, Volume 44, Issue 8, pp 766–777 | Cite as

Communal visual histories to detect environmental change in northern areas: Examples of emerging North American and Eurasian practices

  • Tero Mustonen


This article explores the pioneering potential of communal visual-optic histories which are recorded, painted, documented, or otherwise expressed. These materials provide collective meanings of an image or visual material within a specific cultural group. They potentially provide a new method for monitoring and documenting changes to ecosystem health and species distribution, which can effectively inform society and decision makers of Arctic change. These visual histories can be positioned in a continuum that extends from rock art to digital photography. They find their expressions in forms ranging from images to the oral recording of knowledge and operate on a given cultural context. For monitoring efforts in the changing boreal zone and Arctic, a respectful engagement with visual histories can reveal emerging aspects of change. The examples from North America and case studies from Eurasia in this article include Inuit sea ice observations, Yu’pik visual traditions of masks, fish die-offs in a sub-boreal catchment area, permafrost melt in the Siberian tundra and early, first detection of a scarabaeid beetle outbreak, a Southern species in the Skolt Sámi area. The pros and cons of using these histories and their reliability are reviewed.


Visual observation Optic history Traditional knowledge Photography Rock art 



This article has been made possible by the Turvetuotanto ja vesistön vaikutusten hallinta Relevanteist faktoista tehokkaisiin normeihin/WATER MANAGEMENT AND PEAT PRODUCTION: From the Relevant Facts to Effective Norms (WAPEAT) (Suomen Akatemian hanke 263465) Project. The author is thankful to Ari Lehtinen, Jules Pretty, Pauliina Feodoroff and Kaisu Mustonen and anonymous reviewers for comments regarding the article. The article is dedicated to the memory of Skolt Sámi reindeer herder Illep Jefremoff.


  1. Agrawal, A. 2002. Indigenous knowledge and the politics of classification. International Social Science Journal 54: 287–297. doi: 10.1111/1468-2451.00382.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Arctic Council. 2013. Arctic Biodiversity Assessment. Cited February 5, 2013, from
  3. Arnold, C., W. Stephenson, B. Simpson, and Z. Ho. 2011. Taimani—At that time. Inuvialuit Regional Corporation. Inuvik: Inuvialuit Timeline Visual Guide.Google Scholar
  4. Autio, E. 1981. Karjalan kalliopiirrokset. Helsinki: Otava.Google Scholar
  5. Bennett, T., and T. Lantz. 2014. Participatory photo-mapping: A method for documenting, contextualizing and sharing Indigenous observations of environmental conditions. Polar Geography 37: 28–47. doi: 10.1080/1088937X.2013.873089.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Berkes, F. 1999. Sacred ecology—Traditional ecological knowledge and resource management. Philadelphia: Taylor & Francis.Google Scholar
  7. Bird, C., and Hallam, S.J. 2006. A review of Archaeology and Rock Art in the Dampier Archipelago. A Report prepared for the National Trust of Australia (WA), September 2006. Final draft.Google Scholar
  8. Carlsson, L., and F. Berkes. 2005. Co-management: Concepts and methodological implications. Journal of Environmental Management 75: 65–76. doi: 10.1016/j.jenvman.2004.11.008.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Couzin, J. 2007. Opening doors to native knowledge. Science 315: 1518. doi: 10.1126/science.315.5818.1518.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Cruikshank, J., A. Sidney, K. Smith, and A. Ned. 1997. Life lived like a story—Life stories of three Yukon Native Elders. Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press.Google Scholar
  11. Cruikshank, J. 2005. Do glaciers listen—Local knowledge, colonial encounters & social imagination. Vancouver: UBC Press.Google Scholar
  12. Dick, J., J. Stepenson, R. Kirikiri, H. Moller, and R. Turner. 2012. Listening to kaitiaki: Consequences of the loss of abundance and biodiversity of coastal ecosystems in Aotearoa New Zealand. MAI Journal 1: 117–130.Google Scholar
  13. 2015. Cited April 15, 2015.Google Scholar
  14. Dora, V. 2013. Topia: Landscape before linear perspective. Annals of the Association of American Geographers 103: 688–709. doi: 10.1080/00045608.2011.652882.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Eber, D. 1975. People from our side—A life story with photographs by Peter Pitseolak. Edmonton: Hurtig Publishers.Google Scholar
  16. Eicken, H., M. Kaufman, I. Krupnik, P. Pulsifier, L. Apangalook, P. Apangalook, W. Weyapuk, and J. Leavitt. 2014. A framework and database for community sea ice observations in a changing Arctic: An Alaskan prototype for multiple users. Polar Geography 37: 5–27. doi: 10.1080/1088937X.2013.873090.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Fidel, M., A. Kliskey, L. Alessa, and O. Suttom. 2014. Walrus harvest locations reflect adaptation: A contribution from a community-based observation network in the Bering Sea. Polar Geography 37: 48–68. doi: 10.1080/1088937X.2013.879613.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Fienup-Riordan, A. 1996. Agayuliyararput—Our way of making prayer: The living tradition of Yup’ik Masks. Seattle: University of Washington Press.Google Scholar
  19. Fienup-Riordan, A. 2014. Linking local and global: Yu’pik elders working together with one mind. Polar Geography 37: 92–109. doi: 10.1080/1088937X.2014.881429.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Fox-Gearheard, S., L.K. Holm, H. Huntington, J.M. Leavitt, A. Mahoney, M. Opie, T. Oshima, and J. Sanguya. 2013. The meaning of ice: People and sea ice in three Arctic communities. Hanover: International Polar Institute Press.Google Scholar
  21. Francis, D. 1996. Copying people 1860–1940: Photographing British Columbian First Nations. Saskatoon: Fifth House Publishers.Google Scholar
  22. Huntington, H. et al. 2013. Provisioning and Cultural Services in a book Arctic Council. 2013. Arctic Biodiversity Assessment. Arctic Council. Cited February 5, 2013, from
  23. Hyönteistietokanta. 2013. Finnish entomological database, Hyönteistietokanta. Accessed May 15, 2014, from
  24. Jeffries, M., J. Overland, and D. Perovich. 2013. The Arctic shifts to a new normal. Physics Today 66: 35. doi: 10.1063/PT.3.2147.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Jochelson, W. 1926/1975. The Yukaghir and the Yukaghirized Tungus. New York: American Museum of Natural History and AMS.Google Scholar
  26. Kendall, L., B. Mathé, and T. Miller. 1997. Drawing shadows to stone—The photography of the Jesup North Pacific Expedition, 1897–1902. New York: American Museum of Natural History.Google Scholar
  27. Kii7iljuus, and H. Harris. 2005. Tllsda Xaaydas K’aaygang.nga: Long, long Ago Haida Ancient Stories. In Haida Gwaii—Human history and environment from the Time of the Loon to the Time of the Iron People, ed. D. Fedje, and R. Mathewes. Vancouver: UBC Press.Google Scholar
  28. Kumpula, T., B.C. Forbes, and F. Stammler. 2006. Combining data from satellite images and Reindeer Herders in Arctic Petroleum Development: The case of Yamal, West Siberia. Nordia Geographical Publications 35: 17–30.Google Scholar
  29. Kumpula, T., B.C. Forbes, and F. Stammler. 2010. Remote sensing and local knowledge of hydrocarbon exploitation: The case of Bovanenkovo, Yamal Peninsula, West Siberia. Russia. Arctic 63: 165–178.Google Scholar
  30. Lehtinen, A., and T. Mustonen. 2013. Arctic earthviews: Cyclic passing of knowledge among the Indigenous communities of the Eurasian North. Sibirica 12: 39–55.Google Scholar
  31. Lehtola, V. 1997. Saamelaiset—Historia, yhteiskunta, taide. Jyväskylä: Gummerus.Google Scholar
  32. Luhta, J. 2009. Tähtiyöt. Hämeenlinna: Maahenki.Google Scholar
  33. Lukkarinen, R. 2007. Julia Widgrenin jalustanjäljillä—Vaasa nyt ja sata vuotta sitten. Vaasa: Pohjanmaan museon julkaisuja no. 35.Google Scholar
  34. Macdonald, J. 2000. The Arctic Sky—Inuit Astronomy, Starlore and Legend. Toronto: Royal Ontario Museum.Google Scholar
  35. Madine, C. 2012. Progress of the Solar Panel Project: Summer 2012. A Project Report. London: Arkleton Trust. Report available from the Arkleton Trust, UK.Google Scholar
  36. Molen, F. 2003. Not in between: Lyric painting, visual history and the postcolonial future. The Drama Review 47: 127–143.Google Scholar
  37. Murtomäki, E. 2008. Kameramme luonnon rippeillä. Jyväskylä: Lumo.Google Scholar
  38. Mustonen, T. 2009. Karhun väen ajast-aikojen avartuva avara. Joensuu: University of Joensuu Press.Google Scholar
  39. Mustonen, T. 2012. Rebirth of Indigenous Arctic Nations and polar resource management: Critical perspectives from Siberia and Sámi areas of Finland. Biodiversity. doi: 10.1080/14888386.2012.725652.
  40. Mustonen, T. 2013. Oral histories as a baseline of landscape restoration—Co-management and watershed knowledge in Jukajoki River. Fennia 191: 76–91. doi: 10.11143/7637.
  41. Mustonen, T. 2014. Power discourses of fish death: Case of linnunsuo peat production. AMBIO 43: 234–243. doi: 10.1007/s13280-013-0425-3.
  42. Mustonen T., and P. Feodoroff. 2013. Ponoi and Neiden collaborative management plan. Kontiolahti: Snowchange Cooperative.Google Scholar
  43. Mustonen, T., and K. Mustonen. 2009. It has been in our blood for years and years that we are salmon fishermen—A book of oral history from Unalakleet, Alaska, USA. Kontiolahti: Snowchange Cooperative.Google Scholar
  44. Mustonen, T., and K. Mustonen. 2011. Eastern Sámi Atlas. Kontiolahti: Snowchange Cooperative.Google Scholar
  45. Mustonen, T., and K. Mustonen. 2013. Vaara-Karjalan kulttuuriperintöhanke 2011–2013. Kontiolahti: Snowchange Cooperative.Google Scholar
  46. Mustonen T., and E. Syrjämäki. 2013. It is the Sámi who own the land—Sacred landscapes and oral histories of the Jokkmokk Sámi. Kontiolahti: Snowchange Cooperative.Google Scholar
  47. Nadasdy, P. 2003. Hunters and bureaucrats: Power, knowledge, and aboriginal-state relations in the Southwest Yukon. Vancouver: UBC Press.Google Scholar
  48. Norrman, L. 1949. Inok. Stockholm: Bonnier.Google Scholar
  49. Posey, D. (ed.). 1999. Cultural and spiritual values of biodiversity—A complementary contribution to the Global Biodiversity Assessment. Nairobi: UNEP.Google Scholar
  50. Pretty, J. 2011. Interdisciplinary progress in approaches to address social–ecological and ecocultural systems. Environmental Conservation 38: 127–139. doi: 10.1017/S0376892910000937.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Pulsifier, P., H. Huntington, and G. Peci. 2014. Introduction: Local and traditional knowledge and data management in the Arctic. Polar Geography 37: 1–4. doi: 10.1080/1088937X.2014.894591.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Puranen, J. 1999. Imaginary Homecoming. Oulu: Pohjoinen.Google Scholar
  53. Savard, D. 2010. Images from the Likeness House. Victoria: Royal BC Museum.Google Scholar
  54. Sawatzky, M. 2013. Voices in the woods: A study of forest use in eastern Manitoba. Joensuu: Publications of the University of Eastern Finland.Google Scholar
  55. Shaktova, N., I. Semiletov, A. Salyuk, V. Yusupov, D. Kosmach, and Ö. Gustafsson. 2010. Extensive methane venting to the atmosphere from sediments of the east Siberian Arctic Shelf. Science 327: 2010. doi: 10.1126/Science.1182221.Google Scholar
  56. Sheridan, J., and R.D. Longboat. 2006. The Haudenosaunee Imagination and the Ecology of the Sacred. Space and Culture 9: 365–381. doi: 10.1177/1206331206292503.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Simon, S. 1982. Fort McPherson, N.W.T.—A pictorial account of family, church and community. Whitehorse: Council for Yukon Indians and the Government of Yukon.Google Scholar
  58. Survo, V. 2008. Kirjottua historiaa. In Rajantakaista Karjalaa, ed. I. Lehtinen. National Board of Antiquities: Helsinki.Google Scholar
  59. Timofeyeva, T. 2011. Nikolai Kurilov: Grafika. Yakutsk: National Art Museum.Google Scholar
  60. Umholtz, D. 1987. Kalvak/Emerak Memorial Catalogue. Holman: Canada Council.Google Scholar
  61. Valkeapää, N.-A. 1991. Beaivi, Áhcázan. Vaasa: DAT.Google Scholar
  62. Vuorelainen, M. 1990. Lapin kuvat. Helsinki: SKS.Google Scholar
  63. Walter, K.M., S.A. Zimov, J.P. Chanton, D. Verbyla, and F.S. Chapin. 2006. Methane bubbling from Siberian thaw lakes as a positive feedback to climate warming. Nature 443: 71–75. doi: 10.1038/nature05040.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  64. Wehi, P.M., H. Whaanga, and T. Roa. 2009. Missing in translation: Maori language and oral tradition in scientific analyses of traditional ecological knowledge (TEK). Journal of Royal Society of New Zealand 39: 201–204.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  65. Weyapuk Jr. W., and I. Krupnik. 2012. Wales Inupiaq Sea Ice Dictionary—Kinikmi Sigum Qunaq Illitavuut. Washington, DC: Arctic Studies Center, Smithsonian Institution.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Geography and HistoryUniversity of Eastern FinlandJoensuuFinland

Personalised recommendations