February 18, 2015
As we open the exhibition Arctic Ambitions: Captain Cook and the Northwest Passage, we look at how the challenges of navigating arctic sea ice effectively ended Cook’s quest for the Northwest Passage.
Long considered a footnote in Arctic exploration, Cook’s voyage North is increasingly relevant: with melting sea ice, now we see cruise ships in the Arctic.
Writing in his journal in June 1778, after visiting Cook Inlet and the site of the present-day city of Anchorage, Cook foresaw great commercial potential for this “vast coast.” Arctic Ambitions, therefore, provides us with a valuable historical context for Anchorage’s centennial, which the city and museum celebrate this year.
Arctic exploration is also a timely subject as the U.S. officially becomes chair of the Arctic Council during the Canadian Ministerial meeting in Iqaluit on April 25. Alaska is the territory that makes the U.S. an Arctic nation.
We are collaborating with artists, indigenous leaders, organizations, agencies such as the U.S. State Department, scientists, writers and others to explore what it means to convey an authentic view of the North at a time of great interest and great change.
We invite multiple perspectives on both Cook’s legacy and the Anchorage Centennial. Viewed from the indigenous perspective, Cook is anything but a heroic figure. We know that the Dena’ina people were here long before the tent city. Nearly 100 languages are now spoken throughout our community. The Alaska story is not one of simplicity nor is it of one culture.
The true legacy of the Arctic has yet to be determined. It is a local story, not a European one. Today we arrive at the prospect of an open, navigable body of water for longer periods each year. With it comes the realization that soon within reach is the link between Europe and Asia across the top of North America for which Cook searched so diligently more than 230 years ago.