Polar Imperialism

Polar Imperialism
   The polar regions were and are an object of imperial ambition. The Arctic held riches in form of oil, baleen, and ivory from sea mammals, and exploitation of these resources started here in the seventeenth century. Fisheries, prestige, adventurism, and, toward the end of the nineteenth century, prospects of rich mineral resources also inspired entrepreneurs and states to venture to the extreme north of the globe. Sea mammals had become scarce in the Arctic by then, and attention was increasingly directed toward the Antarctica. The precondition for lasting expansion by Europeans into these areas came with the age of discoveries and its development of seaworthy vessels capable of navigating icy polar waters, and the organizational skill associated with modern society.
   When the first Europeans arrived, Spitzbergen, the Arctic ice shelf, and Antarctica with its surrounding islands were void of peoples; and hunter-gatherer societies only thinly populated Northern Canada, Greenland, and Arctic Russia. Rich fisheries, petroleum deposits, and the absence of subjugated peoples who could or are willing to assert forceful claims of sovereignty has prolonged the age of imperialism in polar areas into the twenty-first century, and it even extends to the oceans and the continental shelves below. Major contested areas are the Antarctica proper (contested by several powers), the Falkland Islands (between Britain and Argentina ), and the Barents Sea (between Russia and Norway ). In support of these claims on land and sea, past explorers and practices play an important role.
    Peterson, M. J. Managing the Frozen South: The Creation and Evolution of the Antarctic Treaty System . Berkeley: University of California Press, 1988;
    Sufford, Francis. I May Be Some Time: Ice and the English Imagination . New York: St. Martin’s, 1997.

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

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