"Ruins challenge us to make sense of them, as they frame emptiness and dramatize the evanescence of meaning...we need to make them speak and militate for our theories" Schönle, A. (2006 p. 652)
Whilst the fascination with ruins in academia and beyond can be questioned for it's potential for nostalgic views on troubled pasts through the attractive aesthetics of urban decay, or 'ruin porn', there are still important stories, experiences and lessons to be learned from such sites (DeSilvey and Edensor 2013)....
I might be in danger of sounding like a broken record, but last month I returned from another great conference and am struck again by the importance of getting out there and presenting my research, but for different reasons. This time, I headed to the very North of Norway for the Barent’s Institute’s "Mining the Arctic: sustainable communities, economies, and governance? Thorvald Stoltenberg Conference.
As well as acting as another motivating period of intense analysis and synthesis, I learned a great deal. Given my focus on Svalbard, it was really useful to get a picture of
I've been following the dicussions in the local paper on the changes to the built environment in Barentsburg over the last few months. Having seen the stark contrasts between old and new last year, I could see where these debates were coming from and where the concerns and different view points on cultural heritage value, decent living conditions, and symbolic image projection met, physically on the streets of the town. I wasn't quite prepared for the level of change I saw between last year and this though. ...
'Pyramiden has captured a part of my heart - so many secrets, stories, such beauty... Diolch yn fawr!' Samantha Saville, Aberystwyth, Wales, UK.
The guest book at The Tulip Hotel, Pyramiden, in which I attempted to sum up the impossible, has entries from 1987 up to 2000 (I guess some tourists found it after the settlement closed in 1998) and then resumes again in 2014.
Last year I visited the town as part of the fieldtrip visit to Petunia bay and discussed a key text on Pyramiden. For this trip, spending a couple of nights at the hotel and wandering the streets, hills and through the buildings of this Soviet-time settlement,sometimes alone, has been another quite magical experience. Perhaps that its history is so recent, yet seems so distant and another world away from the one I was growing up in is what makes it so very intriguing. That you can glimpse the different layers of development, inhabitants and activities in the peeling layers of the disintegrating structures and their contents at every turn had my imagination firing on overdrive.
Happy Birthday Longyearbyen, 108 today! Today is Longyearbyen Day, which has been celebrated since it's centenary in 2006. To mark the day there were a few historical things going on, which I attempted to join in with. Longyearbyen has certainly seen a lot of changes in it's relatively short lifetime (a quick version from the Cruise Handbook is here!). The Museum had a free entry day, so that was a good opportunity to re-visit: I definitely spotted different things in there today than I did on my last (very long) trip there a year ago. I also joined a history tour of some of old Longyear City, conducted in nippy weather and completely in Norwegian. I managed to piece my own version of the story together by recognising dates and keywords, but I definitely missed all the jokes! We ended with more history at the church, but in warmth, with waffles, and some nice singing (ahhhh) - Svalbard has its very own hymn!
Quite a bit of the week's discussions have been around cultural heritage, how that is defined, protected and managed in Svalbard. Time with my trusty field assistant is running out, so we went on an excursion to go and experience some local cultural heritage...or did we? Gruve (mine) 5 was built from 1957 and extracted coal from 1959 to 1971. All artefacts on Svalbard before 1946 are protected as cultural heritage within the Environmental Protection Act, as well as other newer things that are deemed significant or interesting enough. It seems Gruve 5 is heritage enough not to be pulled down as a blight on the landscape, but it doesn't come under the governor's wing for priorty protection either (which after going through a number of official documents and web searches is as close as I can come to being sure of it's status!). We found it incredibly interesting to imagine how such a structure was built, operated and what working conditions were like there. As well as observing what was taken away for use elsewhere and what was not. Just how valuable is that experience though, and how do you compare that to others elsewhere and by other people...?
May 17th is Norway's Constitution day, kicking of with a bang (well a few) at 7am this morning. The majority of the town's residents and visitors were out and about for the parade today, with smart togs, traditional dress, hi-vis silver band, many flags and 'hoorahs'. It seemed like a rightly happy occasion and holiday day (for some). There were things going on all through the day, children's programmes, art exhibition openings, speeches...Sadly, the evening cultural event was so packed out, not everyone could fit in, including me, but it was a beauty of a day for town wandering as well. There are lots of things I have yet to learn about this particular day's traditions, but I'd REALLY like to know why they played God Save the Queen before the speeches this morning, that was a bit of a shock and puzzlement!
Right at the beginning of this blog I mentioned reviewing the book Persistent Memories: Pyramiden - a Soviet mining town in the High Arctic, by Hein Bjerk, Bjornar Olsen and Elin Andreassen, (2010).
Now I have visited Pyramiden myself, I feel in a stronger position to say something about its subject matter as well as having a greater appreciation for the book itself. So here goes.
Despite the old adage, ‘never judge a book by its cover’...
From 2 -9th July I joined the KTH (Stockholm Royal Institute of Technology)/ Illinois University field course: Environment and Society in a changing Arctic on their trip to Petunia Bay (we named our camp 'Avangostad' in honor of the course leader/ benevolent dictator, Dag Avango). What an incredible and magical week this was! Coming into a group of 35 Swedish and U.S students and leaders as a stranger, to join them in their field camp in a relatively remote location in Svalbard; well, it was a leap of faith from both sides…
Just before attending this event  I remember questioning why I was going. Sure it sounded interesting, but I had umpteen assignments, marking, supervisions, all sorts that were looming, should I really be going to a conference that I’m not presenting at? Well, I’m really glad I did, it was an inspiring day full of interesting people and perspectives, lively cross-disciplinary discussions and I have to say I learnt a lot about what I need to learn more about! I won’t mention all the speakers, but here is a round up of the discussions and questions that sparked particular interest for me.
Thinking about temporality
The centre’s director, Graham Dawson got the day off to a good start by getting my brain ticking over the ways in which understandings of the past can be useful, not just interesting. Apparently this quote’s famous, but it was a first hearing for me: ‘The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there’ L. P Hartley: The Go Between (1953) – into which he interjected that the same could be said of the future. But how to do we ‘go’ to the past or future? These are key ponderances for me as I am thinking through the different temporalities my proposed case study sites invoke. Indeed climate change as an entity has time woven into it in every strand.