Decolonising Nordic Archives

Professor Rachael Lorna Johnstone of the Faculty of Law won a Nordforsk grant
Decolonising Nordic Archives

Professor Rachael Lorna Johnstone of the Faculty of Law won a Nordforsk grant to hold two exploratory workshops on “Decolonising Nordic Archives.” The problem of displaced, stolen, migrated or lost archives from colonial times has ongoing impacts today in Nordic countries. After 80 years of independence, many of Iceland’s national records remain in Copenhagen. Greenlanders do not have control over their own historical records, likewise, scattered in Copenhagen. Saami people in Sápmi (the Saami homeland in northern Norway, Sweden, Finland, and Russia) and Indigenous Canadians struggle to access files pertaining to their own histories, including from assimilationist schools from which many children never returned.

The workshops will bring together experts from international law, archival science, history and decolonisation theory from the Nordic countries, Canada, the UK, and the US to answer three main questions:

  • What are “displaced archives” in the Nordic context?
  • What is the current archival law and practice on displaced archives in Nordic countries?
  • What principles of international law are relevant to displaced archives and how do they apply in the Nordic context?

Although historians and archivists have worked on the problems around displaced archives for many years, there has been little work by international lawyers on the topic since the early 1980s. Meanwhile, the law on self-determination has evolved a great deal and States recognise the rights of Peoples who have experienced colonisation to take control once more over their own affairs.

“I am delighted to have received the grant to enable me to bring together some outstanding scholars from around the Arctic to look into these issues. How can Peoples have the right to govern their own affairs, their own resources and their own persons if they do not have the right to control their own records? We hope to bring recent international law on decolonisation and self-determination to this important topic and look into practical solutions,” explained Rachael.

Rachael’s co-applicants are Inge Seiding of Ilismatusarfik, the University of Greenland and Astrid Nonbo Andersen of the Danish Institute of International Studies, Copenhagen. Helga Númadóttir, MA candidate in Polar Law at the University of Akureyri is the research assistant on the project. The workshop participants come from Sápmi in Norway, Inuit Nunaat (Greenland and Canada), Iceland, Finland, Sweden, and the United States. Rachael is one of only two Icelandic applicants to win funding under the call.

The first workshop will be held in the Icelandic National Archives in Reykjavík in March 2023. The second is planned for Spring 2024 at the Danish Institute for International Studies in Copenhagen.

For further information regarding the project, please contact: