Svartárkot Workshop

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Event Date: Jun 20 2009 – Jun 28 2009
City: Reykjavik
Country: Iceland
Primary Contact Name: Axel Kristinsson
Contact Email:

manorial-churchIn late June 2009, five Canadian graduate students and two professors traveled, with NiCHE support, to Iceland to participate in an eight-day environmental history summer school. Led by faculty from the Reyjkavik Academy, the course—Local Environments, Global Impacts—examined the environmental and agricultural history of Iceland over the longue durée, from Norse settlement in the ninth century to the boom and bust of the 21st. In all, the course included 12 participants, including the distinguished American environmental historian Donald Worster.

The course was part of a new initiative in Iceland’s academic community, the Svartarkot Nature and Culture program, a collaborative effort by members of the Reyjkavik Academy, Svartarkot farm, and local organizations to establish a research and culture centre in the island’s rugged north. Participants stayed at the Kidagil hostel, in the remote Bardardular Valley, a rugged and beautiful sheep-farming region about 80 kilometres southeast from Akureryi, Iceland’s major northern city. Located at 65º latitude, Kidagil was, for some participants, their first sub-Arctic experience, an end of the earth that was both visually spare and experientially rich.

Kidagil was the base of operations, providing meals, accomodations, and space for daily seminars; its location also gave easy access for field trips to the famous lake and wetland complex of Myvatn, the Krafla lava-fields, the dramatic Aldeyjarfoss waterfall, and other sites of interest. The hostel, nestled amidst sheep farms and pastures, is emerging as a tourist centre that takes the region’s famed “outlaw” past as the focus for interpretive events and displays. Inside there were text panels and displays, and outside a turf shelter that local residents had built in the hostel’s front yard.

The main focus for the participants, however, was environmental history. The course was built around a large set of readings (see the bibliography below) on Icelandic settlement and environments, and was delivered through talks, seminar discussions, and field trips that looked at long and short-term environmental change in Iceland. Throughout, participants sought to understand the dynamics of environmental adaptation—how people shaped their local environments to suit their ways of life and how those actions changed environments requiring adaptations that set off new cycles of change and adaptation. Iceland was only settled in the late 9th century so it provides, in the words of participant Jason Moore, a “fat case” for environmental historians seeking to understand these mutually constitutive processes. In Iceland’s case, those processes begin on a base layer of historic and ongoing volcanic activity, and extend to include sheep grazing, deforestation, erosion, and invasive species—a suite familiar to environmental historians and which continue to influence Iceland’s present.

Participants also ranged across other scales too, from the intensely local—a herb-collecting walk was one afternoon’s activity—to the widely global in discussions about the challenges of doing world environmental history. Rounding out the program were guest lecturers who presented on Icelandic flora and fauna, hydroelectric development, eruption-induced famines, and off-roading tourism culture. During the program, participants had ample time to socialize and carry on discussions that circulated around the breakfast and dinner tables, and sustained late night rambles and hikes. All of this activity was under the friendly supervision of Árni Daníel Júlíusson, the historian who was running the program on behalf of the Reyjkavik Academy. Árni led tours, shepherded wandering students, and generally endeared himself with his low-key style and humour.

Mapping Knowledge at Svartárkot
Click to view the interactive map.

Canadian participants at the Svartárkot Nature and Culture program in Iceland collaborated in the production of an interactive Google map. The map lays out a series of conceptual threads that emerged during the course of the Svartarkot program. Taking advantage of Google Maps’ placemark function, participants tagged locations and illustrated the placemarks with photos and texts. These snapshots, both photographic and textual, provide a glimpse into the participants’ experiences and thoughts during the eight-day course.



  • Bernadette Hince


  • Jean-Sebastien Boutet, MA student, Geography, Memorial University of Newfoundland
  • Stephane Castonguay, Canada Research Chair in the Environmental History of Quebec, History, Universite du Quebec a Trois-Rivieres
  • Brandon Davis, PhD student, History, University of British Columbia
  • William Knight, PhD student, History, Carleton University
  • Alan MacEachern, History, University of Western Ontario, and Director of NiCHE
  • Linnea Rowlatt, MA student, University of Toronto
  • Dustin Wall, MA student, History, Nipissing University


  • Árni Daníel Júlíusson, historian, Reyjkavik Academy
  • Edward Huijbens, Director, Icelandic Tourism Research Centre, University of Akureryi
  • Axel Kristinsson, Reyjkavik Academy
  • Björk Þorleifsdóttir, environmental historian, Reyjkavik Academy
  • Einar Þorleifsson, biologist
  • Ragnhildur Sigurðardóttir, ecologist, Reyjkavik Academy


  • Diana Gildea, Lund University
  • Jason W. Moore, Research Fellow, Human Geography, Lund University

United States

  • Donald Worster, Hall Distinguished Professor of American History, University of Kansas

Archived Presentations

NiCHE has archived 4 presentations from this event. In late June 2009, five Canadian graduate students and two professors traveled, with NiCHE support, to Iceland to participate in an eight-day environmental history summer school.

Citation: Worster, Donald. “Knowing Nature: Science and Environmental History.” Svartarkot. June 2009.
Bio: Professor of History, University of Kansas.

Citation: Worster, Donald. “Darwin, Evolution, and Food.” Svartarkot. June 2009.
Bio: Professor of History, University of Kansas.

Citation: Hince, Bernadette. “The Environmental History of Subantarctic Islands.” Svartarkot. June 2009.
Bio: Bernadette Hince, Australia.

Citation: Moore, Jason W. “The Global Present as Environmental History.” Svartarkot. June 2009.
Bio: Jason W. Moore, Research Fellow, Human Geography, Lund University

Svartarkot course readings

  • Benediktsson, Karl. “‘Scenophobia,’ geography and the aesthetic politics of landscape.”Geografiska Annaler. 89 B 3 (2007) 203-17.
  • Bunkše, E.V. “Feeling is believing, or landscape as a way of being in the world.” Geographial Annual 89 B (3): 219–231.
  • Castonguay, Stephane. “Society, Territory and Ecology in Quebec: A Historiographic Review.”
  • Castonguay, Stephane and Darin Kinsey. “The Nature of the Liberal Order: State Formation, Conservation, and the Government of Non-Humans in Canada,” in Michel Ducharme and Jean-François Constant, eds. Liberalism and Hegemony. Debating the Canadian Liberal Revolution. Toronto, University of Toronto Press, 2009.
  • Castree, Noel. “Commodifying What Nature?” Progress in Human Geography 27.3 (2003) 273-97.
  • Cloke, Paul and Harvery C. Perkins. “Commodification and Adventure in New Zealand Tourism.” Current Issues in Tourism 5.6 (2002) 521-50.
  • Coates, Peter. “The Future of Nature.” Ch.9 of Nature: Western Attitudes Since Ancient Times. Cambridge, Polity Press, 1998.
  • Einnarsson, Arni, Odggdeir Hansson and Orri Vesteinsson. “An extensive system of medieval earthworks in northeast Iceland.” Archaeologica Islandica. 2 (2002) 61-73.
  • Grove, Richard H. “Origins of Western Environmentalism.” Scientific American July 1992, 42-7.
  • Hall, C. Michael and Stephen Boyd. “Nature-based Tourism in Peripheral Areas: An Introduction.” 4-17
  • Hince, Bernadette. “Half a Square Mile Bigger.” Interdisciplinary Studies in Literature and Environment 12.1 (Winter 2005), 177-84.
  • Júlíusson, Árni Daníel. “Peasants, Aristocracy and state power in Iceland 1400-1650.”CAHD Papers 2 (2007) –
  • Karlsson, Gunnar. Iceland’s 1100 Years: The History of a Marginal Society. London: Hurst & Company, 2000.
  • Massey, Doreen. “Landscape as a provocation: reflections on moving mountains.” Journal of Material Culture. 11:33 (2006) 43.
  • McGovern, Thomas H., et al. “Landscapes of Settlement in Northern Iceland: Historical Ecology of Human Impact and Climate Fluctuation on the Millennial Scale.” American Anthropologist 109.1 (2007) 27-51.
  • Moore, Jason W. “Ecological Crises and the Agrarian Question in World-Historical Perspective.” Monthly Review (November 2008) 54-62.
  • Moore, Jason W. “Environmental Crises and the Metabolic Rift In World-Historical Perspective.” Organization & Environment 13.2 (June 2000) 123-57.
  • Moore, Jason W. “The Modern World-System as environmental history? Ecology and the rise of capitalism.” Theory and Society. 32 (2003) 307-377.
  • Moore, Jason W. “Nature and the Transition from Feudalism to Capitalism.” Review 26(2003) 97-172.
  • O’Connor, James. “Uneven and combined development and ecological crisis: a theoretical introduction.” Race & Class. 30:3 (1989) 1-11.
  • Price, Jennifer. “Looking for Nature at the Mall: A Field Guide to the Nature Company,” in William Cronon, ed. Uncommon Ground: Rethinking the Human Place in Nature. New York: W.W. Norton and Company, 1996.
  • Ross, Eric B. “The Malthus Factor: Poverty, Politics and Population in Capitalist Development.” The Corner House. 20 (July 2000) 1-20.
  • Saarinen, Jarkko. “’Destinations in change’: The transformation process of tourist destinations.” Tourist Studies 4.2 (2004) 161-79.
  • Soulé, Michael E. “The Social Siege of Nature.” Ch.9 from Reinventing Nature? Responses to Postmodern Deconstruction. Ed. Michael E. Soulé and Gary Lease. Washington: Island Press, 1995.
  • Vesteinsson, Orri, Thomas A. McGovern and Christian Keller. “Enduring impacts: social and environmental aspects of Viking Age settlement in Iceland and Greenland.” Archaeologica Islandica. 2 (2002) 99-136.
  • Worster, Donald. “A Long Cold View of History.” The American Scholar 74.2 (Spring 2005) 57-66.
  • Worster, Donald. “Transformations of the Earth: Toward an Agroecological Perspective in History.” Journal of American History 76.4 (March 1990) 1087-1106.
  • Zeilinga de Boer, Jelle and Donald Theodore Sanders. Volcanoes in Human History: The Far-Reaching Effects of Major Eruptions. Princeton and Oxford: Princeton University Press, 2002

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