M.A., History of Science, Medicine, and Technology, 2010
“‘Turning Kogmollik’ for Science”: Anthropological Fieldwork on the Stefansson-Anderson Arctic Expedition and its Consequences
Over the past four decades, historians of anthropology have explored relationships between fieldwork and empire, illustrating how field practices were made possible by—and helped perpetuate—imperial and commercial networks. Despite this scholarship, the history of fieldwork in America—and especially the Arctic region—has remained poorly understood. To address this lacuna, this essay focuses on an innovative approach to anthropological fieldwork performed during the Stefansson-Anderson expedition to the Canadian Arctic in 1908-1912. Anthropologist Vilhjalmur Stefansson’s attempted to “turn Kogmollik,” or dress, eat, and travel like a native Inuit in order to better study Inuit culture. Drawing on correspondence between Stefansson and the expedition’s major funder, the American Museum of Natural History, as well as field notes and published works, I argue the project of going native had three major consequences. First, the experiment in field methods filled gaps in museum-based Eskimo collections, which were critical for testing new theories of culture. Second, the difficulty of traversing the Arctic landscape, collecting specimens, and making observations encouraged Stefansson to facilitate new relationships with fur traders and whalers. Finally, Stefansson’s experiences in the North catalyzed a decade of commercial, governmental, and scientific intervention in the Central Arctic.