Vilhjalmur Stefansson Web

Explorer and anthropologist

1879 - 1962 













The legacy of explorer Vilhjalmur Stefansson is closely related to the interactions of man and nature, sustainable use of resources and viability of northern communities. The importance of his legacy owes largely to the international attention he brought to the Arctic diversity of peoples and nature; disrupting the Arctic stereotype of barren lands inhabited by igloo-dwellers. Even though Vilhjalmur Stefansson was born in North America, he is counted among the most prominent of Icelandic scientists. He was influenced by his upbringning and youth in an Icelandic emigrant community on the prairies of North Dakota, and this relation to Icelandic culture led him to the Arctic.

This web site is hoped to disseminate information about his research and legacy. It is launced parallel to a travelling exhibit: The Friendly Arctic: The Legacy of Vilhjalmur Stefansson. The exhibit is a collaborative project between The Stefansson Arctic Institute in Akureyri, Iceland and Dartmouth College in Hannover, USA. Much of the material in this web site is the result of cooperation between The Stefansson Arctic Institute and The Department of Anthropology, University of Iceland. It is supported by funding from Landafundanefnd (Leifur
Eiríksson Millennium Commission).

The web site provides information on Stefansson as a person, his authorship, diaries and links to other web sites. The plan is to have a full version in English but until that will be accomplished, please use the Icelandic part, where you will find some of Stefansson's expeditionary diaries available in English from the following locations: |

Vilhjálmur Stefansson 
and his wife
Evelyn Stefansson


Vilhjalmur Stefansson was born on November 3 1879 in the Icelandic community Gimli in Manitoba, Canada. He started studying at the University of Iowa and later completed his studies at Harvard University in 1906. That same year, he travelled to the Arctic for the first time. Returning several times, he stayed in the Arctic for long durations of time until 1918. He then returned to USA and settled as an author and a lecturer. He spent most of his life in Greenwich Village, New York, where he met his wife Evelyn, who worked with him on his research library. At the time, his collection was counted amongst the leading libraries in arctic sciences.

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Vilhjálmur 1914


Stefansson's expeditions are a magnificent achievement in exploration and research. He spent 11 years travelling 20.000 miles by foot and dogsled; discovering lands unknown to the Westerners amongst whom he was one of the first to study Inuit culture. In so many ways, Stefansson introduced Westerners to the continent that his fellow Icelandic countrymen had "discovered" 900 years earlier.

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Vilhjálmur in his
office in Dartmouth


Vilhjalmur Stefansson was often known as The Prophet of the North. An important part of his prophecy came by learning from and adapting to the lives of Inuit and their forefathers. Adapting to the environment and passing knowledge from generation to generation, he wanted us to realize the potentials of life in the Arctic. Vilhjalmur used his position to argue against the prevailing ethnocentrism and Western dominance among indigenous peoples of the Arctic. In his lectures on the Arctic, he often compared Inuit culture to Western culture so to mirror and explore himself and his own society.

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Title page of The Friendly
Arctic in German 


During Vilhjalmur's legnthy visits to the Arctic, he wrote thorough diaries describing people, cultures, environments, animal life and geograph. Information that was later turned into books, articles and lectures. All together, he published nearly 30 books and 400 articles. Because of his international insight and multidisciplinary talents, Vilhjalmur became the embodiment of arctic research for many people, and was sometimes known as Mr. Arctic. The story of Stefansson is not over, because as other histories, it now lives a life independent of the author himself. Today, scientists, authors, and filmmakers continue to work with the Stefansson legacy.

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Please use the links to visit other web sites that, in one way or another, relate to Stefansson, his fields of study and the Arctic.

  See links

Contact Stefansson Arctic Institute's webmaster