Seminar | Unsettling Colonial/Modern Gender at the Point Barrow, Alaska Expedition of the First International Polar Year, 1882-1883

Seminar | Unsettling Colonial/Modern Gender at the Point Barrow, Alaska Expedition of the First International Polar Year, 1882-1883


This paper is based on a chapter of my current book project, provisionally titled Settler Fantasies and Colonial ‘Before and After’ Photography, which investigates the variable and diverse ways that photography was used by settlers in North America to document bodily transformations of Indigenous people, particularly the projection of European ideals of gender and sexuality. In 1881, the United States Army established a station at Point Barrow, Alaska (Utqiagvik) to collect data related to meteorology, geomagnetism, and auroral activity for the First International Polar Year (IPY). This presentation looks at the relationship between the Iñupiat and American people, and specifically at the circulation of settler fantasies of race, gender and sexuality as borders of control.  I argue that what María Lugones terms ‘colonial/modern gender’ is a crucial lens through which to examine the Point Barrow station of the First IPY.  This presentation establishes a new understanding of the expedition as a site where settler colonial ideals of masculinity emerge in response to Iñupiaq expressions of gender and sexuality that challenged members of the expedition.  Specifically, the high social standing and sexual autonomy of Iñupiaq women created anxiety for the Americans, who interpreted Iñupiaq women’s equality as a sign of Iñupiaq men’s weakness according to a settler colonial heteropatriarchal framework.  Understanding and categorising members of Iñupiaq society through a rigidly binaristic gender system was a strategy for members of the Point Barrow expedition to accomplish a difficult task, that of disavowing their dependency on the Iñupiat for basic survival while recasting themselves as at the top of the hierarchy of masculinity.

Dr. Rachel Hurst is Associate Professor of Women’s and Gender Studies at St Francis Xavier University in Antigonish, Nova Scotia, Canada.  Her research is broadly concerned with the relationships between (visual) culture, embodiment, and power, from the perspectives of psychoanalysis, feminist theory, and decolonial thought.  She is the author of Surface Imaginations: Cosmetic Surgery, Photography, and Skin (McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2015), which Kathy Davis reviewed as “a poetic, strong, and innovative study that develops and elaborates on issues of fantasy, photography, and the limitations of the skin.”  Rachel is also co-editor of Skin, Culture and Psychoanalysis (Palgrave, 2013).  She teaches courses on historical and contemporary feminist theories, cultural studies, and embodiment.  Rachel’s teaching is infused with passion for integrating creative expression and community engagement as a central component of intellectual work, combined with an ongoing reflective practice through research on pedagogy; an example of this work is the Doing Feminist Theory Through Digital Video project.

Date & time

Tue 07 Nov 2017, 4.30–5.45pm


Theatrette, Sir Roland Wilson Building


Dr Rachel Hurst (St Francis Xavier University)

Event series


Penny Brew
+61 2 6125 4357


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