Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Knud Rasmussen

Knud Rasmussen was an Inuit-Danish explorer who established trading stations across Greenland, and made a thorough documentation of the folklore, traditions, and existence of all the Inuit tribes across Greenland, Canada, and Alaska. Though he died at only 54, he's a Danish national hero, and a hero to anyone interested in arctic exploration.

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Knud Rasmussen
Born in Ilulissat Greenland in 1879, Knud was the son of a Danish missionary and a part Inuit Danish settler. He grew up among the Inuit, being educated with all the other Inuit children. He learned how to kayak, fish, hunt, and travel by dogsled. He very much considered himself one of the Inuit children, and he struggled severely when his family moved to Copenhagen in 1891. Denmark didn't agree with Knud, and he only barely managed to graduate from high school. He briefly pursued a career as an actor and an opera singer, but was unsuccessful. He never attended university.

Despite his lack of university education, Knud accompanied Ludvig Mylius-Erichsen on an expedition to Iceland in 1900. The two hit it off, and started planning an expedition to Greenland. That expedition would come to be known as the Greenland Literary Expedition, and it lasted from 1902-1904.

The goal of the Greenland Literary Expedition was to study Inuit culture, and Knud certainly studied enough culture to be able to write a whole book about it, then go on a lecture circuit of Denmark. Knud was doing well financially and personally. In 1908 he married Dagmar Andersen.

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Knud and Inuit during the Third Thule Expedition
Knud couldn't sit still for long though. In 1910 he and Peter Freuchen went back to Greenland to establish a trading station. This station at Uummannaq was known as the Thule trading base, and became the launching pad for Rasmussen's seven expeditions across the polar north.

His expeditions, which later came to be known as the Thule expeditions, are what garnered Rasmussen his real fame. The first Thule expedition mapped the northwest passage by dogsled. The second explored the north coast of Greenland. The third Thule expedition built a depot. The fourth expedition Rasmussen gathered stories and cultural information from the Inuit in eastern Greenland. The fifth saw him cross Greenland, and the entire arctic of North America by dogsled. He would have crossed Russia as well, but he was unable to get a visa. The sixth and seventh Thule expeditions were official Danish attempts to claim sovereignty over Eastern Greenland.

During the seventh expedition Knud suffered from food poisoning, and then pneumonia. He was shipped back to Copenhagen to recover, but the doctors were unable to save him. Knud Rasmussen passed away in December of 1933.

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Statue of Knud in Copenhagen
Rasmussen left behind an enormous legacy. He wrote some four books, and left behind innumerable journals and letters. He collected thousands of pictures and lithographs of the Inuit and Inuit artifacts at the time, and he is widely considered to be the father of the modern study of the Inuit.

While Knud is quite famous in Denmark and Greenland, he's not well known in other countries. This is because all of the writing he left behind is in Danish, and his works tend to be ignored in favor of works written in English by native English speakers. However, the first English language biography of Knud was released in 2015, and a Canadian film about his expeditions was made in 2006. Hopefully this will be the start of a trend of memorializing this amazing man.



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Sources
Rasmussen, Knud Johan Victor (1879-1933)--Encyclopedia of World Biography
This Cold Heaven: Seven Seasons in Greenland by Gretle Ehrlich
Knud Rassmussen--Britannica
Knud Rasmussen-Arctic Thule
Knud Rasmussen-Knud Rasmussens Hus
White Es*imo: How Knud Rasmussen Opened the World to Arctic Travel

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