Our collection aims to contribute to what we would think of as a rapidly solidifying field called ice humanities. Taking inspiration from the blue humanities and critical ocean studies, we make the case for the distinctiveness of ice and snow. It is timely for humanities scholars to turn their attention to ice in a way that oceans and seas have become sites for environmental and geohumanities and artistic practice and scholarship. No longer regarded as peripheral, the perceived isolation and marginality of ice-filled regions of the Earth is eroding rapidly. Can a self-conscious turn to ice humanities help us reimagine the aesthetics, culture, geography, sociology, as well as settler and indigenous histories of ice? It is an ambitious and wide-ranging agenda, and this edited collection aims to serve as a point of departure, and of inspiration, for a longer conversation that needs to be had about one of the world’s most crucial objects in what is increasingly appearing as an elemental time.
Ice humanities is a pioneering collection of essays designed to bring to the fore how change to our cryosphere is imagined and experienced. By the end of this century, we will likely be facing a world where sea ice no longer reliably forms in large areas of the Arctic Ocean, where glaciers have not just retreated but disappeared, where ice sheets collapse, and where permafrost is far from permanent. The ramifications of such change are not geophysical and biochemical – they are societal and cultural, and they are about value and loss.
Where does that leave our inherited ideas, knowledge, and experiences of ice, snow, frost, and frozen ground? How will human, animal, and plant communities superbly adapted to cold and high places cope with less, or even no, ice? The ecological services provided by ice alone are breathtaking. Just one example is the role of seasonal meltwater in providing water and food security for hundreds of millions of people around the world. The stakes could not be higher. This collection develops the field of ice humanities in order to reveal the centrality of ice in human and non-human life.
From the consumable slush of the plains to the glaciers of the high Himalaya, Europeans struggled to obtain purchase on Indian ice epistemologically as well as physically. Even as their encounters with ice relied on Asian people and infrastructures, however, imperial personnel came to configure consuming, climbing, and categorizing ice as markers of racial and gendered distinction. Multiple temporalities and types of motion coalesced and clashed on the ice, ranging from humans moving in different spaces and different rhythms, to the assumed actions of powerful and mysterious glaciers and gods, to instruments and texts precariously generating and bearing information. In this flux, knowledge and practices of power might congeal for a time; but only on rare occasions, and with difficulty, could they be made to stick durably. In addition, Asian ice appeared sufficiently distinctive to many Europeans to prompt or substantiate a wide range of scientific investigations and theories across natural and physical sciences. This chapter shows how ice in colonial India was ‘vital matter’, in terms of being both important stuff to various agents of empire and a lively substance that persistently slipped their grasp.
Boston merchant Frederic Tudor became the first person to sell ice commercially in 1806. Over the course of the nineteenth century American entrepreneurs developed a great variety of uses for that product. Those uses benefited greatly from a remarkable variety of available ice. Clear or opaque, in blocks or in cubes, natural or artificial, dirty or clean, Americans both harvested and manufactured different kinds of ice for different markets. Some of this variety was the result of nature. Different quality water produced different quality ice. In fact, different parts of the same pond generally went for different prices because some parts of an ice block were cleaner than others. Similarly, water with a current produced cleaner ice than water from a lake or pond because it repelled the kinds of sediment that would stay in people’s glasses when they were done with their drinks. Some of this variety was the result of deliberate decisions by the American ice industry. Ice harvesters would drill holes in ponds and push them down to promote nature creating larger blocks. The first artificial ice manufacturers realized that stirring water as it froze produced clearer ice, for which customers were willing to pay a higher price. Yet none of these changes mattered quite so much in those many instances when their buyers only cared about price.
The chapter considers the role of ice in the economic life of northwest Russian modern coastal and maritime communities. It aims to discuss the link between multilevel understanding of ice on the one hand and the everyday economic strategies of the urban and coastal population on the other. In the period under study the scientific research of the ice developed alongside traditional knowledge of peasant communities. The interaction between educated society and traditional communities offers intriguing insights into the history of the ice in one of the most frozen parts of the planet. Evidence for practices of water biota exploitation in the Russian North reveals ice as a powerful actor in the life of the coastal communities, which in turn became a key factor in the development of those northerly communities. The environmental history of St Petersburg provides a counterpoint in terms of how the interaction between the growing capital city and ice offered up a spectrum of opportunities for activities while interfering with the city’s dependence on water-based transportation.
Climate change has led to a significant decrease of the cryosphere, including a considerable loss of ice sheets and glaciers. In addition to unrelenting climate change, glaciers are affected by large-scale economic activities such as mineral and energy extraction at the so-called ‘frozen frontier’. In light of this development, societies have come to revalue glaciers and their related ecosystems, giving rise to new narratives of glaciers as ‘an endangered species’ and ‘natural resources’. This chapter analyses how glaciers took form as governable objects in Argentina. Starting as a contested environmental impact assessment in relation to a gold mining project the issue later culminated in the world’s first national glacier protection law adopted by Argentina in 2010, after an animated national debate. The chapter employs the concepts of resource construction and scale in order to trace and understand the changing values ascribed to glaciers through the process by which they became institutionalized in Argentinean environmental politics. By focusing on how glaciers were constructed as resources by different actors during this process, the power relations embedded in glaciers are revealed. Furthermore, how glaciers were scaled became a crucial constitutive part of their construction as resources – and by extension – of their transformation into governable objects. Finally, the chapter discusses how glaciers assumed the role as mediators of global climate change and re-actualized questions of scale enabling a new multidimensional framing of glaciers in Argentina: glaciers as critical water resources and objects of national governance.
In 2017, about 10 per cent of the Larsen C Ice Shelf on the Antarctic Peninsula slowly calved away, forming a huge iceberg. In a spectacle breathlessly reported, experts kept track of the event as it was captured in a series of satellite images. The event offers an opportunity to observe how exceptional moments in natural history can be interpreted as scripts about environmental peril, even when the event is not explicitly linked to climate change. Nonetheless, the charismatic affordances of a spectacular ice event – as well as its charismatic data, visualized in maps – create an opening for experts to leverage a brief window of public interest onto a faraway place and the knowledge generated from it into a discussion about actual, rather than looming, environmental crisis. The break itself is a powerful image with an immediate temporality that captures attention more easily than ice melting or temperature increases. It is a singular event. In the Larsen C collapse, experts interpreted scattershot images as the Antarctic clouds cleared, to narrate indicators of environmental change, harnessing the power of witnessing tangible ice loss in real time.
Early Russian glaciology in Central Asia began during the second half of the nineteenth century, with the establishment of Russian colonial rule in the region. First scientific observations of glaciers took place during Russian scientific expeditions to Central Asia, often in combination with military campaigns. This chapter analyses the ‘scientific biographies’ of two glaciers in the Pamir Mountains of Central Asia: the Abramov Glacier, today in Kyrgyzstan, and the Zeravshan Glacier, today in Tajikistan. The scientific biographies of these two glaciers are closely connected to the prevailing political context, knowledge creation, and historical protagonists. What is revealed is that the Abramov and Zeravshan glaciers became scientific objects in the context of Russian conquest: they were first mapped by military topographers, and then studied by mining engineers carrying out geological surveys in Central Asia. Insights from the two scientific biographies suggest that enlisting these glaciers in Imperial Russian science was a gradual and non-linear process. While glaciers began to appear as scientific objects in Russian narratives, they remained obscure despite their prominence in the Central Asian landscape. I argue that these regimes of vision in Imperial Russian science are epistemologically, politically, and economically constructed. The (in)visibility of these two glaciers in scientific narratives is a result of symbolic and material imperiality in Russian Central Asia.
This chapter is concerned with the ice that is borne on the sea to the coasts of Iceland, and the scholars who wrote about it in times past. Sea ice is an element ingrained deep in the Icelandic psyche. Indeed, the country is almost certainly named for it. Over the centuries it brought extreme hardship in its wake and also a few benefits. A facility with the written word has also been a key part of the life of Icelanders from early times and, beginning in the mid to latter part of the sixteenth century, there were a variety of scholarly endeavours in the fields of geography, history, and literature.
This conclusion offers an examination of the most contemporary manifestations of enthusiasm, and the confusions they entail. Accompanying the recent rise of populist movements in Western democracies has been the analogous aura of fascism. This chapter explores what happened to the subterranean political effect of fascism once unleashed – the “excitation” of fascism as it carries through the genealogy of this political from, even in its exhausted condition. The result of this analysis is a tracing of the affective boundary between fascism and democratic politics, one that distinguishes excitation from enthusiasm. This chapter shows both how understanding the affective logics raised through fascism might be necessary for preserving democratic forms of life, as well as the risks posed in mixing these forms of politics together. Special attention is paid here to democratic resistances to fascism. My conclusion uncovers a mechanism for identifying the affective boundary that lies between fascism and democracy, and the costs of confusing fascist excitation and democratic enthusiasm.