In strict geographic terms, the island, ice shelves and Eurasian and North American land mass north of the Polar Circle. Under the influence of strong national sentiments in the nineteenth century, the area became subject to daring expeditions and intense exploitation of natural resources. In 1596, the Spitzbergen Archipelago (Svalbard) had been discovered by the Dutch navigator Wilhelm Barents. This set off an intensive hunt of seals and whales for their blubber, which was cooked into oil, providing the most important liquid fuel and lubricants in mechanical devices in an age before drilling for fossil fuels. Basque, English, Norwegian-Danish, American, French and Dutch soon exploited sea mammals from Novaja Semlja in the East, to Newfoundland in the West. When onboard refinement techniques were developed, shore facilities in Svalbard were abandoned. Ashore, Russian hunters took over, but Norwegians replaced these around 1850. By the 1890s, whale, seal, and polar bear had become scarce and many hunters turned their eyes to the Antarctic. During the nineteenth century, nationalist and imperialist political forces among the European powers meant that scientific expeditions and economic activity increasingly took the form of territorial quest. Norway became independent from Sweden in 1905 and was enflamed by nationalist sentiment. Experienced in navigating the icy water and possessing the closest all year ice-free ports, the Norwegians brought certain advantages to the competition. Frenetic activity from Norwegian explorers was followed by several land claims, some more successful than others. Around 1830, Denmark had consolidated its rule over Greenland, which was acquired by the Danish Crown through dynastic means in 1380.
   A recurring theme in Arctic exploration was the search for new sea lanes. Barents had sought a passage northeast to India. Swedish discoverer, A. E. Nordenskiöld finally succeeded in navigating around the Asian landmass to the North in 1878–1879. The age of discoveries saw similar attempts to find a Northwest Passage, some of the first made by John Cabot in 1497–1498. In 1850, Robert McLure managed to pass through, but had to make the last 300 kilometers with dog sledge over the frozen Artic Sea. In 1903–1906, Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen managed to sail its whole length. Vitus Bering, a Danish navigator in Russian service, discovered Alaska in 1728, and Russia established a colony on Kodiak Island in 1748. Alaska was subsequently bought by the United States and became a territory in 1912 and the 49th state in 1959. Parts of the Canadian North Western Territories were charted by Henry Hudson (1550–1611), and the Hudsons Bay Company was given extensive privileges there by the British in 1670. It gained monopoly on trade in the whole area after merging with the North-Western Company in 1821. The Dominion of Canada bought the Territory from the Company in 1868–1870, of which the Yukon became a separate Territory in 1898. Toward the end of the nineteenth century, rich mineral deposits were found in Arctic America that also set off the 1897–1898 Klondike gold rush. The Arctic region was home to a number of nomadic hunter-gatherers and reindeer herders. As modern states consolidated their sovereignty and administration across the Arctic during the nineteenth century, the Samí, Siberian peoples, Native Americans, and Inuit experienced the end of traditional religion, language, culture, and ways of life.
   See also <>; <>.
    Kenney, Gerard I. Ships of Wood and Men of Iron: A Norwegian-Canadian Saga of Exploration in the High Arctic. Regina: Canadian Plains Research Center, 2004;
    Riste, Olav. Norways Foreign Relations. Oslo: Universitetsforlaget, 2001;
    Warrick, Karen Clemens. The Perilous Search for the Fabled Northwest Passage in American History. Berkeley Heights, NJ: Enslow, 2004.

Encyclopedia of the Age of Imperialism, 1800–1914. 2014.

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