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Guest Lecture: Ports as Transcultural Spaces "Arctic Dead Letters"

Oct 25, 2018 05:00 pm to 07:00 pm

Speaker: Prof. Hester Blum, Penn State University

Historical polar expeditions were required to leave messages in cairns at regular intervals, in multiple copies, often on pre-printed forms in six languages. Even though thousands of bits of paper were distributed throughout the Arctic in the nineteenth century, it was exceptionally rare for one of these messages to be found or received; most remained in circulation for an open-ended period of time, and may yet emerge today, as ice melts and permafrost thaws. I call these "Arctic dead letters": the cairn messages, notes in bottles, cached documents, mail, and other periodic circuits of delivery or connection in geophysical spaces that would seem otherwise to frustrate human exchange networks. In their risk of annihilating dispersion and their potential for ceaseless drift, Arctic dead letters became an unexpected medium through which expedition members worked through questions of time, space, and human duration in climatic extremity.


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