Susan Kaplan

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

On leave for 2018-19 academic year

Susan 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.


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

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

Selected Publications

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., pp 469.

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, 116 pp.

2016  “Labrador Inuit: Thriving on the Periphery of the Inuit World,” Kaplan, SA and J Woollett. The Oxford Handbook of the Prehistoric Arctic, edited by T. Max Friesen and Owen K. Mason. UK: Oxford University Press., pp. 351-372. 

2016   “Living on the Edge: Inughuit Women and Geography of Contact," LeMoine, GL, SA Kaplan, and C Darwent. Arctic 69(5): 1-12.

2016   “Drawing on Their Lives: Artwork from the Children of Nain," SA, Kaplan. Newfoundland Quarterly 109(1): 16-21

2016   “Assessment of Archaeology Sites on Avayalik Island, TMNP," Provincial Archaeology Office Annual Review, Vol. 15: 136-147. Kaplan, SA, M McCaffrey, and J Brake, Provincial Archaeology Office, Government of Newfoundland and Labrador. 

2016   “Maine and the Arctic: A Shared History," in Our Arctic Nation, Week 32. Kaplan, SA and G LeMoine. US Arctic Council Chairmanship initiative. Invited blog post, the print publication is pending.

2017 "Molecular Markers in Keratins from Mysticeti Whales for Species Identification of Baleen in Museum and Archaeological Collections," Susan Kaplan, Caroline Solazzo, William Fitzhugh, Charles Potter, and John M. Dyer. PLoS ONE 12(8): e183053.

Selected Grants

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.”

 2016   Oak Foundation, “Arctic Council Reception and Maine Arctic Trail Map".

 2016   Kane Lodge Foundation, Inc., “Summer Student Fellowships on Robert E. Peary's Eagle Island.”

 2016   Oak Foundation, “International Scholar Participation in 'Governing Across the Waves' Workshop.”

2016  National Science Foundation, Office of Polar Programs, “Assessment of a Frozen Archaeology Site, Labrador.”

Selected Lectures and Symposia

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. 

 2016 “Considering Indigenous Perspectives in a Changing Arctic,” with Anne Witty. The Opening Arctic V Conference, March 12, 2016, The Fletcher School, Tufts University.

 2016 “To the North Pole and Back: Stories Revealed by the Analysis of a 107-Year-Old, Battered Sledge,” with Genevieve LeMoine. E'tudes Inuit Studies Conference, October 7-10, 1016, St. John's, Newfoundland.

 2016 “Arctic Collection and Research Opportunities: A View from the Peary-MacMillan Arctic Museum” Arctic Library Portal Workshop, December 7-8, 2016, Washington, DC. 

 2017 Arctic Library Portal Workshop, Part II, Discussion follow-up. January 30-31, 2017, Boston Public Library.

 2017 “Avayalik Island, TMNP, Labrador: A Remote Central Place in the Paleoeskimo World,” with M McCaffrey and J Brake, Burning Libraries session, Society for American Archaeology, March 24, 2017, Vancouver BC, Canada.

 2017 “Avayalik Island, TMNP: A Remote Site in a Central Place that is Melting Away,” with M McCaffrey and J Brake, Research and Cultural Resource Management in Parks Canada's Heritage Places session, Canadian Archaeological Association, May 11, 2017, Ottawa, Canada.