Arctic Voices in Art and Literature in the Long Nineteenth Century

This conference focuses on the peak of Euro-American imperialism in the Western Arctic between about 1789 and 1914. By putting perspectives and experiences of marginalized beings in the centre, we look at the possibilities of rewriting the dominant history of this time period. We approach this theme from a range of vantage points, starting with the self-expression of Sámi, Inuit and Greenlandic individuals. We also examine the representation of Arctic indigenous peoples and animals by Western artists, travellers, explorers and scientists of varying backgrounds and gender.

The conference is a three-day programme with talks, discussions, creative workshops and performative exercises. We invite to open dialogue and welcome anyone interested in art and literature concerned with indigenous people and meetings between humans and between humans and animals. You can choose freely the parts you wish to attend.



Tuesday 9 July / Arrival, seminar and departure Nordnorsk Kunstmuseum Sjøgata 1, 9008 Tromsø

13.30–14.15 Reception and guided tour of Like Betzy, Nordnorsk Kunstmuseum Charis Gullickson

Seminar session 1: Other perspectives and voices in the Arctic and beyond

14.30 – 14.45 Introduction and welcome Ingeborg Høvik and Charis Gullickson

14.45 – 15.30 The Unsettled Eye: Colonial Voice and Vision in Australia and New Zealand, c. 1770 – 1830. Bruce Buchan, Griffith University, Brisbane, Australia.

Break 15.30 – 15-45

15.45 – 16.30 Enslaved Fugitives in the Canadian Winter Charmaine Nelson, McGill University, Montreal, Canada.


Wednesday 10 July / Seminar and workshop Báldalávvu, Riddu Riđđu

9.00 – 09.30 Welcome, coffee/tea in Báldalávvu. Kjellaug Isaksen (Centre for Northern Peoples).

Seminar session 2: Sámi voices in art and literature
09.30 –10.15 'Savage' Laughter: Humour as Resistance in Colonial Encounters in Sápmi and Greenland c. 1670 – 1800 Linda A. Burnett, Linnaeus University

10.15 – 11.00 Imag(in)ing Saami Life: Emilie Demant Hatt’s Arctic Documents Hanna Eglinger, FAU Erlangen–Nürnberg.

11.00 – 11.30 Short break

11.30 – 12.15 Ecology and Johan Turi  Svein Aamold, UiT The Arctic University of Norway.

13.00 – 16.00 Workshop/Intervention + Yéil Ya-Tseen (Nicholas Galanin) (artist)

18.00 Opening of festival art exhibitions (Chippewar and Gieresvuodajn/With Love), Center of Northern Peoples


Thursday 11 July / Seminar and workshop Báldalávvu, Riddu Riđđu

 9.00 – 09.30 coffee/tea in Báldalávvu.

Seminar session 3: Arctic presences in European narratives

09.30 – 10.15 Absent or Present, Part of the System or of the Land: The representation of animals in some nineteenth-century narratives of Arctic exploration Sigfrid Kjeldaas, UiT The Arctic University of Norway.

10.15 – 11.00 Pictures from the Bering Street: Louis Choris’ Voyage pittoresque autour du Monde (1823). Marie-Theres Federhofer, UiT / Humboldt University, Berlin.

11.10 – 12.35 Workshop / Intervention + Raisa Porsanger (artist)

13.30 – 14.15 ‘Arctic Hysteria' or 'Polar Eufori'? Voicing Otherwise in Early Arctic Narrative Renee Hulan, Saint Mary’s University, Canada. 

14.15 – 15.00 An Alternative Vision of the Friendly Arctic? Ada Blackjack’s Diary from Wrangel Island Silje Gaupseth, Polarmuseet, UiT The Arctic University of Norway

15.10 – 15.50 Intervention


Friday 12 July / Seminar and Workshop Báldalávvu, Riddu Riđđu

9.15 – 09.30 Coffee/tea in Báldalávvu    

Seminar session 4: Arctic presences in Western imagery

9.30 – 09.50 Curatorial Strategies Charis Gullickson, Nordnorsk Kunstmuseum.

9.50 – 10.35 Tea and Sympathy in the Arctic: sociability and survival among Western women and Inuit, 1840-1900

Sophie Gilmartin, Royal Holloway University of London. 

10.45 – 11.30 ‘Exceedingly Good Friends’: The Representation of Indigenous People during the Franklin Search Expeditions to the Arctic (1847-59) Eavan O’Dochartaigh, Umeå University. 

11.30 – 12.15 Traces of an Arctic Voice: The Case of Qalasirssuaq Ingeborg Høvik, UiT The Arctic University of Norway.

13.00 – 15.00 Workshop Curating and designing an exhibition on historical otherness Charis Gullickson (introduction)

The conference: plan and aims

Arctic Voices in Art and Literature in the Long Nineteenth-Century is a collaboration between Riddu Riđđu, Nordnorsk Kunstmuseum and UiT The Arctic University of Norway. It comprises a two-day seminar and a one-day experimental workshop in curating and exhibition design. Cultivating a relational way of conducting research by involving indigenous researchers and communities whose histories might intersect with our work, the conference is taking place at the Riddu Riđđu Festival, where the public is encouraged to take part in the seminar and workshop.

            The seminar approaches the thematic of the project – Arctic indigenous voices and animal presences in the Nineteenth Century – from a range of vantage points, from the self-expression of Sámi, Inuit and and Greenlandic individuals, through to the representation of Arctic indigenous peoples and Arctic animals by Western artists, travellers, explorers and scientists of varying cultural backgrounds and gender. Of particular interest is the question of authorship and identity, in terms of how, when and to what ends we differentiate between indigenous and Western, coloniser and colonised, and the degree to which such terms and categorisations might at times be ambiguous and fluid.

            Building on the seminar sessions, the workshop takes its starting point in a strategic juxtaposition that aims to create new dialogues by pairing together key works in Nordnorsk Kunstmuseum's collection with the alternative visual materials introduced by the conference papers, and their attendant historical and conceptual issues. Through a range of design-driven brainstorming sessions and visual/spatial mock-ups, the workshop develops ideas for a future exhibition about the Arctic, as understood through the (marginalised) historical representations of and by Sámi and other Arctic indigenous peoples and of Arctic animals.

            The overall ambition of the three-day conference is to: 1) gather nineteenth-century texts and images containing or pointing to Sámi, Inuit and Greenlandic voices, and animal presences with a view to generating an overview of the scope of this material; 2) exchange ideas for the development of new theoretical and methodological approaches; 4) discuss strategies for publishing an anthology; 5) develop ideas for a possible exhibition project.


Recent work (Huggan 2016, 7) in the field of Arctic studies emphasize the need to reassert the value of micro-histories of Arctic[1] space and territory as a strategy to disconnect the region from ‘its persistent status as a fixed object of western control and knowledge’ — a status that frequently results in a disregard for both local perspectives and the internal differences that exist within the vast, transnational region comprising the Arctic (see also Andersen et al. 2016, 94; Ryall 2016, 119). The continuation of Western dominated discourses today demonstrates the enduring impact of European colonialism and cultural hegemony.

            While the history of European colonialism in the Arctic extends further back in time, the long nineteenth century was a period when much of this region — like the interiors of Africa and Australia – moved from being a mythical ‘blank space’ and cartographic white ‘desert’ to become increasingly known to Europe through travel, exploration and continued settlement and administration. Despite significant differences between the various localities subject to colonialism, for example concerning type and intensity of European intervention, there are two characteristics that are valid across the Arctic region. These are symptomatic of European colonialism in general: 1) the long nineteenth century represented a boom in European textual and visual productions concerned with the Arctic; 2) this body of works was dominantly produced by European men frequently attached to colonialist ventures, with the effect that perspectives and experiences of others, including women, Arctic peoples and animals were largely excluded.

            The impact European knowledge production on the Arctic in the nineteenth century has had on our understanding of the region and its history today should not be underestimated. Arguably both the knowledge contained within this vast body of texts and images to which we continuously refer, as well as the way in which we write and conduct historical research, as academics in a European tradition, call for decolonizing, feminist and ecocritical approaches.

The conference forms part of the project Arctic Voices in Art and Literature in the Long Nineteenth Century (short title, Arctic Voices), which revisits the peak of Western imperialism in the Arctic in the long nineteenth century. It engenders an alternative history of the Arctic that places at the centre the perspectives and experiences of marginalized others — primarily Sámi, Greenlandic and Inuit peoples, but also Arctic animals. The project explores, contextualizes and theorizes the possibilities of recovering instances of indigenous and animal agency from the gaps and omissions in history. The texts and images we are concerned with are in dialogue with European contexts and narratives in various ways. They all emerge from contact zones (Pratt 2008; Haraway 2008), that is places, situations and contexts we understand as spaces of interaction between Arctic indigenous peoples, Europeans, and between humans and animals. These spaces of interaction (both real and imagined) occurred in both the Arctic and in Europe, and generally fall in three main categories: 1) Western art and literature bearing traces, or the clear presence, of indigenous peoples; 2) Images and texts created by Sámi, Inuit or Greenlandic individuals working in a colonial context; and, 3) Western and Arctic indigenous art and literature pointing to animal agency.

            Approaching our empirical material through a framework of indigenous epistemologies, postcolonial, ecocritical and material feminist theory, the project explores the possibility of recognising speech (Rancière1999) retrospectively in the case of historically subjugated Arctic others, thus rupturing existing colonial, patriarchal and anthropocentric narratives. The underlying premise driving the project is that this approach to textual and visual analysis may elicit more sustainable ways of understanding human relationships to the environment than those which govern the inherited Cartesian thinking of modern Western society still today.

Theoretical Framework

Arctic Voices gathers nineteenth-century texts and images containing or pointing to Sámi, Inuit and Greenlandic voices as well as the potential agency of Arctic animals, with a view to generating a comprehensive overview of the scope of this material. The project operates overtop of three linked hypotheses. The first is that analyses of nineteenth-century literature and imagery reflecting Arctic subaltern voices will elicit different narratives, perspectives and experiences of indigeneity and the natural environment to that of the dominant discourses associated with colonialism, patriarchy and anthropocentrism, despite a frequent entanglement of these voices in the same cultural structures and world view. The second is that the act of ‘rewriting’ nineteenth-century polar history through the addition of a substantial body of indigenous and animal narratives will enrich academic approaches to research and knowledge production. The third is that the strategic decision to read empirical material through theories of postcolonialism and ecofeminism and indigenous methodologies, will further discover and disseminate more sustainable, equal and balanced ways of understanding human relationships to the natural and cultural environment.          

            Serving as the basis for our research, our primary sources consist of a range of material, including published and unpublished expedition and whaling accounts, diaries and travelogues, newspaper and journal articles along with oil paintings, prints, drawings, sculpture, and visual ephemera. This material can be placed in three main categories: 1) Western sources showing traces of indigenous presences; 2) Western sources revealing the presence of animal actors; 3) sources created by indigenous individuals working within a colonial context.

            Beneath the rough, working categorisation of our primary sources lies a broad range of voices and agents as well as nuances concerning the cultural and gendered identity of both the ‘Western’ and ‘indigenous’ authors. For example, part of the project’s primary research material concerns works of art, diaries, journals and travelogues created by British, North American and Nordic women from a variety social of environments. While these sources are ‘Western’, their recordings of the Arctic stem from female perceptions and experiences. Conditioned by the regulations of their own gendered societies, the perspectives of these women may have been different from those of males, for example with regards to their association with the indigenous women of the communities they encountered. The sources produced by certain women authors, as well as the indigenous traces found therein are thus from the outset of a different character than the paintings, narratives and journals of male artists, explorers and whaling captains that have tended to dominate Arctic history to date. Similarly, the grouping of ‘indigenous’ sources is a general categorisation that does not specify local and gendered differences, nor the variety and distinctiveness of geographical locations, colonial and social situations wherein Arctic indigenous individuals created their texts and images. For example, part of the project’s primary research material in this category consists of texts and images produced by Greenlandic Inuit men who, after serving as guides onboard expedition or whaling vessels in the Arctic, were brought back to Europe, especially to Britain and Denmark. How do the voices in their productions relate to those expressed in the visual and textual production of Sámi individuals, whose lands and ways of life were continuously under threat from Nordic settlers and governments, or those of the Inuit women whose lives intersected with the ambitions, needs and desires of Western explorers?

            Postcolonial theory. Common for the project’s research material is its emergence within what Mary Louise Pratt (2008) and Donna Haraway (2008) term contact zones. To Pratt, contact zones mean social spaces of imperial encounters, whether between coloniser and colonised or traveller and ‘travelee’. Despite the highly asymmetrical power relations that characterise these encounters, Pratt explores the possibilities for co-presence, interaction, improvisation and interconnectedness of understandings between Europeans and non-Westerners. Unlike Edward Said’s (1978) Foucaultian understanding of discourse in Orientalism, Pratt does not assume that the discourses that emerged from contact zones were monological and without any impact of non-Westerners. On the contrary, she argues that ‘If one studies only what the Europeans saw and said, one reproduces the monopoly on knowledge and interpretation that the imperial enterprise sought. This is a huge distortion, because of course that monopoly did not exist’ (2008,7). Emphasizing instead the agency of peoples subjected to imperialism as well as ‘how subjects are constituted in and by their relations to each other’ (2008, 7), Pratt’s concept of the contact zone usefully advocates research methods that bring out the perspectives and experiences of colonised indigenous peoples, even if their voices are problematically re-represented, for example through alteration and manipulation, in Western texts and images.

            Drawing on Pratt, Haraway (2008) uses contact zones to describe spaces of natural-cultural encounters between humans and animals and other organisms. Using the image of ecotones — the transition area between two ecosystems, characterized by ecological and evolutionary diversity and richness – Haraway argues that contact zones present unknown opportunities for interspecies communication, interaction and even coevolution (2008, 218-220). Pointing out how humans too, themselves deeply entangled in nature, both shape and are shaped by other species, Haraway’s concept of the contact zone makes a case for the potential agency of animals. Animal influence is for example one element in her use of the concept becoming with, describing how humans may change, evolve or become, through actual and immediate contact with animals in situated histories ‘in which all the actors become who they are in the dance of relating’ (Haraway 2008, 25; see also Chisholm 2012; Ingold 2000; 2011). Through contemporary examples, Haraway demonstrates how relating to animals in a respectful and responsive way may lead to positive knowledge of and with animals. The possibilities of human-animal relationships in the contact zone presents a fruitful concept for exploring how accounts of specific, historical situations may contain hints of animal actors and animal agency, potentially influencing human understandings of Arctic nature.  

            Understanding the dynamics of socio-political and cultural dominance and resistance involved in the historical context of our research material, Voicing Arctic Others draws on Jacques Rancière’s (1999; 2004) terms distribution of the sensible and speech. Applying Rancière's concepts, the historical and continued subjugation of certain groups may be understood as bound up in an implicit ‘aesthetic’ law separating those who take part from those who are excluded. Rancière defines this law as based on a ‘distribution of the sensible’, a division between what can and cannot be seen, heard or said in a given society (Rancière 2004, 12-13). If the actions and expression of the subjugated thus fall outside the realm of politics, the existing aesthetic-political regime is ruptured when the subjugated attains ‘speech’. Through political action, the subjugated can make visible what was previously unseen, and heard what was before ignored as noise (Rancière 1999, 30).

            While an ambition of the project, the goal of ‘bringing out’ the (historical) voices of Arctic indigenous peoples is not unproblematic. As Gayatri Spivak (1988) pointed out in her seminal critique of postcolonial studies, subaltern groups are in many ways ‘other’ also to the ‘first-world’, present-day academics that lay claim to giving speech. By attempting to ‘speak for’ the ‘indigenous’, one pitfall of the project is a repetition of colonial dynamics that places the Western academic in charge of knowledge production and leaves the subaltern silenced yet again (Spivak 1988, 295; Haraway 2010, 213). In addition, as pointed out by Indigenous scholars Linda T. Smith (2012, 1-3) and Rauna Kuokkanen (2007, 1), the fundamental differences that exist between Western and indigenous thought pose a great challenge to researchers who frequently are limited by their own rootedness in Western epistemologies, research methodologies and practices. It is also worth keeping in mind that research on indigenous peoples is a history of non-indigenous academics pursuing ‘Western research on Western terms’, which has involved methodologies and practices that were ‘extractive’ and unaccountable to indigenous societies and world-views (Kovach 2009, 29-30).

            Ecofeminist theory and Indigenous methodologies. Although Arctic Voices operates on the premise that alternative knowledge systems can and should be approached in research dealing with perspectives of marginalised others, the project is sensitive to the problems this entails. The overall conceptual framework we adopt involves a critical and reflexive examination of our research tools, methodologies and positions as researchers working within a Western academic tradition.

            In this context, insights of ecofeminist theory and indigenous methodologies may prove useful. In line with postcolonial thinking, ecofeminist theory understands knowledge production as dominated by Western paradigms historically entangled in masculinist, Eurocentric and ethnocentric structures and discourses (Plumwood 2002). Concerned more with the anthropocentrism of dominant culture, the focus of much ecofeminist critique is the human/nature dualism or Cartesian logic that, since the modern and scientific world of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, if not before, separated culture and mind from nature and body in Western thought (Merchant 1990; Plumwood 1993). Imagined as female and inert, if not altogether dead, nature — and man’s place within it — was rejected by dominant society. At the same time women and non-Western peoples were strongly associated with nature through the idea of their assumed unchangeable bond to biology that forever limited their participation in the realms of culture and politics (Mellor 1997, 72; Alaimo 2000, 2). The patriarchal worldview that commenced in the early modern period involved both a gender and racial dispossession of influence and agency. Like women, indigenous peoples inhabiting the ‘empty’ lands of the European imagination were displaced onto anachronistic space — they did not ‘inhabit history proper but exist[ed] in a permanently anterior time’ (McClintock 1995, 30; see also Fabian 1983, 1-35).

            Overcoming the disembodied vision that structures much of Western knowledge, ecofeminist theory emphasises human embodiment, our embeddedness in nature as biological beings (Mellor 1997). In her discussion of feminist objectivity, Donna Haraway (2010) makes a connection between a recognition of body and matter as active agents, and the embodied and situated nature of knowledge and knowledge production. Approaching research through concepts of embodiment and situatedness is to acknowledge the limits, subjectivity and partiality of our research and simultaneously be attentive to possibilities for other stories and voices. In situated knowledges, objects of research are not imagined as ‘a screen or a ground or a resource’ but as actors partaking in a ‘conversation’ with the researcher (Haraway 2010, 222). For Haraway (2010, 216), this self-reflective and relational approach represents a new and truer form of objectivity; a feminist objectivity that is ‘partial in all its guises, never finished, whole, simply there and original; it is always constructed and stitched together imperfectly, and therefore able to join with another, to see together without claiming to be another’. The idea of conversation is also present in Val Plumwood’s (2002) ecofeminist philosophy. Similarly arguing for openness and attentiveness to the presence and agency of cultural or natural others, Plumwood underlines the importance of recognising difference (as opposed to the idea of unity and mutual interests), not only between different agents (e.g., settler and colonial subjects or humans and animals) but also between self and other. To position oneself with the other and not as the other is to recognise ‘the other’s independence and boundaries…their right to define their own reality, name their own history, and establish their own identity’ (Plumwood 2002, 202-203).    

            Ecofeminist concepts of embodied and situated knowledges and the idea of conversation by seeing together or positioning oneself with and not as the other can usefully be applied as theoretical and methodological tools for a more balanced approach to research on Arctic others. However, it may be fruitful to use this framework in conjunction with aspects of Indigenous methodologies. The reason for this is not only that our research enquiries centre on indigenous voices and, by extension, Arctic indigenous epistemologies. In addition, ecofeminism clearly draws on a basic tenet of many indigenous epistemologies that, understanding the relationship between humans and animals as one of social relatedness within one community, similarly roots humans and knowledge in nature and the body (Kovach 2009, 34; Sejersen 2004, 74; Gaski 2017, 189-191).

            Indigenous methodologies describe the theory and method of conducting research that emanates from an indigenous epistemology. In line with ecofeminist theory, indigenous methodologies emphasise awareness and openness about one’s own location as a researcher. As Margaret Kovach (2009, 111) writes, to locate the self and make explicit the ways in which your research connects to your experiences and interpretations is to recognise the situated and subjective character of knowledge, a fact that is openly acknowledged in many indigenous epistemologies. Reminiscent of Haraway’s concept of ‘conversation’, indigenous methodologies draw on the relational world-views of many indigenous epistemologies. The emphasis on relations — of the researcher to other people, animals, the environment/landscape and cosmos — underlines the need to be attentive to or observant of the various voices and perspectives at play in the production of knowledge. In the research process it is thus important to make these relationships matter (Chilisa 2012, 113). As well as making a case for the relevance of a broader scope of possible presences in our research material, the relational focus of indigenous methodologies may be helpful as a reference for conducting research in a manner that is respectful, including and meaningful to the indigenous communities whose histories and ancestors we address in our investigation. Particularly relevant to our research project arise the suggestion of reciprocity and feedback — to involve indigenous scholars and contemporary indigenous communities in our research and to disseminate our finds back to these communities (Smith 2006, 15; Porsanger 2004). 



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[1] The geographical parameters of the ‘Arctic’ in this project consist of the parts of the circumpolar north associated with a history of Western colonial intervention, primarily including Sápmi (Lapland), Greenland and northern Canada, Alaska and North America.

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