Karen Oslund, Ph.D.



Contact Info

LA 4230
Tues & Thurs 11:00a-12:30p


Ph.D., University of California, Los Angeles, 2000

Areas of Expertise

Scandinavia, W. Europe, and the global Arctic, 1750-present; environmental history, history of science and technology; indigenous/native studies, colonial and postcolonial studies


Karen Oslund studies the Arctic and global North, 1750-present, with particular focus on environmental history, colonial and post-colonial history, and the history of travel. She has translated from Icelandic the manuscripts of the first two Icelanders to visit China in the eighteenth century in When the Icelanders Went East: Global Adventures in the Eighteenth-Century World, which explores the realities of shipboard and port life for ordinary sailors in the service of European Asiatic trading companies.

Additionally, she is writing a comparative study of three shipwrecked Arctic whaling boats in Greenland, Nova Scotia, and the Hudson Bay. This book explores the environmental impact of Arctic whaling and Western-Indigenous interaction around whaling during the long nineteenth century from the perspective of the ships which brought Danish, American, and Scottish sailors to the homelands of the Inuit and Metis people. The shipwrecked boats became small communities centered around survival and adaption through the Arctic winters, creating both environmental and cultural changes in the Arctic landscape.

Selected Publications


Iceland Imagined: Nature, Culture, and Storytelling in the North Atlantic (University of Washington Press, 2011)

Cultivating the Colonies: Colonial States and their Environmental Legacies (co edited with Christina Folke Ax, Niels Brimnes, and Niklas Thode Jensen), Ohio University Press, 2011.

The Study of Language and the Politics of Community in Global Context, 1740-1940 (co-edited with David Hoyt), Rowman & Littlefield, 2006.


”The Emotional Labor of Travel: Two Eighteenth-Century Sailors and their Journeys to Find a Home,” to appear in Arctic Humanities, ed. Jan Borm, Sumarliði Ísleifsson, Bergur Djurhuus Hansen (Brill, 2023)

Líf í útlegð: Ferðasaga Árna Magnússonar sem hnattræn ævisaga” (”A Life in Exile: Reading The Travels of Árni Magnússon as Global Biography”), Saga: tímarit Sögufélags, vol. 60, no. 1 (Spring 2022), pp. 116-143 (in Icelandic, with an English summary)

 "Greenland in the Center: What Happened When Danish-Norwegian Officials met the English and Dutch Whalers in Disko Bay, 1780-1820," Acta Borealia: A Journal of Circumpolar Cultures, Spring 2016, vol. 33(1): Read more here.

"Scarcity in the Arctic: A Colonial Condition?," in The Imagination of Limits: Exploring Scarcity and Abundance, ed. Frederike Felcht and Katie Ritson, RCC Perspectives 2015, no. 2, pp. 29-36

Recent Lectures and Presentations

“The Empire between Greenland and China: Sailors’ Lives in the Danish-Norwegian Colonial Service,” at the Congress of the Society for Global Nineteenth Century Studies, Singapore, June 19-22, 2023

"When the Icelanders went to India: The Global Adventures of an Eighteenth Century Sailor,” at the World Historical Association Conference, Bilbao, Spain, June 23-25, 2022

"Heimweh and Fernweh in the Travel Narratives of Icelandic Sailors,” at Iceland and the Faroe Islands seen from within and without - cross-cultural perspectives, 17th-21st century” conference, Tórshavn, Faroe Islands, June 14-16, 2022

"The Man who Traveled the Earth: Árni Magnússon and Natural History in the Enlightenment,” Symposium at the Center for Eighteenth Century Studies, University of California, Los Angeles, June 3, 2022

"The Ecological Icelander: Whaling and Whaling Debates in and around Iceland, 1970s-present“ at the 3rd World Congress of Environmental History, Florianópolis, Brazil, July, 22-26, 2019

"Ordinary People in Extraordinary Times: Icelanders and the World in the 18th century“ invited paper at the Danish National Archives, Copenhagen, September 13, 2018

"A Farm in Africa: Paul Erdmann Isert and Botanics in Eighteenth-century West Africa," at the 25th International Congress of the History of Science and Technology, Rio de Janerio, Brazil, July 23-29th, 2017

"Survival and Adaptation: Modern and Traditional Whaling in the Arctic," 2015 outreach film for the Rachel Carson Center, available on Youtube

Awards and Honors

  • Rachel Carson Center, Global Fellows Award, 2021

  • American-Scandinavian Foundation Award for Study in Denmark, 2016-2017

  • Research Fellowship from the Rachel Carson Center for the Study of Environment and Society in Munich, Germany, for 2012-2013
  • Faculty Research and Development Grant, Towson University, Summer 2012
  • Research Fellow in Environmental History, German Historical Institute, Washington D.C.,
  • Andrew W. Mellon Research Fellow in International Studies, John W. Kluge Center, Library of Congress, Washington D.C., 2003-04


HIST 161: World History since 1300

HIST 405: The Vikings in the Medieval World