Antarcticness: Inspirations and imaginaries

Profiles of Norwegian Science


The book Antarcticness. Cover photo by Anne Charmantier.

Agder, Norway

Norway is the only country in the world making territorial claims around both poles. It is indisputably an Arctic country, with recognized land and sea areas in the northern latitudes. A new book explores the other side of the planet: Antarctica.

I edited Antarcticness: Inspirations and imaginaries, published and launched in February and free to download from We show the Antarctic’s relevance to Norway and the world—not despite, but because Antarctica is the remotest, highest, driest, coldest, iciest, and, perhaps, most dangerous continent.

Antarctica is governed by the Antarctic Treaty System (ATS), which started in 1959. It applies to all areas south of 60°S. ATS places countries’ Antarctic territorial claims on hold, neither accepting nor denying them. In effect, it makes the region unowned politically and also currently bans many human activities such as resource extraction and militarization.

Norway is an original signatory to the Antarctic Treaty and is one of seven countries making regional territorial claims (held in abeyance), plus the United States and Russia maintain that they could potentially claim territory in the future. Norway’s dependency Bouvet Island in the South Atlantic Ocean is outside of the ATS area, while Norway claims on the Antarctic areas of Queen Maud Land and Peter I Island falls under the ATS claims provisions.

Another complication emerges with Norway in the southern latitudes. The six other claimant countries delineate their preferred sector from Antarctica’s shoreline to the South Pole. Norway’s claim does not accept a sector-based approach and thus does not place explicit northern or southern limits on its claim—although, obviously, the South Pole must be the maximum possible southern limit.

So, even at the baseline political level, in obscure legal statements thrashed out thousands of kilometers from 60-90°S, Antarcticness (the idea) presents complexities and difficulties—just to grasp the rudiments!

But Antarcticness (the book) is about far more than sovereignty machinations or even the physicality of climate change potentially melting the huge Antarctic ice sheets and raising global sea levels by dozens of feet over centuries. It melds prose, poetry, paintings, and photography to morph Antarcticness from a pompous, whimsical neologism into tangibility in meaning and impact—as well as an actual object, the book, in our hands or on our screen.

The contributors come from around the world, representing all non-Antarctic continents and providing chapters that include new poems, original research, photo essays, and personal reflections. Some authors have been to or near Antarctica, while others have never been close. Several are experienced writers, and a few have never before contributed in the format they provide.

They detail their imaginations and inspirations, as shown by balancing women and men, professional backgrounds, ages, and subjects. Constraints include the linear structure of a book, not being fully accessible for a range of abilities by, for instance, providing better image descriptions, and (so far) being in English only—not even providing a Norwegian offering!

Yet outside of author biographies, references, and the index, Norway has around a dozen mentions in Antarcticness. As a country with Antarctic territorial claims and with Norwegian nationals being the first known people to reach the South Pole (Captain Nemo from 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea notwithstanding), the continent is physically but not culturally distant.

Antarcticness chapters acknowledge these two main Antarctic-Norway links. In addition, Henrik Johan Bull, a Norwegian immigrant to Australia, is mentioned in reference to his 1894-1895 exploration. It is considered to be the first confirmed landing on Antarctica’s mainland, which first discovered vegetation in Antarctica. South Africa is explained as a useful stop for Norwegian whaling companies plying the Southern Ocean decades ago and for Norwegian Antarctic travelers today.

Norway’s Antarctic science is highlighted, such as a Norwegian-British-Swedish expedition during the International Geophysical Year from 1957-1958, which aimed to counter political superpower influence in Antarctica. These years of international research cooperation supported the start of ATS, especially emphasizing Antarctica for science and peace.

And they illustrated how Antarctica and Antarcticness affect the planet and humanity. The book Antarcticness reinforces this statement by ingraining the most inaccessible continent on our planet into everyone’s inspiration and imagination.

This article originally appeared in the March 18, 2022, issue of The Norwegian American.

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Ilan Kelman

Ilan Kelman is Professor of Disasters and Health at University College London, England, and Professor II at the University of Agder, Norway. His overall research interest is linking disasters and health, including the integration of climate change into disaster research and health research. Follow him at and @ILANKELMAN on Twitter and Instagram.