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The legacy of Vilhjalmur Stefansson
by Gísli Pálsson
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  Between 1906 and 1918, anthropologist and explorer Vilhjalmur Stefansson (1879- 1962) went on three expeditions into the Alaskan and Canadian Arctic, each of which lasted between sixteen months and five years. He published some 24 books and more than 400 articles on his travels and observations, including his autobiography (1).' There is also a voluminous literature on his life and work (2). Stefansson was an ambitious and successful explorer and he soon became a public figure in North America and Europe, well-known for his description of the "Blond Eskimo" (Copper Inuit), his discovery of new lands in the Arctic, his approach to travel and exploration, and his theories of health and diet. His successes in exploration, however, as Collins points out, "have tended to obscure the fact that he was primarily an anthropologist," although some anthropological works have referred to his writings and he continues to be cited in ethnographic and historical works on indigenous peoples of the North American Arctic, particularly Iñupiaq ("North Alaskan Eskimo") (3).

Young Vilhjálmur Stefansson
Stefansson was born in the Canadian Icelandic community at Arnes, Manitoba. His parents, along with 250 other Icelandic colonists recruited by the Canadian government in 1877, left from north Iceland to settle near Winnipeg, in "New Iceland" as the settlement came to be called. Stefansson attended university from the age of eighteen, first at the University of North Dakota and later at the University of Iowa and Harvard University. Early on he developed an interest in comparative religion and anthropology and for some time he seems to have been torn between priesthood and anthropology. In the end he decided in favour of anthropology, "with the mental reservation that it was to be a humanistic anthropology" (4).
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The legacy of Vilhjalmur Stefansson, by Gísli Pálsson.
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