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Department of Geography



Professor Michael Bravo, BEng MPhil PhD

Professor of the History and Geography of Science, University of Cambridge.
Hugh Brammer Fellow in Geography, Downing College.
Honorary Senior Research Scientist, Stefansson Institute, Akureyri, Iceland.


  • 1992-1995: University of Cambridge. Department of the History and Philosophy of Science. Junior Research Fellow (non-stipendiary) Wolfson College.
  • 1993-1995: University of Cambridge. British Academy Post-Doctoral Research Fellow, Department of the History and Philosophy of Science,.
  • 1995-2000: Manchester University. University Research Fellow, Graduate School in Faculty of Economics, Social Sciences and Law
  • 2000-2024: University of Cambridge, Department of Geography, Scott Polar Research Institute.
  • 2001-2024: Fellow, Downing College


  • Ph.D., History and Philosophy of Science, Cambridge University 1992
  • M.Phil., History and Philosophy of Science, Cambridge University 1987
  • B. Eng., Telecommunications Engineering, Carleton University 1985


Professor Bravo is the recently appointed Director of Postdoctoral Affairs in the Department of Geography/Scott Polar Research Institute. He welcomes enquiries about postdoctoral research from existing and prospective early career researchers.

Research group memberships

  • Steering Group Member, Critical Arctic Studies Research Network, University of the Arctic, Rovaniemi, Finland.
  • Convenor, Arctic Humanities Workshop with Pardee-Center for the Longer-Range Future, Boston University.
  • Member, Histories, Cultures, Environments, Peoples Research Group, Scott Polar Research Institute.
  • Research Associate, Department of the History and Philosophy of Science.

Research overview


Michael Bravo has published a new and groundbreaking history of the North Pole that spans five centuries from the Renaissance to the Present, published in January 2019, and is distributed by Reaktion Books in the United Kingdom and the University of Chicago Press in North America.

Bravo has written extensively on the role of scientific research in the exploration and development of the Arctic, exploring issues in historical epistemology including the philosophy of experiment, measurement in fieldwork, the nature of precision and calibration, science and technology in translation, and the historical emergence of new ontologies.

The Pan-Inuit Trails Atlas is my most recent project. With a major grant from the Social Sciences Research Council of Canada, and in collaboration with Claudio Aporta and Fraser Taylor (Carleton University), I visited Pond Inlet situated near the entrance to Lancaster Sound at the eastern entrance to the Northwest Passage to begin to document the community's use of these waters. This field work complemented the team's development of the Pan-Inuit Trails Atlas. The principal sources for the Inuit knowledge that defines this Atlas, are maps that were drawn by Inuit for visiting scientists, missionaries, and traders over the course of centuries. Brought together and mapped with their geo-spatial data, the Atlas for the first time presents an indigenous cartographic vision of Arctic North America, showing the network of trails that Inuit peoples travelled and used to communicate over great distances from Alaska to Greenland. The Atlas can be viewed online at

In my book Narrating the Arctic (2002), I explore the implications of the Arctic's extraordinary historical diversity through the lens of the Scandinavian Arctic. The point of this book is to reveal how the Arctic as one of the world's major geographical regions comprises fundamentally different historical processes of colonisation and integration. The field sciences have for centuries played important roles in defining how the Arctic is understood and governed in ways that continue to shape the region as we know it today.

My edited collection, Arctic Geopolitics and Autonomy (2011), was the result of a collaboration with Nicola Triscott of Arts Catalyst (London) and the Slovenian artist Marko Peljhan. As the dominant discourses of Arctic geopolitics are blind to the realities of life in the Arctic, its peoples and ecosystems are repeatedly trivialized in both geopolitics and the arts. This book explores how technologies have transformed relationships between environment and politics for Inuit and other northern peoples. The key question seen from five distinct vantage points is to what extent we should look to experiments in technology to bring autonomy to the citizens of the Arctic. Is a strategy to develop new green technologies for Arctic societies coherent and likely to succeed as a means to reduce dependence on hydrocarbons? The authors argue that the liberating potential of technologies to build lasting autonomy depends on the kinds of mobility and transformations of political economy that they make possible. Together the essays reveal a new approach to the study of technology and mobility that may allow us to rethink Arctic geopolitics from the ground up.

Michael Bravo is Head of the Circumpolar History and Public Policy Research Group at the Scott Polar Research Institute, as well being a member of the Geography Department's Geographies of Knowledge research group.

Recent projects

The Inuit Northwest Passage Project

Bravo is Co-Director with Claudio Aporta (Dalhousie) of the Inuit Northwest Passage Project. Thanks to a major research grant from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, the project team has launched the Pan-Inuit Trails Atlas. Akin to the "songlines" of Aboriginal Australians, the continent of North America has long been known to the indigenous Inuit through a remarkable and extensive network of trails that has remained largely hidden to the rest of the world. Inuit traditional travel changed seasonally with the climate, so that the network of trails spanning the continent was most navigable across the winter sea ice, as well as the snow-covered coastal and inland routes. Inuit have long been famous for their journeys, but the precise extent of them has rarely been fully appreciated. This project represents a first attempt to map these trails along with their geo-spatial data to show how they connected the thousands of different camps and other sites known to Inuit. The atlas can only give a partial indication, a sense of just some of the most important routes travelled, amongst the many. Taken together, they reveal an extraordinary command of territory that long preceded the arrival of explorers looking for a Northwest Passage. Yet this network of trails proved to be highly resilient in the face of encounters with European and American scientific and commercial interests, adapting to them. The Atlas can be viewed online at

Maritime Geographies of Science

Whereas the importance of the world oceans for global security - particularly their circulation, oil and gas reserves, fishing stocks and indigenous culture - is now widely recognised, they are all threatened or endangered. However our knowledge of their environmental history, how they came to be the way they are, is surprisingly limited and at best fragmented. Dr. Bravo's research aims to develop the historical foundations for a new interdisciplinary understanding of the science of the oceans that can explain the nature and direction of change, and take account of the much greater and more diverse communities of historical actors or stakeholders than has been widely acknowledged.

Institutions and Public Policy in the Field Sciences

'Science' is often made to function as a vehicle of public policy. In G8 nations science and technology have a long history of involvement in economic planning. This is certainly true in the Arctic, my region of special interest, where science has played a variety of roles in colonisation, nation-building, and environmental monitoring

The use of field sciences as policy instruments remains poorly understood, for all that climate change has brought them into the public eye. I am currently working on developing new models that explain the linkages between the field sciences and public policy. To explore the practical application of models, I have also been asked to act as an advisor for the International Conference on Arctic Research Planning (ICARP) Working Group 11 on "Science and the Public Interest".

The project has a strong historical foundation in order to ascertain why field stations only came into existence relatively recently (mid- to late-C19), what they are intended to accomplish, and how they have served to mediate between scientists, the state, and the inhabitants of the field. To that end, I am principal investigator and coordinator on 'Polar Field Stations and IPY History: Culture, Heritage, Governance (1882-Present)', an international collaborative project. (International Polar Year Project ID 100.)

Michael Bravo is Convenor of Circumpolar History and Public Policy Research, and a Member of the Natures, Cultures, Knowledges Group in Geography.

Visiting Professorships

  • Institute for Advanced Science Fellowship (Wissenschaftskolleg), Berlin 2017-18.
  • Professor II, Arctic University of Norway (UiT), Dept of Politics, Media, and Community Planning, 2014-2017.

Postdoctoral researchers

  • Dr. Corine Wood-Donnelly: Politics and Governance of the Maritime Arctic (2015-2017)
  • Dr. Shane McCorristine: The Supernatural in Victorian Arctic Exploration (IRCHSS, 2010-2013, SPRI Associate and College Lecturer in Geography, Downing College 2013-2014)
  • Dr. Remy Rouillard: Russian environmental assessment strategies at the intersection of reindeer herding and the oil industry (FQRSC, 2012-14)
  • Dr. Martina Tyrrell: Indigenous Marine Mammal Conservation Management Strategies in Arctic Canada (British Academy, 2006-08)
  • Dr. Marcelle Chabot: The Sociology of Household Economy in Nunavik (SSHRC, 2003-2005)

Current postgraduate students

  • Albert van Wijngaarden, Social Learning in Climate Repair Interventions (started 2023)
  • Simone Eringfeld, Antarctic Environmental Humanities through the Lens of Podcasting (started 2022)
  • Samira Patel, Governance of Data Structures in the Third Pole Himalayas-Hindu Kush Region (started 2022)
  • Deb Wood, History of the Emotions in Heroic Age Polar Exploration (started 2022)
  • Amelia Urry, Uncertainty in Antarctic Science, 1960-1990 (started 2020).

Graduated PhD students

  • Max Zahnd: Tax Law and Sovereignty in Alaska (2014-2023 with intermission)
  • Henry Anderson-Elliott: The Awkward Cryopolitics of Polar Bears (Ursus Arctos) in Svalbard: Multinatural Conservation in the Anthropocene Arctic (2016-2019)
  • Morgan Seag: Equal Opportunities on Ice: Gender and institutional change in 20th century Antarctic science (2016-2019)
  • Claire Warrior: Exploring Histories: understanding the Polar collections of the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich. (2017)
  • Peter Evans: Transformations of indigenous resistance and identity in Northern Labrador, 1959-2005 (2012)
  • Amy Donovan: The Management of Volcanoes at Observatories with Persistently Active Volcanoes (2011)
  • Victoria Herrmann: The History of Aesthetics in Arctic International Relations (1945-2000)
  • Jackie Price: Finding One's Way through Inuit Governance in Canada's Arctic: Contemporary Places, Agency, and and Access.
  • Christina Adcock: Non-Institutional Knowledge and the Representation of the Canadian North. (2010)
  • Sean Maher: Trapping and Tar Sands: Labour and the Production of Aboriginal Space (2009)
  • Elana Wilson: Knowledge and Community-Building: The Promotion and Reception of Canadian Co-Management and Economic Development Models in the Russian North (2006)
  • Richard Powell: Intemperate Spaces: Field Practices and Environmental Science in the Canadian Arctic, 1995-2000 (2004).

Recent and current MPhil students

  • Odessa Chitty, Visual Practice in Art and Architecture (2023)
  • Erin Dockins, Arctic Environmental History (2021)
  • Samira Patel, Third Pole Governance (2020)
  • Deborah Wood, Antarctic Scrapbooks and Book History (2020)
  • Eva Crowson, Postcolonial Geographies of the Arctic (2020)
  • Penny Goodman, Education Policy and Evaluation in Nunavut (2017)
  • Jing Jin, The History of Environmental Assessment in Alaska (2016)
  • Gunnar Gunnarsson:
  • Hugh Verrier: Arctic Sovereignty, Cartography and the Northwest Passage (2015)
  • Mia Bennett: The Political Geography of Infrastructure Investment in the Arctic (2013)
  • Alison Weisburger: Indigenous Knowledge Discourse in Regime Theory as applied to the Arctic Council's Offshore Oil and Gas Guidelines (2011)
  • James Macadam: An Arctic Coal Rush: Spitsbergen in the British Imagination 1870-1920 (2011)



  • 2019 Bravo, M. T., North Pole: Nature and Culture. London: Reaktion Books.
  • 2011 Bravo, M. T. and N. Triscott (eds.) 2011, Arctic Geopolitics and Autonomy. Ostfildern: Hatje Cantz.
  • 2002 M. T. Bravo and S. Sörlin (eds.), Narrating the Arctic: A Cultural History of Nordic Scientific Practices, Nantucket Mass, Science History Publications.

Digital atlas

* Aporta, C., M. T. Bravo, and G.R.F. Taylor. 2014 The Pan-Inuit Trails Atlas. Geomatics and Cartographic Research Centre, Carleton University. Web address: <>.

Recent articles

  • 2017 Bravo, M. T., 'A Crypolitics to Reclaim our Frozen Material States' in Cryopolitics: Frozen Life in a Melting World, E. Kowal and J. Radin (eds), MIT Press.
  • 2015 Bravo, M. T. 'The Postcolonial Arctic', in Moving Worlds: a Journal of Transcultural Writings 15(2): 93-111
  • 2012 Bravo, M. T., 'Collecting the Proxies and Mementos of Climate Histories' in Forum on Communicating climate knowledge proxies, processes, politics. Current Anthropology, 53(2): 232-33.
  • 2012 Bravo, M. T. and C. Aporta, 2012, 'Cartographic Gestures' in T. Tyszcuk, J. Smith, N. Clark and M. Butcher (eds.), Atlas: Geography, Architecture, and Change in an Interdependent World. Black Dog Press, 2012, 142-145.
  • 2012 Donovan, A., Oppenheimer, C., & Bravo, M. T.. Science at the policy interface: volcano-monitoring technologies and volcanic hazard management. Bulletin of Volcanology, 74(5): 1005-1022.
  • 2012 Donovan, A., Oppenheimer, C., & Bravo, M. T. . Social studies of volcanology: Knowledge generation and expert advice on active volcanoes. Bulletin of Volcanology, 74(3): 677-689.
  • Sutherland, W. J., Bellingan, L., Bellingham, J. R., Blackstock, J. J., Bloomfield, R. M., Bravo, M. T., . . . Zimmern, R. L. 2012. A collaboratively-derived science-policy research agenda. PLoS One, 7(3), e31824. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0031824
  • 2011 Donovan, A., Oppenheimer, C., Bravo, M. T., 'Rationalising a Volcanic Crisis through Literature: Montsrratian verse and the descriptive reconstruction of an island', Journal of Volcanology and Geothermal Research, 203: 87-101.
  • 2011 Bravo, M. T. and N. Triscott, 'Building Autonomy through Experiments in Technology and Skill' in Bravo, M. T. and N. Triscott (eds.), Arctic Geopolitics and Autonomy. Ostfildern: Hatje Cantz, 37-55.
  • 2010 Bravo, M. T., 'The Humanism of Sea Ice' in I. Krupnik, C. Aporta, S. Gearheard, and G. Laidler (eds.), SIKU: Knowing Our Ice: Inuit Sea Ice Knowledge and Use, Springer-Verlag, 457-464.
  • 2009 Bravo, M. T., 'The Legacies of Arctic Science from Humboldt to the High Arctic', International Arctic Science Committee Bulletin, 08/09, 44. [Publication of keynote speakers' abstracts for the Arctic Science Summit Week in Bergen, Norway, March 2009].
  • 2009 Bravo, M. T., 'Arctic Science, Nation-building, and Citizenship', in Frances Abele, Thomas Courchene, Leslie Seidle and France St-Hilaire (eds.), Northern Exposure: Peoples, Powers and Prospects for Canada's North. Montreal: Institute for Research on Public Policy, 321-348.
  • 2009 Bravo, M. T., 'Voices from the Sea Ice and the Reception of Climate Impact Narratives', Journal of Historical Geography, 35(2): 256-278. Feature issue on Climate Change Narratives. [Based on IBG 2006 Plenary Session on 'Narratives of Climate Change' with William Cronon, Richard Hamlyn, Diana Liverman, and Sverker Sörlin].
  • 2009 Bravo, M. T., 2009, 'Preface: Legacies of Polar Science' in J. Shadian and M. Tennberg (eds.), Legacies of Polar Science, Farnham: Ashgate Press, 13-16.
  • 2008 Bravo, M. T., 2008 'Sea Ice Mapping: Ontology, Mechanics, and Human Rights at the Ice Floe Edge', D. Cosgrove and V. della Dora (eds.) High Places: Cultural Geographies of Mountains and Ice. London: IB Tauris, 161-176.
  • 2008 Paci, C., Hodgkins, A., Katz, S., Braden, J., Bravo, M. T., et al., 2008 'Northern Science and Research: Postsecondary Perspectives in the Northwest Territories', The Journal of Northern Studies, 1: 23-52.
  • 2008 Bravo, M. T., ' Archive Fever, Climate Change', K. Yusoff (ed.), BiPolar, Arts Catalyst, 99-100.
  • 2007 'Mission Gardens: Natural history and Global Expansion, 1720-1820'. In L. Schiebinger and C. Swan (eds.), Colonial Botany: Science, Commerce, and Politics, 2nd ed., University of Pennsylvania Press, 49-65. (2nd edition in paperback, hardback published in 2004). In a volume of new essays dedicated to the history of colonial natural history, this paper is the first attempt to examine the importance of gardens at eighteenth century Moravian mission stations in locations as physically inhospitable as Greenland, and as politically and socially fraught as the West Indian slave plantations.
  • 2007 Boast, R., Bravo, M. T., and Srinivasan, R., 'Return to Babel: Emergent diversity, digital resources, and local knowledge', The Information Society Journal, 23(5) (online major peer-reviewed journal, final corrections accepted 5 October 2006; published at
  • 2006 'Science for the People: Northern Field Stations and Governmentality', British Journal for Canadian Studies, Special issue on governance, 19(2): 78-102. This paper examines how public policymakers in the 1970s envisaged that community-based field stations in Arctic communities could enable Inuit to participate in science. This paper will be the opening publication in an international collaborative project for International Polar Year (2007-2008) about the history of field stations.
  • 2006 'Against Determinism: A Reassessment of Marcel Mauss' Essay on 'Seasonal Variations', Inuit Studies, Invited contribution to special Issue dedicated to the Work of Marcel Mauss, 30(2): 33-49.
  • 2006 Bravo, M. T. and Rees, W. G. 'Cryo-Politics: Environmental Security and the Future of Arctic Navigation', Brown Journal of World Affairs, Fall/Winter 2006 13(1): 205-215.
  • 2006 'Geographies of Exploration and Improvement: William Scoresby and Arctic Whaling (1722-1822)', Journal of Historical Geography, Special Issue on the Historical Geographies of the Oceans, 32(3):512-538.
  • This paper argues that the scientific accomplishments of William Scoresby Jr., Britain's most famous Arctic whaler, can be best understood in a wider historical context of social, economic, and technological 'improvement'. Seen in this light, we can understand how Scoresby's industrial-scale access to the Arctic Seas enabled his rapid rise through the patronage of Robert Jameson into the world of scientific savants like Alexander von Humboldt and Leopold von Buch.

Significant earlier articles

  • 1998 Bravo, M. T., 'The Anti-Anthropology of Highlanders and Islanders', Studies in the History and Philosophy of Science 29A(3): 369-389.
  • 1999 Bravo, M. T. 'Ethnographic Navigation and Enlightenment Geography', in Enlightenment and Geography. D. Livingstone and C. Withers (eds.), Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 199-235.
  • 1998 Bravo, M. T. 'Precision and Curiosity in Scientific Travel: James Rennell and the Orientalist Geography of the New Imperial Age (1760-1830)', in Voyages and Visions: Towards a Cultural History of Travel. J. Elsner & J. P. Rubiés (eds.), London: Reaktion Books, 162-183.
  • 1996 Bravo, M. T. 'Ethnological Encounters', in Cultures of Natural History. J. A. Secord, N. Spary, E., Cultures of Natural History, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 338-357.

Policy advice and Impact

Advising Policy – Authored Reports

Advising Policy – Contributions to Reports authored by Policy Convenors

  • 2009 Collins, J (Amb.), Virginia, R., and Yalowitz, K (Amb.), (2009) Arctic Climate Change and Security Policy 36pp. (2009). Carnegie Endowment for East-West Relations (John Sloan Dickey Center for International Understanding, Dartmouth College, USA) (Dec 2007). Role: 'Panel member/speaker on Science Policy' in colloquium at Dartmouth College. Report presented to the US Department of State and other agencies, 24 June 2009. Published online at
  • 2008 Bravo, M. T., International Expert Panel on Science Priorities for the Canadian Arctic Research Initiative, Vision for the Canadian Arctic Research Initiative: Assessing the Opportunities, Council of Canadian Academies, Ottawa. November 2008. Published in hard copy and online at 36 pp.

Popular Writing and Reviews in Science Journals (Nature, New Scientist etc.)

  • Bravo, M. T. 2011 Review of An Empire of Ice: Scott, Shackleton, and the Heroic Age of Antarctic Science, Yale University Press, for New Scientist, 2 July 2011, 54.
  • Bravo, M. T. 2009 'Arctic Nature's Governance: Community-based Monitoring and Self-Interest', The Circle, Magazine of the World Wildlife Fund, 11-13.
  • Bravo, M. T. 2007 'How central is imagination to our understanding of climate change?, Nature Reports on Climate Change, 2:27-28. Published online: 27 June 2007. [Review of Burning Ice: Art and Climate Change, D. Buckland, A. MacGilp, and S. Parkinson (eds.), Cape Farewell 2006.


  • Geography Tripos Part IA, Decolonising Museums
  • Geography Tripos Part IB, Paper 1: Producing Geography (Museum-based teaching)
  • Geography Tripos Part II, Paper 2: Geographies of the Cryosphere
  • M.Phil. in Polar Studies: contributions to teaching on Governance, Environment, Northern Peoples, and Public Policy.
  • M.Phil. in Anthropocene Studies: Exhibiting the Anthropocene
  • M.Phil./Ph.D. Research Training in Research Design

Academic committees and duties

  • Director, Postdoctoral Affairs (2023-26)
  • Senior Examiner, Polar Studies M.Phil. Degree (2023-24)
  • Acting Director, Scott Polar Research Institute (2019-2020)
  • Senior Management Group, Scott Polar Research Institute (2019-2020)
  • Chair, 1A/1B Examination Board (2018-21)
  • Ethics Committee (2015-2017)
  • Planning and Resources Committee (2014-2016)
  • Chair, 1A/1B Examination Board (2012-15)
  • Director, Polar Studies M.Phil. Degree Programme (2009-2013)
  • Acting Chair, Research Ethics Committee (Michaelmas, 2012)
  • Convenor, Natures, Cultures, Knowledges Thematic Group (2012-16)
  • Convenor, Geography Senior Departmental Seminars (2006-2013)
  • Research Policy Committee, member (2011-2016)
  • Graduate Teaching Committee, member (2010-2013)
  • Undergraduate Teaching Committee, member (2012-13)
  • Director of Studies, Geography, Downing College (2012-17)

Faculty and University committees

  • Earth Sciences Faculty Board and Degree Committee Member (2017)
  • History and Philosophy of Science Faculty Board and Degree Committee (2009-2012)
  • POLIS Advisory Board (2008-2010)
  • Members, Centre for International Studies Management Committee (2006-2008)