Does Antarctica have a colonial history – or a postcolonial present? Exciting workshop ahoy!

In January 2008 I saw my dear friend Adrian Howkins deliver a presentation at the American Historical Association on Antarctic history within a framework of colonialism. He got a mixed response. We’re used to thinking of Antarctica as being subject to the waves of European imperialism, yes, but colonialism? Is the concept appropriate when you don’t have an Indigenous population? (Unless you count the penguins.) Can we think of residents of Antarctic stations as settlers in colonised lands? Is it possible to think of power over territory and resources without people as a form of colonialism? And if any of the above are true, did we enter a postcolonial moment in Antarctica at any point?

I’ve thought about these questions over the years and it turns out many of my colleagues have been too. Adrian was way ahead of the curve and continues to do excellent work linking the history of Antarctica with the broader history of British colonial and imperial history. (His book is great.) Alejandra Mancilla has really pushed the conversation forward recently through her project on political philosophy and Antarctica, which has brought a welcome focus on justice and power. We now think the time is ripe for a serious discussion of how colonialism and post colonialism relate to Antarctica. We aren’t against case studies, but we are keen to have submissions that really get to the big questions, and to get input from scholars who study colonialism and post colonialism rather than Antarctica. Here’s the call for papers. Please feel free to ask either Alejandra or myself if you have any questions!


Call for Papers: Colonialism, Postcolonialism, and Antarctica

December 3-4, 2020 at the University of Oslo

Does Antarctica have a colonial history? Has it entered a postcolonial present? And are those terms even appropriate for a continent without an Indigenous population, a continent that is paradigmatically represented as a space for science and peace that is exceptional to the processes governing the rest of the world? The aim of this workshop, sponsored by the projects “Political Philosophy Looks to Antarctica” and “Greening the Poles: Science, the Environment, and the Creation of the Modern Arctic and Antarctic”, is to critically explore these and related questions. The aim is to produce an edited volume that poses fundamental questions about how power has been exercised in Antarctica in the past – and how it continues to be exercised in the present – and about the analytic limits of colonialism and postcolonialism in Antarctica and beyond, in sites like the outer space or the deep seabed.

Our aim is to bring scholars of Antarctica and the polar regions into conversations with historians, philosophers, and geographers who study colonial and postcolonial processes elsewhere in the world. As such, we welcome submissions from scholars at all career stages who can speak to this topic. Our primary focus is on deeper conceptual issues related to the concepts of colonialism and postcolonialism in Antarctica and other spaces without Indigenous populations. Applicants should submit a 500-word abstract (max) with contact details to Oda Davanger (, no later than March 30. Successful applicants will be notified by April 20th. The workshop will consist of pre-circulated papers and applicants should be prepared to deliver a draft paper suitable for commentary and discussion (of c. 6000 words) by November 15. Travel funding is available for successful applicants.

“Political Philosophy Looks to Antarctica” is financed by the Polar Program of the Research Council of Norway. “Greening the Poles” is financed by the European Research Council (ERC) under the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme (grant agreement No. [716211 – GRETPOL]). The workshop organizers are Associate Professor Alejandra Mancilla (University of Oslo, and Associate Professor Peder Roberts (University of Stavanger,

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