The North has been a blank, snowy canvas for our best and worst fantasies for thousands of years, home to biting winds, sea unicorns, fearsome Vikings, and even a wintry Atlantis. And it is also home, of course, to Indigenous communities, whose existence and culture could be inconvenient to myths of Aryan purity. Historian Bernd Brunner explores this curiosity cabinet of a region in his new book, Extreme North, translated by Jefferson Chase. Brunner argues that the North was as much invented as it was discovered by the European explorers, colonists, and armchair enthusiasts who ventured there. Encounters with the cultures of the North would inspire epic storytellers (Tolkien, Wagner), grifters (James Macpherson and his Poems of Ossian), racists (Hitler), and countless other complicated figures (Franz Boas, Nanook of the North). Brunner joins us on the podcast to explore the outer, icy limits of the known world and why it still has a hold on us today.
Go beyond the episode:
- Bernd Brunner’s Extreme North, translated by Jefferson Chase
- Rosamond Purcell re-created the Museum Wormianum of Arctic curiosities
- You can read all the extant Icelandic family sagas for free online
- The Poems of Ossian has been called the “Harry Potter of the 18th century”—except the boy wizard wasn’t a literary hoax
- How the handshake came to Nunavut
- Why the top of the map faces north
- The quasi-documentary Nanook of the North encapsulates much of the debate about white encounters with Indigenous communities of the North: were the Quebec Inuit involved in collaborative filmmaking, or was Robert Flaherty simply staging his assumptions?
Tune in every week to catch interviews with the liveliest voices from literature, the arts, sciences, history, and public affairs; reports on cutting-edge works in progress; long-form narratives; and compelling excerpts from new books. Hosted by Stephanie Bastek. Follow us on Twitter @TheAmScho or on Facebook.
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