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Mapping Disko Bay

This is a guest post by Diane Schug-O’Neill, Digital Conversion Coordinator, in the Geography and Map Division.

U.S. Central Intelligence Agency. Greenland. 1976. Geography and Map Division.

In 1925, Silas Sandgreen was commissioned by the Library of Congress to create a map of Disko Bugt (also seen as Disko Bay), Greenland. Disko Bay is a large bay located on the western coast of Greenland, along the southeastern side of Baffin Bay.

The southern coastline of the bay has multiple waterways flowing into the bay and many small islands. To the north lies the largest island, Disko Island, on the western coast of Greenland. Qeqertarsuaq (meaning “the big island” in Kalaallisut and previously named Godhavn) is the port town on the southern end of the island.

Disko Bay is the largest open bay in western Greenland, measuring 150 kilometers x 100 kilometers. It has an average depth of 400 meters and an average water temperature of 3.5° Celsius (full temperature range is roughly -1.75° C to 12° C); this is rising with the general warming of Earth.

Silas Sandgreen. Map of the Crown Prince Islands, Disko Bay, Greenland. 1926. Geography and Map Division.

Lt. R.E. Byrd, U.S. Navy with Rubber Life Boat. 1925. Prints and Photographs Division.

George W. Rice, Photographer. Godhaven, Disco Island. 1881–83. Prints and Photographs Division.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chas. Beseler Company. A Northernmost Man and his Wife, Mec-oo-sha and Ah-ma, Standing next to Sledge, Two Inuits who Served as Helpers to Frederick Cook during his Expedition to the North Pole. 1907. Prints and Photographs.

While the Inuit presence in Disko Bay dates back to between 2400 and 900 BC; the bay has been an important location to Europeans since the days Erik the Red placed a settlement there in 985. These settlers relied on the resources of the bay such as ivory from walrus tusks, seal pelts, and whales, whose body parts were used for many purposes. These resources sustained the settlements with trade goods for many years.

A variety of officials were involved in the commissioning of the Map of the Crown Prince Islands, Disco [sic] Bay, Greenland: the offices of the U.S. Secretary of the Navy, Commander R. E. Byrd, an American Aviator, Mr. Philip Rosendahl, the  Administrator of North Greenland, and Dr. M. P. Porsild, the Chief of the Danish Arctic Station at Disko. The capital for North Greenland was Godhavn, also the location for the Arctic Station.

While many Europeans requested this map, none provided any assistance in its creation. Silas Sandgreen relied wholly upon his own observations from his home in the Crown Point Islands, utilizing sledge and kayak to visit remote islands. He mapped 83 islands and 10 reefs in a more traditional map.

William Pierce, Photographer. Inuit Man Holding Oars in a Kayak at Shore. 1864. Prints and Photographs.

 

 

This commissioned effort was created with sealskin and driftwood. Individual islands were whittled from Siberian driftwood. The wood was then sewn onto the sealskin. Next, the sealskin was painted. Yellow on the islands represents grassy and swampy land; blue indicates lakes; black shows the extent of country covered with black lichens. Tidal areas are left uncolored. Reefs are demarked by pencil. The map encompasses an area of approximately 70 square miles at a scale of 1 in to 1,760 feet and is a wonderful representation of indigenous mapping in Greenland.

 

Read more:

Herbert Putnam. “Annual Report of the Librarian of Congress for the Fiscal Year 1926-27.” Annual Report of the Librarian of Congress. December 5, 1927. pages 92-93.

Michael Engelhard. “Arctic Wayfinders: Inuit Mental and Physical Maps.” Terrain.org. March 14, 2019. https://www.terrain.org/2019/nonfiction/arctic-wayfinders/.

 

 

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