, Volume 44, Issue 8, pp 766–777

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


DOI: 10.1007/s13280-015-0671-7

Cite this article as:
Mustonen, T. Ambio (2015) 44: 766. doi:10.1007/s13280-015-0671-7


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 

Funding information

Funder NameGrant NumberFunding Note
  • 263465

Copyright information

© Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences 2015

Authors and Affiliations

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

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