Volunteer Appreciation: Gina Reitenauer

Here at the Smithsonian Arctic Studies Center, our volunteers do some amazing work.  For Volunteer appreciation month, we’d like to highlight Gina Reitenauer who has been working with us on preparing materials for publication.  She has assisted with bibliographic formatting, acquiring image permissions, and putting together our yearly field report.  Her work is helping us spread knowledge of Eurasian bark boats and the archaeology undertaken by the ASC team in Newfoundland and Quebec last summer.

Gina Reitenauer- volunteer appreciation2

What is your background?

At Syracuse University, I dual major in English & Textual Studies and Television, Radio, & Film, with concentrations in creative writing and screenwriting. As a May 2019 graduate, however, I’ve been spending my final semester in Washington, D.C., through Syracuse University’s Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs. This program has provided me the opportunity to step out of my comfort zone and expand on my knowledge of policy, the economy, and international relations.

What brought you to the ASC?

Evident by the fact that I am currently completing international relations-based coursework in Washington, D.C., I have always had an interest in tying my study of media and communications to the greater world around me. Furthermore, after spending two summers interning at the Historical Society of PA, my assumption that I would enjoy doing communications work in a museum (or otherwise historical setting) was confirmed. All that said, I set my eyes on the Smithsonian.

What has been your favorite part of working here?

One of my favorite parts about working in the Arctic Studies Center has been the privilege to be around people who are so passionate about the environment and various communities of the Arctic. When I told people where I’d be interning this spring, I always received responses similar to: “That’s so niche, it’s perfect for you.” Although I enjoy history in general, working in the ASC specifically has provided me with the opportunity to further tie my media skills to the world around me in an area that, although often perceived as niche, is actually an important player in the international community. Through my work in the ASC, I’m glad to say that I have begun to develop my own passion for Arctic peoples and cultures, and that is an enrichment so valuable and wonderfully unique to the ASC.

What is the coolest or most interesting thing you have learned about at ASC?

Through acquiring image permissions for the book on Eurasian bark and skin boats, along with the completion of other manuscript-related tasks, I have been able to pick up on bits and pieces of information about this rich history. Having enjoyed kayaking adventures with my Dad for a few summers, and not knowing much of anything about bark and skin boats previously, it has been really cool to learn about the subject. I’ve also greatly expanded on my knowledge of Arctic geography!


Vikings: The North Atlantic Saga- A Retrospective

By: Chelsi Slotten with William Fitzhugh

Viking Exhibit041


Ask most people who the first Europeans in North American were and they would probably answer Christopher Columbus. They would also be incorrect. The first Europeans to land in North America were actually a group of Vikings sailing under Leif Eriksson almost 500 years before Christopher Columbus. Leif’s trip to North American resulted in a settlement at L’Anse aux Meadows in northern Newfoundland and contact with the Native American population there. The world became much smaller that day as human interactions circled the globe for the first time in human history. Monumental as this event was, Leif does not deserve all the credit. His eventual landing in Newfoundland was the culmination of 200 years of travel and exploration by his Viking ancestors. Fifteen years ago the Arctic Studies Center curated Vikings: The North Atlantic Saga to trace that journey across the Atlantic Ocean. In journeying across the Atlantic, questions of how we know our past and its relevance today were addressed. As the world continues to shrink as a result of better transportation and the internet it’s useful to reflect on where we came from and to that end I have a couple questions for Dr. Fitzhugh.

Q: What was your favorite part of this exhibit?  10-ship

A: Producing “Vikings: the North Atlantic Saga” was incredibly complicated and expensive. Hillary Clinton kicked off our fund-raising effort. Curators from seven nations participated  and a dozen museums loaned objects. The shop opened at the Smithsonian and then traveled around North America for three years. We published a great book(cover shown to right) and we connected with a huge population of Scandinavian and Nordic people in North America. Fifteen years later I’m still lecturing about Vikings!

The most exciting part of the exhibit was the opening when I met the kings, queens, and presidents of all those countries and had lunch with all of them and the Clintons in the White House. Dessert? Chocolate Viking ships filled with ice cream and fruit!

Q: Have there been any major discoveries in the past 15 years that change or deepen our understanding of Viking travel to North America?

A: Nearly every year archaeologists find new Viking sites and artifacts. Recently a mass grave was excavated in Britain, a Viking ship burial in Scotland; a Norwegian penny dating 1065-85 in an Indian site in Maine; spoils from a wrecked Viking voyage in North Greenland, and studies of Viking burials in Greenland showing—contrary to previous belief that the Norse did not adopt an Inuit economy-- increasing use of marine foods (fish, seals) in their diet during the life of the Greenland Norse colonies.

Q: Why do you think people are still so fascinated with Vikings centuries after their era ended?

A: Vikings are a touch-stone topic! Everyone learns about Vikings in grade school—especially the raiding and pillaging. We are fascinated by these ‘barbarians who turned Christian’, their bravery, their boat-building skills, their sagas and poetry. They sailed across the Atlantic in small boats; they voyaged to Rome and Istanbul. They were also traders and nation-builders. Who wouldn’t be ga-ga for Vikings!!!

Q: What can the Vikings teach us that is relevant today?

A: Vikings were the quintessential explorers – they explored nearly half the globe and were builders of the finest boats of their day. They braved the storms of the North Atlantic and lived at the edge of the known world for nearly 500 years in Greenland. As we reach for the heavens in our space-ships we are following the quest for knowledge and exploration demonstrated by Vikings a millennia ago.  

Q: Is there anything else of particular importance you want people to know?

A: Be a Viking! Explore. Search. Sing. Work hard. And you will change the world just like the Vikings did.

If you’re interested in learning more about this fascinating period in history the online exhibit is publicly available here: http://www.mnh.si.edu/vikings/.

NEW Arctic Studies Center Publication - Mammals of Ungava and Labrador, Heyes & Helgen (2013)

UngavaIn 1882 the Smithsonian Institution Arctic scientist Lucien M. Turner travelled to the Ungava District-encompassing Northern Quebec and Labrador-where he spent two years as part of a mission to record meteorological data for an International Polar Year research program. While stationed at the Hudson's Bay Company trading post of Ft. Chimo in Ungava Bay, now the Inuit community of Kuujjuaq, he expanded his observations to studies of the natural history and ethnography of the Inuit and Innu-the aboriginal peoples of the region. His ethnography of the Inuit and Innu people was published in 1984, but his substantial writings on language and natural history never made it to print. His unpublished notes on the mammals of the region, many derived from Inuit and Innu knowledge and stories, are finally presented in this book.

Scott Heyes is a Smithsonian Institution Arctic Studies Center Research Associate and Assistant Professor based at the University of Canberra, Australia. Kristofter Helgen is a Research Zoologist and Curator-in-charge of the Division of Mammals at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History in Washington, DC. Preface by Stephen Loring, Museum Anthropologist and Arctic Archaeologist, Arctic Studies Center, Smithsonian Institution. 

Books are available to purchase through the Arctic Studies Center order form or by contacting us at arctics@si.edu.