Home, Hearth, and Household in the Circumpolar North

This four year project was one of seven colloborative research projects organised by the ESF EUROCORES Programme BOREAS.  The funding for the lead project based at the Centre for Sami Studies, University of Tromsø came from the Research Council of Norway.  The project was contracted to work from Sept 2006 to Dec 2010, although publications written by its team members are still being published.


Circumpolar indigenous peoples hold their home hearths with special reverence. The hearth is a place where hunters and herders reciprocate the respect granted them by animals by feeding the fire with fat or spirits. Coocing over open fireThis project will place the focal metaphors of hearth, home and household at the centre of a research agenda to understand northern ecological narrative, cultural resilience, and the use of space. Through uniting the efforts of indigenous people, museum researchers, archaeologists, anthropologists, and historical demographers, we aim to demonstrate the special dynamics of northern households, broadly defined, as well as contribute to the revival of cultural awareness now underway in indigenous societies across the North.

This BOREAS project is made up of five participating projects from Canada, Finland, Norway, Sweden and the United States and includes one associate project from the United Kingdom. Our team will conduct primary research in Canada’s Northwest Territories, in Northern Sweden, Finland and Norway, in the Kola Peninsula, Taimyr, and Zabaikal’e within Russia, and in the National Museum of the American Indian [NMAI] in the USA. We are including in our research programme the active participation of Tlicho (Dogrib) Dene, Inuvialuit, Dolgan, Evenki, and Sámi experts.

Our efforts will aim to elucidate how residential patterns in the North have a long-term time signature. We will narrow the theme by investigating how the use of portable lodges contributes to a uniquely northern narrative. Through the study of space, vernacular architecture, and household dynamics we will identify similarities and differences in the way that northerners interrelate with their landscape.

Although the themes of home, hearth and household have been central themes both in the lives of northern people and in each of our separate disciplines, the ‘state-of-these-arts’ have well documented lacuna in each area. It is widely acknowledged that despite a century of state-sponsored surveys in the Arctic, that we have a poor understanding of the contemporary demographics of northern families (AHDR 2004). The study of homesites and of the hearths of northern aboriginal people has been one of the founding techniques in the history of archaeology, yet many scholars note that we have poor knowledge of the activity patterns and the architecture of these spaces (Kent 1984; Janes 1983; Oetelaar 2000). Finally, although the architecture of the conical skin lodge has become an almost a stereotypical symbol of northern peoples worldwide, craftspeople working with recent revitalisation projects have noted that we know very little of the craftsmanship and broader social relationships embedded in these complex structures (Anderson in prep. Sirina 2002; Sokolova 1999). This project aims to unite a team of northern scholars and craftsmen who have a demonstrated record in each of these three areas to create a set of resources that speak to the themes of Home, Hearth and Household internationally.

Conference 2-4 October 2008 link

In the media: From the Conference opening 2 Oct (NRK Nordnytt in Norwegian) link

Tromsøflaket about the project (in Norwegian).