What is Circumpolar Studies?

Circumpolar Studies is by definition an interdisciplinary field that explores the global Arctic region from a number of different perspectives, including the social sciences, the humanities, the natural sciences and the arts.  It brings together scholarly perspectives from educators, researchers, practitioners and Indigenous knowledge holders who live and work throughout the Circumpolar North. The result is a comprehensive study of lands and environments, peoples and places, cultures and languages, and political and economic systems.  This holistic approach permits us to understand how the Circumpolar North is connected by common environments, experiences and identities.

Circumpolar Studies does not promote abstract conceptions of the Circumpolar North, but rather strives to see the region from the perspective of its inhabitants.  Its curriculum reflects a diversity of viewpoints and and sensitivity to context.  It develops an appreciation for the connections between people and place, the impacts of globalisation and colonialism, the challenges of climate change, and the interplay between Indigenous knowledge and Western science.  This rich and situated knowledge breaks down disciplinary barriers, inviting students to understand the Circumpolar North as a unique place that is both a lived-in homeland and an emerging global region undergoing rapid change.


What is the UArctic Circumpolar Studies Consortium?

Led by Trent University in Canada, the Circumpolar Studies Consortium is a group of UArctic universities that offer online undergraduate Circumpolar Studies courses consistent with the UArctic core curriculum.  This shared curriculum was developed to help institutions with a focus on Northern or Circumpolar Studies to connect on a region-wide basis, to expand existing course offerings, and to deliver a high-quality and northern-centric program by building on synergies and common interests,  Today, Trent UniversityLakehead University, University of Alaska Anchorage, University of Northern British Columbia, University of Washington and Yukon University are all engaged in curriculum-building and course offerings. Other UArctic member institutions participate in online learning.


What is the UArctic Circumpolar Studies curriculum?

The UArctic Circumpolar Studies curriculum involves eight core courses about the lands and environments, peoples and cultures, and contemporary issues of the Circumpolar North.  These core courses comprise the common UArctic programme, which together lead to the UArctic's certificate in Circumpolar Studies.  Individual UArctic member institutions may also have other elective courses beyond this core curriculum that focus on special topics. 

The core UArctic Circumpolar Studies curriculum is open to students at any UArctic member institution.  Download your copy of the UArctic Circumpolar Studies brochure for more details.

The UArctic Circumpolar Studies curriculum includes the following courses:

  • CS 100 - Introduction to the Circumpolar World: Introduces students to the landscape, peoples, and issues of the Circumpolar region.  Beginning with an examination of the geography, biological, and physical systems of the Subarctic and Arctic, the course then turns to the Indigenous and contemporary peoples of the region.
  • CS 311 - Lands and Environments of the Circumpolar North: Explores the lands and environments that define the Circumpolar region and identifies the key issues involving interaction between humans and their environments, examining climate change and its impacts on landscapes, biodiversity, and ecological systems.  Provides a broad foundation for the study of circumpolar peoples, economies, landscapes, communities, and adaptation to climate change.
  • CS 312 - Changing Resources of the Circumpolar North: Provides students with an in-depth understanding of the key issues which define the future of resources and resource use in the Circumpolar North.  Focuses upon the challenges of resource management for governments and communities, and assesses the potential conflicts derived from resource use.  Prerequisites: CS 100 and CS 311, or permission of the instructor.
  • CS 321 - Peoples and Cultures of the Circumpolar World: An introduction to historic traditional cultures and contemporary peoples through both traditional Indigenous and Western perspectives.  Identifies the broad and basic understanding of the histories and experiences of the peoples of the Circumpolar North, and the development of northern cultures.  Explores and defines the cultural diversity present in the Circumpolar North with reference to environments, contact, and economic processes.
  • CS 322 - Language, Culture, Identity and the Circumpolar World: A broad examination of Circumpolar peoples in North America, northwest Russia, Siberia and northern Asia, Greenland, the North Atlantic, and northern Scandinavia.  Notions of identity, culture, language, and self-determination are discussed.  Provides a broad and basic description of the histories and experiences of the peoples of the Circumpolar North and the development of northern cultures.  Prerequisite: CS 100 and CS 321, or permission of the instructor.
  • CS 331 - Contemporary Issues of the Circumpolar World: Develops a basic appreciation of the most important contemporary challenges surrounding governance and politics, social issues, education and knowledge systems, and global issues in the Circumpolar regions of the North.  It explores the complexity and inter-relatedness of governance, social policy, gender, indigeneity, and law.  Prerequisite: permission of the instructor.
  • CS 332 - Geography of the Polar Regions: Study of selected aspects of the polar regions with considerable reference to northern Canada but with the deliberate intention of developing comparisons between it and other parts of the polar regions. Prerequisite: CS 100 or permission of the instructor.
  • CS 400 - Arctic Environmental Security: Through this course, students will acquire a thorough, cross-disciplinary understanding of key issues, challenges and developments in Arctic regional security and governance.  Upon completion of the course, the students should be able to draw on both historical knowledge, international relations theory, and public international law to critically analyze and evaluate current events and future perspectives in the Arctic.  Final grades will be based on class participation, a research paper, and a presentation.

The following elective Circumpolar Studies courses have also been developed at Trent University, and they are open to students at any UArctic member institution (Trent course codes and prerequisites shown):

  • GEOG-CAST 2810H - Canada’s People and Places: Explores the geography of Canada and its peoples and places. Examines the development of Canada’s cultural landscapes and regions, and the social, economic, and political development of the Canadian nation-state. Canada’s geography is explored as an east-west nation under increasing pressure from globalization and new national agendas. Prerequisite: GEOG 1030H.

  • GEOG-CAST 2811H - The International Arctic: Environment, Diplomacy and Geopolitics: Introduces students to the international politics of the circumpolar region and concludes with a unique simulation of the Arctic Council at which students are challenged to develop real-life scenarios and to play the role of diplomatic and reach consensus on difficult areas of Arctic public policy. Prerequisite: GEOG 1045H or permission of the instructor

  • CAST 3241H - Histories of the Canadian North: Introduces students to major themes in the Canadian Northern history, from pre-contact to the creation of the territory of Nunavut in 1999. The major themes focus on evolving cultural, political, socio-economic, and environmental histories. Prerequisite: 6.0 university credits or permission of the instructor. Not open to students with credit for CAST-HIST 3240Y.

  • CAST 3243H - The Contemporary Canadian North in a Circumpolar Context: Explores issues in the contemporary Canadian North with a focus on social, political, economic, and environmental issues. Students are encouraged to critically examine Canada’s Northern strategies and compare these to the social and economic priorities of Arctic leaders and Indigenous peoples living in remote Northern communities. Prerequisite: 6.0 university credits or permission of the instructor. Not open to students with credit for CAST-HIST 3240Y.

  • GEOG 3904H - Reading Course in Circumpolar Studies: Students explore special topics of interest to them. Only open to students in the Diploma or Option in Circumpolar Studies. Prerequisite: 3.0 credits from GEOG 1045H, GEOGERST 2320H, 2330H, 3390H, GEOG-CAST 3640H, ERST-INDG 3740H, INDG 3745H, 3750H, CAST 3241H or 3243H. Written permission must be obtained from the appropriate instructor and the coordinator of the program before registration.


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