Human Acclimatisation to Arctic Environments and Soviet Ideologies in Northern Medical Laboratories
CBEES Advanced Seminar with Dmitry Arzyutov, PhD in anthropology, PhD candidate in history of science/environmental history (Stockholm, KTH)
(Re-)Making the Homo Polaris: Human Acclimatisation to Arctic Environments and Soviet Ideologies in Northern Medical Laboratories
Presenter: Dmitry Arzyutov, PhD in anthropology, PhD candidate in history of science/environmental history (Stockholm, KTH)
This paper deals with the human acclimatisation project run between the 1930s and the 1980s in the Soviet North and has received relatively little attention from historians and social science scholars. Drawing on the laboratory experiments of Grigoriĭ M. Danishevskiĭ (1890-1971) and Vlail’ P. Kaznacheev (1924-2014), the author traces the notion of human acclimatisation/adaptation through the dynamic medical discourses and practices of human-environment interactions in the circumpolar region.
The author argues that the project was a two-way road where the “Russian” settler colonisers were meant to adjust to the Arctic climate and environments and the Indigenous peoples were forcedly converted to the Soviet ways of living. Both “Russian” colonizers and Indigenous peoples became patients of the experiment, which were somatically classified. To understand both the colonial encounters and the scientifically constructed divisions, the author offers to interpret these patients in the Arctic – who are referred to as Homo Polaris – not just as the “containers” of the somatic features but rather go-betweens constantly attuning to changing social, scientific and political requests.
Therefore, their attachment to the environment and the relational practices reveal a collective agency of humans, political and scientific bodies, and non-human beings. The article is based on the detailed analysis of published and unpublished works of medical and social scholars, who worked in the Soviet Arctic at that time.
Dmitry V. Arzyutov is an anthropologist and historian working in the Arctic and Siberia. He holds a doctorate in anthropology (Saint Petersburg, Museum of Anthropology and Ethnography) and finishes his second doctorate in history of science/environmental history (Stockholm, KTH).
His sphere of interests comprise a comparative history of anthropological and environmental science ideas, environmental history and anthropology, ethnohistory and visual anthropology. Arzyutov’s most recent publications include the edited volume Life Histories of Ethnos Theory in Russia and Beyond (Cambridge, 2019, together with David Anderson and Sergei Alymov) and also a number of articles on the social life of the mammoth fossils (Polar Record, 2019), intellectual biography of Sergei and Elizabeth Shirokogoroff (Current Anthropology, 2019, together with David Anderson) and the indigenous concepts of waste in the Russian Arctic (Current Opinion in Environmental Sustainability, 2020, together with Laura Siragusa). The present paper is part of Arzyutov’s ongoing doctoral project.