Thursday, 5 February 2015

The History of Svalbard course (and its unexpected Royal visitor)

This week and the previous one, an excellent twenty-hour course on the history of Svalbard is being given at UNIS by Dr Thor B. Arlov, who is also the Pro-Rector for Research at NTNU (Norges Teknisk-Naturvitenskapelige Universitet) in Trondheim, Norway. The lectures take place every evening and are open to the Longyearbyen public as well.

During these two weeks, the Svalbard Museum allows the students who take this course to visit the expositions for free. It provides very interesting illustration of the different activities which brought people to Svalbard after its discovery by Willem Barentsz in 1596: whaling, hunting, coal mining, and ultimately research and tourism. One session focused on the development of scientific research on Svalbard, from Chichagov's expedition in 1764–1766 until the establishment of UNIS in 1993 and the installation of the first antenna of the EISCAT Svalbard Radar in 1996.

The (cosy) interior of a Russian trapper's house

The course also describes the expeditions to(wards) the North Pole which departed from Svalbard during the 19th and early 20th centuries, and it discusses the specific administration and status of the archipelago within the kingdom of Norway.

By the way, this week, Queen Sonja of Norway is in Longyearbyen and has been visiting many of the local facilities, including UNIS, the Kjell Henriksen Observatory and the Svalbard Museum. She even attended about half an hour of yesterday's course! And – mere coincidence – that part of the lecture dealt with... the process by which Svalbard was integrated into the kingdom of Norway, and how its local administration has been evolving, until the creation of the local council (lokalstyret) in 2002.

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