Published July 07, 2022 by Jane Godiner ’23

Aggie Macy ’24 Tracks the History of Indigenous Greenland

Macy, one of Bowdoin’s Gibbons Summer Research Fellows, is devoting her summer to aiding the Peary-MacMillan Arctic Museum with their most recent undertaking: an interactive, touch-screen map displaying the evolution of place names and memory in Greenland throughout history.
Gibbons Fellow Aggie Macy ’24 looks through archival maps of Greenland
Gibbons Fellow Aggie Macy looks through archival maps of Greenland.

Under the supervision of Arctic Museum Curator and Registrar Genny LeMoine, Macy is spending eight weeks interacting with multimedia archives and parsing through centuries of Greenland’s rich and complex history. Macy and her team hope that this research will provide more context for how the land and culture of Greenland, which only became autonomous in recent decades, has developed over time through indigenous life and contemporary exploration.

Macy explained that oftentimes in her research she is not merely referring to other source material—in many cases, she is creating it.

“There's so much material to work with, but, also, the subject of indigenous place names in northern Greenland is such a niche topic,” she said. “You can’t use Google search in the same way—you have to go through the archives yourself.”

By early July, Macy was tackling the task of translation. She used her days to examine scans of old, hand-drawn maps of Greenland, cross-referencing them with Donald MacMillan’s 1920s dictionary of place names, and deciphering and re-transcribing each location in her growing database.

“I'm going back and translating all of those named places,” Macy said. “All of them are descriptive of what the land actually looks like—they’re really literal. For example, one location might translate to ‘the middle of three bays.’”

She hopes that doing this work will provide more clues about the history and settlement patterns of Greenland's Indigenous people, as well as their cultural values. As an environmental studies and anthropology double major, Macy believes that this fellowship complements both her academic passions and her professional aspirations.

“I am fascinated with maps in general—it took me a long time to figure out what I wanted to major in at Bowdoin, but this fellowship grabbed my attention most,” she said. “Greenland is such a temporal space because of climate change and global warming—having this map with these places that describe what the landscape looks like, especially because the landscape might change, is really important in trying to capture history.”

In the next phase of her project, Macy will be teaming up with Academic Technology Consultant David Francis to turn her prototype into a technological interface. The exhibit is projected to open in the new Peary-MacMillan Arctic Museum in May of 2023. She looks forward to spending the rest of her summer reading, writing, transcribing, and programming as she and the rest of her team work to complete this interactive installation.