Henshaw Continues Inuit Place Name Research

Story posted January 18, 2005

Coastal Studies Center Director Anne Henshaw has been invited to participate in a meeting of approximately a dozen Arctic scholars in Ottawa, Canada, Feb. 21-25, 2005, to share information on understanding and documenting place names. Place names, or toponyms, are names derived from geographical places.

The meeting is being sponsored by the Inuit Heritage Trust and the Government of Nunavut - the Arctic territory of Canada -- and is part of a territory-wide effort to recognize places with names derived from the Inuktitut language spoken by the Inuit. Most current maps of the region don't reflect Inuit heritage and names.

Henshaw recently conducted oral history research on Inuit toponyms in the region and was one of several scholars contributing to the Arctic Climate Impact Assessment, a significant 2004 study produced by the international scientific community which documented climate changes in the Arctic. She believes place names form an important collective memory of geography, subsistence activities, beliefs, customs, and local history, and may provide insight into past climactic changes in the region and the Inuit ability to adapt to those changes. (Click here for a short news story on her research.)

Henshaw will return to the Cape Dorset region of Nunavut with her son, Giacomo, and Bowdoin student research-assistant Carly Knight '05, from March 9 to 26, 2005, to continue her place name research. She also will bring archival film taken by Donald MacMillan in the 1940s from Bowdoin's Peary-MacMillan Arctic Museum back to the community of Pond Inlet, one of Nunavut's most northerly communities.

The film is an important record of a time of rapid change in the Inuit culture there, marking the beginning of their movement into settled communities. Henshaw intends to interview people there about the film's content, since some of the people documented in the film are alive and living in the community. The film project is funded through a Fletcher Family Research Grant.


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