About / Message from the Director


Welcome to the Arctic Studies Center's new, improved website!

The Center is now twenty five years old, having been created in 1988 with a mandate from Congress to study northern cultures, peoples and environments, and promote interest in the north. During these years the Center has developed a wide range of programs, including anthropological studies of circumpolarWilliam Fitzhugh cultures from ancient times to the modern day; collection and preservation of artifacts, photographs, and art; distribution of information through publications, exhibitions and electronic media; and training of northern peoples in anthropology and museum studies. Originally directed at Alaska, where the Smithsonian research and collecting began in the 1860s, and in Labrador, where the Smithsonian has been active since 1970, ASC programs are now conducted throughout the circumpolar and northern regions from Siberia to Scandinavia to Alaska and Newfoundland.

The Smithsonian's work in the North began in 1858 when naturalist Robert Kennicott began compiling scientific collections from the Yukon region of British America. Kennicott's work quickly expanded into Alaska, where the search for connections to the Old World began to revolutionize studies of natural history and anthropology. Later, Smithsonian researchers began detailed studies that revealed the origins of Eskimo cultures in Bering Strait and tracked their migrations into arctic Canada and Greenland. The Center's landmark exhibitions Crossroads of Continents: Cultures of Siberia and Alaska in 1988 and Vikings: the North Atlantic Saga in 2000 produced new awareness of cultural similarities, differences and contacts throughout the circumpolar region, and had the added benefit of resulting in collaboration with Russian, Scandinavian and Canadian researchers. Even as we have learned more about global interconnections in modern-day economies, we have also learned that arctic lands and peoples are unique with respect to southern regions. The north is characterized by ecological and geographic continuities and a lack of geographic barriers have facilitated global connections between northern peoples since humans first moved into arctic regions more than 30,000 years ago. Global connections have always been a fundamental feature of arctic life.

While the ASC studies northern cultures and landscapes from ancient to modern times, it is the current lives and aspirations of today's northern peoples that are our greatest concern. How can knowledge of the past and present be useful to future generations? How can the Smithsonian's 150-year tradition of collecting artifacts, photographs and archival documents help northern youth find productive careers and meaningful lives? How can knowledge invested in Native communities both inform and invigorate this carefully-preserved museum legacy?

These are among the many questions guiding us as we develop the next phase of our work. As we begin our own monograph series and start a new round of research and educational projects, many conducted in collaboration with the Smithsonian's National Museum of the American Indian, we are constantly primed by the excitement of learning more about museum objects from the Elders and community scholars who visit us in Washington. As our Alaskan Collection Project, knowledge repatriation and community archaeology projects gather momentum, we are beginning to see the shape of things to come. With continued support from the Smithsonian, from our private and public benefactors and from new relationships with northern constituents who are breathing new life into our collections and programs, we are constantly reminded of our efforts on behalf of James Smithson's bequest: that ethereal but enduring charge for "the increase and diffusion of knowledge."

We hope you enjoy the many features in this website, and find they meet Smithson's charge.

William Fitzhugh,

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