On Top of the World: Ernest S. Burch, Jr.’s Contribution to the 1983 National Geographic Society Peoples of the Arctic Map

Igor Krupnik, Kenneth L. Pratt and Robert P. Wheelersburg


Ernest Burch, Jr. served as the expert on National Geographic magazine’s 1983 Peoples of the Arctic supplemental map. Using material from his personal collection and the National Geographic Society archives, Burch’s contribution to the Saami portion of the map is analyzed for accuracy in 1825, the time period specified by the accompanying text. The remainder of the Peoples of the Arctic issue is also discussed in light of contemporary popular understanding of the Saami. The Saami portion of the map was based primarily on secondary in English sources, resulting in place names that used a mixture of languages. Yet, Burch’s reconstruction of the traditional resource territories in the North Cap region accurately reflected the complexity of the situation during the early 19th century before borders became fixed and states established sovereignty over the region. It also provides scholars with a model to test assumptions about how arctic peoples’ resource territories changed as they became incorporated into state-level societies.

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