Landscapes as documents

Geir Grenersen (Department of Culture and Literature, UiT The Artic University of Norway, Tromso, Norway)
Kjell Kemi (Department for Linguistic Studies, UiT The Artic University of Norway, Tromso, Norway)
Steinar Nilsen (Sea Sámi Cultural Center, Billefjord, Norway)

Journal of Documentation

ISSN: 0022-0418

Publication date: 10 October 2016



The purpose of this paper is to discuss the following questions: what is the origin of the concepts of documents and documentation? Are there a need for these concepts in every culture? Who gives the terms for their definitions, and what are the consequences of different terminology?


The authors use interdisciplinary methodology, combining document and information theory and Sámi linguistics. The aim of this paper is to discuss documentation from the perspective of the Sámi, with some examples from other indigenous groups.


Oral accounts, legends, traditional songs and traces in the landscape are seen as documents and documentation in Sámi and other indigenous cultures. The paper presents different theories in order to interpret and understand the specific information content in indigenous forms of documentation.

Practical implications

Indigenous ways of documentation have been accepted as valid proof of ownership or the right to extensive use of land resources. When no written records exist, oral testimonies and the landscape itself can be seen as documenting traditional use and has been accepted as evidence in high courts in Norway and Canada. The authors have also seen that the rich Sámi snow terminology is used as concepts in different fields of natural sciences.


The Sámi understanding of the concepts of document and documentation contributes to the traditional information and documentation disciplines by introducing ways of seeing natural phenomenon as fundamental forms of information.



Grenersen, G., Kemi, K. and Nilsen, S. (2016), "Landscapes as documents", Journal of Documentation, Vol. 72 No. 6, pp. 1181-1196.

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