The Question of Icebergs: A Cryo-history of Arctic Submarine Cables

Bidragets oversatte titel: Et Spørgsmål om Isbjerge: En kryo-historie om arktiske undersøiske kabler

Mette Simonsen Abildgaard*


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The Question of Icebergs is a cryo-history (Sörlin, 2015) of Arctic infrastructures: How has ice and snow shaped communication infrastructures in the Arctic by both drawing in and deterring interest in travelling through, connecting with and building in the region? This study follows the case of the 160-year-old plans for The Northern Route, a transatlantic telegraph which would have placed Greenland, Iceland and the Faroe Islands at the centre of transatlantic communication in the early 1860s. I draw on Actor-Network Theory and postcolonial studies to trace how notions of the Arctic Sublime, a dependency on credible ice witnesses, local ice knowledges and the politics of comparison influenced the eventual abandonment of the route, where Arctic territories were (dis)regarded and considered as mere substrate for infrastructure. I argue that this cryo-history of Arctic telecommunication infrastructures is an essential contribution to a new socio-technical agenda in cable studies, which shows how established logics about who to connect, and where, still influence infrastructural development in the region today.

Bidragets oversatte titelEt Spørgsmål om Isbjerge: En kryo-historie om arktiske undersøiske kabler
TidsskriftPolar Record
Udgave nummer4
Antal sider13
StatusUdgivet - 16 dec. 2022

Bibliografisk note

Funding Information:
According to British media in the 1860s and 70s, the development was certainly partly due to the outbreak of the Civil war, as Shaffner as central driver disappeared, and funding from the US proved more difficult to attain. As also discussed, the hesitation that a costly and fragile infrastructure might be established along the same route that had previously only (or that was the imaginary) been traversed by Great Men of Arctic Exploration was significant factors. This is supported by Shaffner’s contemporary, the British engineer Bright, who in his volume The Story of the Atlantic Cable concludes that “there were those who still feared the ice-floes; and in the end the public did not respond sufficiently” (Bright, ). However, a final obstacle of central importance which Bright does not touch upon was that the Arctic itself held little to no value in The Northern Route. As expressed by Mr. Lionel Gisborne of the Royal Geographical Society, in response to Shaffner’s initial presentation of the plan:

Publisher Copyright:


  • Telecommunication
  • Cables
  • Cryo-history
  • History of technology


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