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Southwestern’s Brown Symposium Explores Life in the Arctic

Frozen. Deserted. Barren fields of ice. These images may be conjured when thinking of the Arctic, but in reality, this beautiful region features spectacular wildlife; mineral resources; and rich, indigenous cultures.

Because the extreme environment demands close interactions among its inhabitants, these relationships are the focus of Arctic Journey: Discoveries of inter-relationships in the circumpolar north, the topic of Southwestern University’s 26th annual Brown Symposium, Feb. 12-13, 2004.

The Arctic’s rapid climate change has drawn close attention from scientists who seek to determine its consequences on animals, plants and the cultural integrity of the indigenous peoples. Some suggest the change in the Arctic foreshadows what we might expect globally. Because of their long history and close tie to the environment, the indigenous groups in the Arctic have much insight into the changes that are presently occurring. This traditional ecological knowledge (TEK) must be incorporated into the development of environmental policy in the Arctic, requiring further understanding of the relationships between the environment and the people who inhabit this vast land.

Speakers include Barry Lopez, essayist and nature writer; Richard Nelson, nature writer and cultural anthropologist; Ian Stirling, senior research scientist at Canadian Wildlife Services and adjunct professor at the University of Alberta; and Susan Kaplan, director of the Peary-MacMillan Arctic Museum at Bowdoin College.

Lopez, author of Arctic Dreams, for which he received a National Book Award, is one of the nation’s premiere nature writers. Among his other non-fiction books are About This Life, and Of Wolves and Men, which was a National Book Award finalist. Once a landscape photographer, Lopez turned to writing as a means of exploring the relationships between humans and nature. Lopez has received numerous awards and prizes, among them the Literature Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the John Burroughs Medal, Guggenheim, National Science Foundation, and Lannan Fellowships, the John Hay Award for 2001, and Pushcart Prizes in fiction and non-fiction. He is a regular contributor to Harper’s, The Paris Review, Esquire, Orion and The Georgia Review.

Richard Nelson lives and works in rural Alaska. He has written numerous books and articles about the animals of the Arctic, and in so doing, has illuminated a great deal about the people who thrill to see, study and hunt these creatures. He has studied connections between people and nature in Alaskan Eskimo and Athabaskan Indian villages. Based on these experiences, he wrote Hunters of the Northern Ice, Hunters of the Northern Forest, Shadow of the Hunter, and Make Prayers to the Raven. Nelson’s work also has appeared in Life, Harper’s, Outside and The Los Angeles Times. In 1999 Nelson was honored as Alaska’s State Writer. He holds a B.S. and an M.S. in anthropology from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a Ph.D. in Anthropology from the University of California-Santa Barbara.

Ian Stirling is recognized as one of the world’s leading experts on polar bears and walruses. For almost 30 years, he has studied the lifestyles and habitat of these animals in the Arctic. His work contributes to the development of field management plans that help people in arctic regions to manage and conserve animal populations. He is well known for his research on polar bear ecology, particularly his studies on polar bear behavior, population parameters and distribution. He is author of Polar Bears, which was hailed by Canadian Geographic magazine as an exciting and varied story with an abundance of scientific and anecdotal evidence about Inuit life. Stirling holds a B.Sc. and an M.Sc. from the University of British Columbia, and a Ph.D. from the University of Canterbury, Christchurch, New Zealand.

Susan A. Kaplan specializes in anthropology and archaeology of the North American Eastern Arctic, particularly Labrador. She works in an interdisciplinary context to examine how paleoenvironmental and historical factors affect Inuit culture, conducts research on ethnohistoric photographs and films of the Arctic, and researches the history of exploration in the Eastern Arctic. Kaplan holds a B.A. from Lake Forest College and an M.A. and a Ph.D. from Bryn Mawr College.

Southwestern University’s Brown Symposium annually explores topics of global interest in one of a variety of disciplines and is funded through an endowment established by The Brown Foundation, Inc., of Houston, Texas, for professorships at the University.

Brown Symposium XXVI has been developed by Stephanie Fabritius, professor of biology, associate provost and director of the Paideia Program, and holder of the Lillian Nelson Pratt Chair. All events are open to the public without charge and will be held in the Alma Thomas Theater at the Sarofim School of Fine Arts.