Location: Bowdoin / Susan A. Kaplan

Sociology and Anthropology

Susan Kaplan

Professor of Anthropology
Director of Peary-MacMillan Arctic Museum and Arctic Studies Center

Contact Information

Sociology And Anthropology
211A Hubbard Hall

Current teaching schedule available on the public course finder.


  • B.A (Lake Forest College)
  • M.A. Ph.D. (Bryn Mawr College)

Susan A. Kaplan is a professor of anthropology and director of the Peary-MacMillan Arctic Museum and Arctic Studies Center at Bowdoin College. She is an Arctic anthropologist and archaeologist. Her work covers three areas of northern research. She studies prehistoric and historic Inuit responses to environmental change and contact with the West using archaeology, ethnohistory, visual anthropology, and paleoenvironmental data. Most of that work has taken place in northern Labrador, Canada. She studies the history of Arctic exploration using many of the same investigative tools, and that work has taken her to Ellesmere Island, Labrador, and Newfoundland and into many archives. Finally, she studies material culture and uses museum collections to develop exhibitions for the public and to reach out to the northern communities from which artifacts were collected and photographs and films were taken.


Cape Sheridan: From Maine to the Arctic in 2011


Archaeology. I have been conducting archaeological work in northern Labrador since 1976. I am interested in how Labrador Inuit have responded to the challenges and opportunities presented by environmental change and contact with western groups. The work has been supported by grants from the National Science Foundation and Kane Lodge Foundation, Inc., and Bowdoin College.

Arctic Exploration History. I am interested in the history of exploration of the Arctic, particularly of Labrador, Baffin Island, Ellesmere Island, and Greenland, and the quest to reach the North Pole. Culture contact issues and the roles of indigenous peoples in these exploration endeavors are of particular interest to me. I have spearheaded exhibition and publication projects to examine the expeditions of explorers Robert E. Peary, Donald B. MacMillan, and Robert A. Bartlett in particular. I use archival documents, publications, material culture, photographs, and films in that work. Grants from the National Science Foundation, Institute of Museum and Library Services, and Kane Lodge Foundation, Inc., and funding from Bowdoin College support this work.

Visual and Material Culture. I use material culture and historic photographs to study the history of individual objects and what stories they reveal about their various owners. Also, I work with historic photographs, motion picture films, and material culture to study the changing lives of indigenous northern populations and the impact of western technologies on the north, and to help document northern family and community histories.

Community Outreach. As Director of the Peary-MacMillan Arctic Museum and Arctic Studies Center I am committed to outreach to the general public and to the northern communities whose heritage is represented in the Arctic Museum’s collections. For information about school tours, exhibitions, lectures, and Family Day activities hosted by the Arctic Museum go to http://bowdoin.edu/arctic-museum/

Inua1982  Inua: Spirit World of the Bering Sea Eskimo, with W. Fitzhugh, Smithsonian Institution Press, 296 pp.

1986   Raven’s Journey: The World of Alaska's Native People, with K. Barsness, The University Museum, 208 pp.

1997  “Developments in Labrador Inuit Archaeology Research,” Fifty Years of Arctic Research, ed. R. Gilberg and H. C. Gulløv, pp. 181-186. The National Museum of Denmark.

2000  “Challenges and Choices: Exploring the Interplay of Climate, History, and Culture on Canada’s Labrador Coast,” with Jim Woollett. Journal of Arctic, Antarctic and          Alpine Research 32(3):351-359.

2003  “Interannual to Multidecadal Modes of Variability in Northern Labrador Tree Rings Spanning the Past Four Centuries,” with Rosanne D’Arrigo, Brendan Buckley, and Jim Woollett. Climate Dynamics 20:219-228.

how peary reached the pole2008  Preface and Introduction to re-issue of How Peary Reached the Pole: The Personal Story of His Assistant, by Donald B. MacMillan, pp. xi-xlvi. With   Genevieve LeMoine and Anne Witty. Toronto: McGill-Queens University Press.

2009  “From Forested Bays to Tundra-Covered Passes: Transformation of the Labrador Landscape.” New Perspectives in Inuit Prehistory: Papers in Honor of Research Professor H.C. Gulløv. B. Grønnow and M. Appelt, eds. Pp. 119-128. Sila, The Greenland Research Institute at the National Museum of Denmark, Copenhagen.

2010  “Donald Baxter MacMillan: A Transitional Figure in the History of Arctic Exploration.” Very Rough Country: Proceedings of the Labrador Explorations Symposium. Martha MacDonald, ed. Pp. 99-118. Happy Valley-Goose Bay: Labrador Institute of Memorial University.

north by degree 2012   “Labrador Inuit Ingenuity and Resourcefulness: Adapting to a Complex Environmental, Social and Spiritual Environment.” Settlement, Subsistence and Change among the Labrador Inuit: The Nunatsiavummiut Experience. David Natcher, Lawrence Felt, and Andrea Procter, eds. Pp. 15-42. University of        Manitoba Press.

2013  North by Degree: Papers on Arctic Exploration and Its Impact on Society, 1850-1940. Susan A. Kaplan and Robert Peck, eds. American Philosophical Society. 469pp.

2013   “Riding Shortwaves and Icy Seas: Practicing Science and Deploying Technology in the Arctic, 1913-1924.” North by Degree: Papers on Arctic Exploration and Its Impact on Society, 1850-1940. Susan A. Kaplan and Robert Peck, eds. Pp. 409-454. American Philosophical Society.

Imagination takes shape2014  Imagination Takes Shape: Canadian Inuit Art from the Robert and Judith Toll Collection. Essays by Robert Toll, Genevieve LeMoine, and Susan A. Kaplan. The Peary-MacMillan Arctic Museum, 116pp.

In press    “Labrador Inuit: Thriving on the Periphery of the Inuit World,” with James Woollett. Oxford Handbook of Arctic Archaeology. Max Friesen and Owen Mason, ed. 44-page manuscript.


2000  National Science Foundation, Office of Polar Programs, “Tree-Ring Dating of Inuit Sites in Labrador.”

2007  Institute of Museum and Library Services, Museums for America, “Northward Over the Great Ice: Robert E. Peary and the Quest for the North Pole.”

2010  National Science Foundation, Polar Programs Social Science, EGERT grant, “Peary and the Inughuit at Cape Sheridan,” with Genevieve LeMoine.

2011  Kane Lodge Foundation, Inc. “The Walter E. Ekblaw Collection: Preservation of the Field Outfit of an early Twentieth Century Naturalist.”

2012  Oak Foundation, “Traditional Knowledge and Science In Political Contexts: Indigenous Perspectives of Co-Management in Alaska.”

 2014  Kane Lodge Foundation, Inc., “Caught, Carried, and Crushed in the Ice: Robert A. Bartlett’s Chart of the Drifting and Sinking of the Karluk.”

 2015  Oak Foundation, “Arctic Marine Mammal Coalition 2015 Workshop.”

 2015   The Gladys Krieble Delmas Foundation, “Digitization of the Crocker Land Expedition Journals.”

2000 Symposium, with Jim Woollett: “Small-Scale Societies of the North Atlantic,” Society for American Archaeology Meetings, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

 2008 Three-day symposium, “North By Degree: An International Conference on Arctic Exploration.” In collaboration with the American Philosophical Society, the Academy of Natural Sciences, and Philadelphia Area Center for the History of Science. Philadelphia.

 2008 Film Festival, “Arctic Exploration in Motion: A Film Festival.” With Genevieve LeMoine, Audrey Amidon, and Audrey Kupferberg. Academy of Natural Sciences, Philadelphia.

 2009 “Having the Time of My Life: Donald B. MacMillan and Exploration of the Arctic.”Lecture in Grand Bank, Newfoundland-Labrador.

 2009 “Finding a Way or Making One: Robert E. Peary and the Quest for the North Pole.”  Orrs and Bailey Island Yacht Club, Bailey Island, Maine.

 2010 “‘I Can Hear the Ice Running’: The Unusual Search for Arctic Exploration Documents and the Discovery of a Maine Family’s History.” Town and College Lecture, Bowdoin College.

 2011 “Exploring Floeberg Beach: An Archaeological Journey to the Edge of the Polar Sea. With Genevieve LeMoine. Maine Archaeology Month event, Bowdoin College.

 2012 Multi-day Workshop: Traditional Knowledge and Science in Political Context: “Navigating Alaskan Waters: Natives, Science and Politics.” Bowdoin College.

 2014 “Labrador Inuit Connectedness and resilience Seen thru Archaeological and Museum Collections.” Nunatsiavut Heritage Forum, Nain, Newfoundalnd-Labrador.

 2014 “What is in Your Cabinet of Curiosities?” Opening Lecture for the Cape Dorset and Beyond exhibition. April 17, 2014. Bowdoin College.

 2015 “Challenges and Opportunities of the Contemporary Arctic,” with Genevieve LeMoine, Community Lecture Series, Bowdoin College.

 2015 “Labrador Inuit of Northern Labrador and the Domestication of a Landscape.” Maine Archaeological Society Meetings, Bowdoin College.

 2015 “The North Pole Hubbard Sledge: Robert E. Peary Revealed.” Keynote at Celebration of Eagle Island State Historic Site’s Designation as  National Historic Landmark, Eagle Island, Harpswell, Maine.