultural identity and ethnicity raised, among others, by Norwegian anthropologist Fredrik Barth in Ethnic Groups and Boundaries (1969) and introduced in the Greenland context by Helge Kleivan has remained central to Eskimology since. Through the notion of advocacy, the very role of the eskimologist or social scientist was being questioned in the light of indigenous peoples' struggle for political rights. Eskimologists became actively involved in the struggle for political rights in Greenland, and the Department of Eskimology hosted the secretariat of IWGIA (International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs), when it was founded in 1968. It has been of the utmost importance to Eskimology that the discipline, and Greenland studies, was lifted out of isolation and into this new, global context.

Following the achievement of Greenland Home Rule in 1979, Ilisimatusarfik (University of Greenland) was established with professor Robert Petersen as rector. He left the Department of Eskimology in 1983. There was, thus, a clear line of influence from Eskimology in the shaping of the new university of Greenland.

S0ren Thuesen

See also Boas, Franz; Eskimo; Holm, Gustav; Holtved, Erik; Petersen, Robert; Rink, Hinrich Johannes; Thalbitzer, William

Further Reading

Gull0v, Hans Christian, "Introduction." Arctic Anthropology, 23(1-2) (1986): 1-18

-, "Lyde og billeder fra fortiden. Thalbitzers og Holtveds arbejde med et ark®ologisk materiale" [Sounds and Images from the Past. Thalbitzer's and Holtved's Work with an Archaeological Material]. Tusaat, 2-3 (1995): 16-19 Kleivan, Inge "William Thalbitzer, His Main Works, Publications and Biographies." In Arctica 1978, Colloques Internationaux du Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, No. 585, edited by Jean Malaurie & Sylvie Devers, Paris: Editions du Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, 1982, pp. 233-236 H0iris, Ole, Antropologien i Danmark. Museal etnografi og etnologi 1860-1960 [Anthropology in Denmark. Museum Ethnography and Ethnology 1860-1960], Copenhagen: Nationalmuseets forlag, 1986

-, "Institute of Eskimology, University of Copenhagen,

Denmark." Inter-Nord, Revue Internationale d'Etudes Arctiques, 18 (1987): 367-371

-, "William Thalbitzer og Erik Holtved. Et dobbelt-

portr®t af de to f0rste professorer i eskimologi ved K0benhavns Universitet" [William Thalbitzer og Erik Holtved. A Double-Portrait of the First Two Professors in Eskimology at the University of Copenhagen]. Tusaat, 2-3 (1995): 3-6

Pedersen, Kennet, "Is-interferenser. K0benhavn som verden-shovedstad for den etnografiske eskimoforskning i perioden 1900-1940" [Ice Interferences. Copenhagen as World Capital of Ethnographic Eskimo Research in the Period 1900-1940]. In Videnskabernes K0benhavn, edited by Thomas Söderqvist et al. Roskilde: Roskilde Universitetsforlag, 1998, pp. 142-158 Petersen, Robert, "Eskimologi." In K0benhavns Universitet 1479-1979 [University of Copenhagen 1479-1979]. Volume IX, edited by Svend Elleh0j, Copenhagen: G.E.C. Gad, 1979, pp. 177-194 Riches, David, "The Force of Tradition in Eskimology." In Localizing Strategies. Regional Traditions of Ethnographic Writing, edited by Richard Fardon, Edinburgh: Scottish

Academic Press and Washington, District of Columbia: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1990, pp. 71-89

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