The Science of Defence

My doctoral dissertation examined environmental science projects related to defence and national security in the Canadian North during the Cold War. I focused on the Arctic scientific activities of the Defence Research Board, a branch of Canada’s Department of National Denfence, established in 1947 to provide scientific and technical assistance to the Canadian armed services. My dissertation is currently under contract with a major academic press.



While my doctoral research broached important issues in Cold War and Arctic studies, I have begun a new and exciting research project that will explore uncharted territory concerning the history of science and technology in postwar Canada. Preliminary research suggests deep linkages between state, industrial and academic institutions in Canada during the earliest decades of the Cold War. This relationship has been called the ‘military-industrial-academic complex’ in American historical scholarship. Historians of Canada have yet to examine this theme in a Canadian context, so I intend to research the militarization of science in Canada during the period 1945-65. My research will focus on state, industrial and academic activities to uncover the social and environmental consequences of Cold War science in Canada. The project will employ archival and oral history methods, and I will engage in open and mutually-beneficial dialogue with northern communities and residents to highlight the importance of local perspectives to past and ongoing discussions of northern development and Arctic sovereignty.



Unlocking the ‘Eskimo Secret’

The Arctic was an active site for experimental research during the Cold War. For instance, as detailed in my article, “Unlocking the ‘Eskimo Secret’: Defence Science in the Cold War Canadian Arctic, 1947–1954,” the Defence Research Board supported studies of acclimatization in the human body. Over an eight-year period, a team of Canadian scientists from Queen’s University travelled to the Arctic and conducted physiological experimentation on Inuit. The scientists gathered samples of skin, blood, urine, and liver and compared the data to results from similar studies conducted on groups of white medical students. The research hypothesized that Inuit biology had superior cold-weather fighting properties, and the scientists aimed to gather information on climatic adaptation to create a physiological screening process for military personnel considered for service in the far north. The experiments ultimately failed to produce the intended scientific results, but the research points to significant considerations for understanding the political and cultural impact of military research conducted in Canada during the Cold War.

The Development of Cold War Soldiery

Physiological experimentation in the early postwar Arctic was not restricted to investigations of white and Inuit biology. As I explain in a recently published article, “The Development of Cold War Soldiery: Acclimatisation Research and Military Indoctrination in the Canadian Arctic, 1947–1953,” postwar military science included tests of volunteer soldiers under cold-weather training. Although Canada never intended to place standing forces in the Arctic after the Second World War, the federal government funded science to study soldiers performing military duties in severe cold. My article investigates the implications of that decision, as a series of collaborative British-Canadian experiments resulted in physical and psychological injury to volunteer test subjects. Using historical documents of the federal government, university records, personal papers, and medical literature, we can begin to understand how Cold War military science shaped international relations for Canada as well as the direct human impact on the subjects of government-funded defence research.