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Unit information: Histories of the Polar Regions in 2018/19

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Unit name Histories of the Polar Regions
Unit code HIST30102
Credit points 20
Level of study H/6
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 2 (weeks 13 - 24)
Unit director Dr. Adrian Howkins
Open unit status Not open




School/department Department of History (Historical Studies)
Faculty Faculty of Arts


Characterised by cold climates and extreme seasonality, the Arctic and Antarctica both have fascinating histories. In some ways, the two polar regions have much in common. From the outside, they have been viewed as places for exploration, adventure, and science. Histories of natural resource exploitation have brought the polar regions to the forefront of debates over environmental protection, while a warming climate threatens to cause major changes to both places. In other ways, however, the Arctic and Antarctica are also very different. Much of the Arctic is populated, with a wide variety of indigenous peoples. Antarctica, in contrast, is the one continent in the world with no permanent population. Almost all of the terrestrial Arctic is part of the traditional state system, while Antarctica is governed by the innovative Antarctic Treaty System. By taking a comparative perspective on the history of the Arctic and Antarctica, this unit will consider both the similarities and the differences between these two regions. It will suggest that studying polar history can offer interesting perspectives for studying broader themes such as colonialism, resource exploitation, and political conflict, while at the same time examining the histories of these regions on their own terms.

Intended learning outcomes

Upon completion of the unit, successful students will be able to:

  1. Critically compare the histories of two different regions in a way that acknowledges both similarities and differences and develop an approach to comparative analysis that can be applied to other times and places.
  2. Situate the histories of the polar regions into a wider historical context using themes such as colonialism, resource exploitation, and political conflict.
  3. Critically utilise the history of the polar regions to consider how different approaches to history (e.g. environmental and political) can be creatively brought together to deepen our understanding of the past.
  4. Work critically with historical sources from a variety of cultural contexts to construct nuanced arguments about the past.

Teaching details


3 hours of seminars

Assessment Details

One 3500 word essay (50%) [ILOs 1-4]
One 2-hour exam (50%) [ILOs 1-4]

Reading and References

Adrian Howkins, The Polar Regions: An Environmental History (2016)

Stephen Bocking and Brad Martin, Ice Blink: Navigating Northern Environmental History (2017)

Dolly Jorgensen and Sverker Sorlin, Northscapes: History, Technology, and the Making of Northern Environments (2014)

Stephen Pyne, The Ice (1986)

Richard Vaughan, The Arctic: A History (1999)