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Do You See Ice?

Inuit and Americans at Home and Away

Publication supported by the Bevington Fund

Many Americans imagine the Arctic as harsh, freezing, and nearly uninhabitable. The living Arctic, however—the one experienced by native Inuit and others who work and travel there—is a diverse region shaped by much more than stereotype and mythology. Do You See Ice? presents a history of Arctic encounters from 1850 to 1920 based on Inuit and American accounts, revealing how people made sense of new or changing environments.

Routledge vividly depicts the experiences of American whalers and explorers in Inuit homelands. Conversely, she relates stories of Inuit who traveled to the northeastern United States and were similarly challenged by the norms, practices, and weather they found there. Standing apart from earlier books of Arctic cultural research—which tend to focus on either Western expeditions or Inuit life—Do You See Ice? explores relationships between these two groups in a range of northern and temperate locations. Based on archival research and conversations with Inuit Elders and experts, Routledge’s book is grounded by ideas of home: how Inuit and Americans often experienced each other’s countries as dangerous and inhospitable, how they tried to feel at home in unfamiliar places, and why these feelings and experiences continue to resonate today.

The author intends to donate all royalties from this book to the Elders’ Room at the Angmarlik Center in Pangnirtung, Nunavut.

272 pages | 43 halftones | 6 x 9 | © 2018

Geography: Cultural and Historical Geography

History: Discoveries and Exploration, Environmental History

Native American Studies

Travel and Tourism: Tourism and History


Do You See Ice? is a model of methodological and interpretive innovation: deeply thoughtful and humane, addressing issues of perspective and voice that are encountered whenever a historian based in the south seeks to write northern history. This book should be of interest not just to Arctic historians but also to all scholars interested in cross-cultural encounters and ideas of place.”

The Canadian History Review

Do You See Ice? deals with cultural contact in the Arctic from a novel and extremely useful perspective. . . . An exceptionally convincing study. It will likely have an enduring influence on Arctic historians.”

The American Historical Review

“Recommended. . . Routledge’s finely detailed narrative makes good use of archival sources and interviews. . . . Routledge’s skill as a storyteller makes this book a pleasure. This account will have lasting value as contemporary Inuit struggle against a deepening tide of outside colonialism.”


“Routledge has written an extraordinary book, and she’s managed it by making a seemingly slight adjustment to the cultural spectacles through which the Arctic and its peoples, and those from elsewhere who have sojourned there, have been seen in their worlds, both familiar and strange. . . . She accomplishes this feat, remarkably, by making a sense of displacement her main theme.”

Arctic Book Review

Do You See Ice? is a master class in empathetic scholarship. Routledge is a methodical historian who approaches her sources with great care and caution. . . Through deliberate close reading, Routledge helps the reader see the world through the eyes of her subjects. . . . This innovative book explores critical issues at the heart of the history of modern colonialism and situates the environment as a crucial factor in shaping cultural concepts of belonging, safety, and comfort. There is much here for scholars from a wide range of disciplines, including environmental history, cultural history, and the history of colonialism.”

Left History

"A beautifully written history of cultural encounter in the Arctic. . . It’s a gripping narrative from the first page of the prologue and Routledge masterfully draws her readers in, challenging pervasive and persisting colonial stereotypes of the Arctic from the 19th century to the present. . . Routledge is a storyteller. She masterfully blends the archival record with oral history and current Inuit knowledge. . . Truly a pleasure to read and a model for the role of empathetic consideration in historical research."

NiCHE (Network in Canadian History & Environment)

"The rare environmental history text that takes the time to empathetically examine the complexities of these societal relationships for both the outsiders and those at home, even when the subjects of these histories lacked empathy with one another. The book is accessible for a general audience and contributes nicely to literature on the Arctic, placemaking, and ideas of home within historical geography and across cultures."

Historical Geography

Do You See Ice? is a true landmark in interdisciplinary cultural history, melding imaginative, intrepid research with bold, fresh interpretation. In fascinating detail, Routledge illuminates two radically different ways of life in collaboration and conflict. No one has written more compellingly about the varying cultural meanings of space, time, and home. I am filled with admiration for this humane and pioneering book.”

Jackson Lears, author of Rebirth of a Nation

“Routledge has overcome one of the difficulties in writing history—relating the historical events of the nineteenth century to the lives of people today—while also achieving what few other scholars have attempted: combining sound historical research with the contemporary voice of Inuit.  Her finely nuanced book brings out the texture of similarities and differences between Inuit and American sensibilities of home. Living history indeed!”

Christopher Trott, University of Manitoba

“Weaving together stories told by Inuit men and women with those set down by white men who chased whales, wealth, and adventure, Do You See Ice? lets us consider what it has meant to travel, to be lost, to be homesick, and finally, to be home.”

Ann Fabian, author of The Skull Collectors: Race, Science, and America’s Unburied Dead

Table of Contents

Prologue: On the Ice

1: Americans in Cumberland Sound
2: Inuit in the United States
3: Americans and Inuit in the High Arctic
4: Inuit in Cumberland Sound
Epilogue: At Home
Appendix: Methodological Essay
Works Cited


Regional History Committee of the Canadian Historical Association: Clio Awards

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