The Arctic Studies Center's research profile has four topical focus areas:
Over the past thirty years, Smithsonian research has helped revise early conceptions of circumpolar peoples as marginalized, impoverished inhabitants of worthless lands. Research has demonstrated that northern peoples adapted creatively to their difficult environment, developing ingenious technology, beautiful art and new forms of social and religious life. Arctic peoples maintained contacts and continuities across Bering Strait for thousands of years while other cultures of Eurasia and North America diverged in isolation. ASC research is also discovering new knowledge about responses of northern cultures, peoples and environments to climatic cycles and global change.
Perhaps more important than its research and exhibits, the ASC has developed new techniques that reconnect Smithsonian researchers, collections and archives with living knowledge-bearers of the North's native peoples. Community archaeology projects provide science training for northern students and teachers. Knowledge repatriation programs conducted by community scholars and museum researchers jointly study, publish and return archival information to northern villages and schools. By emphasizing access and equality with Native and northern peoples, the ASC has invigorated and redirected museum anthropology to serve the goals of scholarship and the aspirations and needs of today's northern people.
William Fitzhugh's work in Labrador, Baffin Island and Quebec reveal a long, complex history of Indian and Inuit (Eskimo) cultures adapted to climatically-sensitive forest and tundra zones of the Far Northeast. Aron Crowell has researched the history and environmental relationships of early cultures of southern Alaska and Kodiak Island with special emphasis on the impacts of geological instability and resource variations on coastal inhabitants. Stephen Loring studies Labrador Innu (Indian) and Inuit (Eskimo) culture history, working closely with Native people and biologists to investigate how humans have utilized caribou from Paleolithic times to the present. Research Associates Noel Broadbent, Daniel Odess and Douglas Siegel-Causey research history, ecology and subsistence adaptations of northern peoples from ancient times to the present in Canada, Alaska and the European Arctic.
Through its studies of ethnographic groups like the Siberian Nenets, the Native peoples of Bering Strait and Western Alaska, and the Labrador Innu and Inuit, the ASC staff and associates have revealed the beauty, tenacity and resiliency of traditional cultures adapting to the modern world. Most of these research programs are conducted in partnership with native or local communities.
Igor Krupnik has researched ethno-history and processes of cultural transformation in Russia and western Alaska. Research Associates Ernest J. Burch, Jr., Ann Fienup-Riordan and Norman Hallendy study ethnohistory, ritual and symbolic culture in Alaska and Canada. And ASC archaeologists have investigated Native-European contacts in Russian America, Labrador and Frobisher Bay as well as culture contact and change in Native traditions of Eurasia and North America.
The ASC's Anchorage office and the Smithsonian Alaskan Collections Project, conducted in collaboration with the National Museum of the American Indian, is dedicated to making these collections accessible to modern Alaska Native communities. In addition, the National Anthropological Archives houses both unpublished material from arctic researchers and many archival photographs, documenting traditional lifeways. ASC and Native scholars have found the archives a wonderful resource for research and for working with modern northern peoples to ensure cultural survival.
In recent years, ASC programs have emphasized collaboration with Native communities as an approach that offers exciting new research agendas and possibilities. A close relationship has developed with the Smithsonian's National Museum of the American Indian which, like the National Museum of Natural History, has valuable staff and collection resources representing northern regions.