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Picturing Alaska history : USA territory to statehood

Turner Publishing (http://www.turnerpublishing.com) asked if I would consider reviewing a new book. I’m glad I agreed. Historic Photos of Alaska has just been published, a large format book of black and white photographs from the period 1867 to 1979. Dermot Cole, long-time columnist for the Fairbanks Daily Newsminer, provides the text and captions.

As a journalist, Dermot also has an interest in history (apart from his twin brother, Terrance, history professor at University of Alaska Fairbanks). Dermot Cole is the author of Amazing Pipeline Stories published by Epicenter Press in 1997, about the people and Fairbanks during the Alaska oil pipeline construction.

The perspective of Historic Photos of Alaska, is for those readers outside Alaska. That is, this is a pictorial history of Alaska as part of “America”. [Through no fault of this book, many in the US will still consider Alaska as a foreign body, along with New Mexico.]

The photos are arranged by time periods, from purchase to statehood– 1867-1905, 1906-1919, 1920-1940, and 1941-1979. These periods represent significant periods of US and Alaska relations. The orientation is a deliberate effort to stand apart from the usual Alaskana picture books. Another significant difference in this book is the choice of rarely seen photos and not the ubiquitous ones. The photos are reproduced with sufficient quality to review again and again and see something new each time.

Readers can follow themes such as regional changes (southeast Alaska also known as the Northwest Coast compared to Nome in northwest Alaska) and transportation. However, other themes can be chosen by readers according to personal interest.

    Dogs
    Most of the dogs are Alaska huskies (freight variety), such as ones on pages 44 and 55 and in harness, page 58. However, the team on page 67 is actually part of a Saami family (reindeer herders originally from Scandinavia. Note the hats and boot toes.) The harness setup is very different from that of the Eskimo family team on page 128. There are also sporting dogs (early 20th century conformation) such as the one on page 92 belonging to Jim Haly. Look carefully. The dog has just spotted another dog out of view, and kicked up a cloud of dust with his hind legs.

    Electric trees
    Even on the frozen tundra of Nome (page 111) and sprouting ever more branches over time in populated areas such as Cordova page 120 and Fairbanks page 151.

    Military
    One way to trace the influence of the military in Alaska is through men’s hats in the photos. Since Territorial days, the military has been a significant economic and development force in Alaska. Much of the early geological studies and geodetic surveys were military. World War II and then the Cold War continued the inflow of money and people. Photos from pages 168 to 180 show differing aspects of building the Al-Can or Alaska Highway and the later battles of Attu and the Aleutians. (see related posts here on the Al-Can and the Aleutians, https://theelderlies.wordpress.com/special-projects/photo-index-cking-wwii/)

    Miscellany
    Everywhere. The curiosity of Edwardian women’s fashion in open-air fish camp (useful against mosquitoes I suppose); the plank streets (for cars and horses) 400 miles from the nearest highway; even a Piggly-Wiggly store outside of the South.

Dermot Cole avoided the shop worn stash of Alaska photos. However, the next to last photo, page 197, is of the oil pipeline’s zigzagged engineering (to avoid temperature stresses) up the North Slope and over the Brooks Mountain Range. It’s a clever homage to the iconic Klondike gold rush photo of the future miners traipsing up the Chilkoot Pass.

I do have some quibbles with the book. There is an amazing variety of horses depicted but no photos of cows at Creamer’s Dairy in Fairbanks (I like the image of the wood stove chimney peeking out the milk truck to keep contents from freezing at 40 below).

More importantly, an outline map of Alaska is needed, with the places of photos identified.

The southwest of Alaska is mostly excluded. Considering that most folks in or outside Alaska believe everyone lives in an Eskimo igloo, it would also be helpful to include a map of languages/cultural regions in the state. Most readers will not be aware of the significance of the temporary, river going, hide boat depicted on page 44 built by the Athabascan Indian trapper to bring his skins to market. Compare with the more permanent skin boat built by Iñupiat Eskimo marine hunters on page 103. I already noted the Saami family.

The period of the first half of 1919 is missing although extremely important in the demography and history of non-urban Alaska. Upwards of 80% to 100% of people in some communities died during the pandemic of the “Spanish Flu”. The Jesse Lee Home (I ran across this recently published history) was one of several that cared for orphans left behind (those that survived long enough for help to reach them).

A suggested reading list would be nice, including Steven Langdon’s 1993. The Native People of Alaska. Anchorage, AK : Greatland Graphics. ISBN: 0936425172 9780936425177 OCLC: 27405205

A great companion volume would be John S. Whitehead’s 2004. Completing the Union: Alaska, Hawaii, and the Battle for Statehood. Albuquerque : University of New Mexico Press. ISBN: 0826336361 9780826336361 082633637X 9780826336378, OCLC: 55665367

This book is not supposed to be a comprehensive pictorial history. Cole did an amazing job just to make a selection from all the possibilities and put together such an enjoyable book.


——————-
[Dermot Cole. 2008 Historic Photos of Alaska. Nashville: Turner Publishing Co.
# ISBN-10: 1596524243
# ISBN-13: 978-1596524248
# LoC 2007938665
Hardcover: 216 pages, Language: English, Product Dimensions: 10.2 x 10.1 x 1 inches, list price $39.95]


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On-line history making

How to organize photos and text across time and space (collaboration amongst multiple people, known and unknown, the quick, the will be, and those who came before)?

The Al-Can and Aleutians WWII special project has been interesting for finding the limitations of the the existing “cyberspace” and “virtual communities” of “Web 2.0” that are all the buzz. [Running into the barriers came from day one; inadvertent trouble-shooting is a specialty skill of mine.]

While Flickr and blogs (MySpace, LiveJournal, and the new one for the middle-ageing, eons.com), are by definition solipsist and therefore especially useful for exhibitionism and voyeurism; they aren’t yet easy for creating and retrieving information.

from an E_lder-mailer, RE: On 8/15/06, A social networking Web site for Americans aged 50-plus went live on Monday — complete with an online obituary database that sends out alerts when someone you may know dies and that plans to set up a do-it-yourself funeral service.

http://lorelle.wordpress.com/2006/08/15/ new-social-networking-site-for-age-50-plus-americans/


Indeed precisely what I was looking for. The automatic obituary and the self funeral! All these while the new definition of planet assigns 53 to our solar system. School books re-writers will be in demand [i.e., hire the over-50].

There are speciality websites for recording genealogy and family history. The more extensive ones require an annual fee. Many of the data sites are free, such as the Latter Day Saints archive. The web log might be an ideal venue for people to record anecdotes– one can record brief remembrances or notes as they occur; each post is dated; the text can be archived (a little more difficult, currently); and the postings can be collected into a more polished history or biography later. WordPress.com now allows for private posts. However, as I hope becomes clear, the interaction with others is needed.

Family histories can be done without the Internet, of course— The archival quality rag bond notepaper and Noodler’s permanent ink with “copperplate” script writing, recorded in great detail everyday by great great so-and-so, a nosy Parker with nothing better to do and who didn’t mind answering even the “cheeky” hygiene questions of the great great grandrelations to be — is exciting to look at (unless the fourth cousin thrice removed that one has never heard of lost it in a move or for gambling debts).

Life is interactive (see Erving Goffman’s work on social interaction). It is difficult for most people to conceive of what may be interesting of their lives to others. Strangers tell me they want to read about my “interesting life” but from this side it’s just ordinary and gets overlooked (fish in water, etc. I wouldn’t wish to undo an interesting life, but I’m too thoughtful to wish one on anyone else).

    What’s needed is a personal ethnographer or oral historian. Someone to ask questions.

Charlie King’s son points this out very well in a recent E-mail.

Spent virtually the whole morning reading some of the interviews from 341st ? guys. I copied out a bit that described the difficulty of creating the corduroy roads.

Too bad I never recorded any of Dad’s memories of the experience. He wasn’t one to elaborate greatly but could if he was pressed and I’d bet his would have been as detailed and well spoken as this guy who advanced from private to Master Sargent while up there indicating him to have been a uniquely talented guy:

http://www.livinglandscapes.bc.ca/prnr/alaska/wallace.htm

In this one example, you can see some of the strengths of using the Internet, especially the world-wide web and E-mail. But also look at the Dawson project description,

http://www.livinglandscapes.bc.ca/prnr/alaska/history.htm

The project was done with face-to-face (F2F) collaboration and tangible artifacts (photos) and only then assembled for later on-line use. Other projects come in “jukebox” format, CD-ROM or DVD and/or on-line.

Project Jukebox is the digital branch of the Oral History Program at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. Project Jukebox was originally developed using hypercard in 1988, with initial support from Apple Computer’s Apple Library of Tomorrow program, and is a way to integrate oral history recordings with associated photographs, maps, and text.

http://uaf-db.uaf.edu/Jukebox/PJWeb/pjhome.htm

None of this has solved the problem of linking pictures at Flickr or elsewhere with comments and annotations from others (moderated) and downloadable with metadata intact (unless one has money for a personal website and server). The work-around here doesn’t work — photo index CKing — even if one had highest speed internet, multiple monitors, touch-toe typing, Dragon Naturally Speaking transciption, multi-feed document scanner/fax, a cat that won’t walk the keyboard, ….

Oh, and even with the bestest of tech help 😉


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Walter Soboleff, Tlingit linguist 1908-2011

2011-05-22
“Tlingit Elder Walter Soboleff Dies at 102” http://www.ktuu.com/ktuu-walter-soboleff-obituary-052211,0,4639306.story

Noted Tlingit elder Walter Soboleff dies from the Juneau Empire.

http://aprn.org/2011/05/23/tlingit-leader-walter-soboleff-passes-away/

2009-11-14 Celebrating 101 years Juneau Empire – Juneau,AK,USA
In the summer, he’d return to Alaska and work on the seine boats out of Sitka or the cold storage. The price of salmon then included humpies selling for 4 …
http://www.juneauempire.com/stories/111309/loc_516060703.shtml

2008-11-14 nonagenarian centenarian Tlingit linguist

Dr Soboleff was a main speaker at the Elders and Youth Conference and at AFN in Anchorage this year. Elders and Youth is the convention which precedes the statewide Alaska Federation of Natives annual convention. Soboleff is important in anthropological linguistics but better known for his contributions to Alaska as reverend, teacher, organizer, archivist.

Walter Soboleff, AFN 2008

1908 was the year that the 88 million Americans living at the time heard about a “ball” dropping in New York’s Time Square to celebrate the coming of a New Year; it was the first year that Americans would honor their mothers (Mother’s Day). Teddy Roosevelt was president, a postage stamp cost 2 cents, and Henry Ford was developing the Model T, which would sell for $850.
….
Kajakti, “One Slain in Battle,” was born November 14, 1908, to Alexander Ivan Soboleff, the son of a Russian Orthodox priest, and his wife, Anna Hunter of Killisnoo, Alaska. Kajakti (also spelled Kha’jaq’tii) was born into a world where his mother’s Tlingit culture was being forever changed by his father’s European one. He was named after an Angoon Clan leader to whom he was related.

As a 7 year old, Kajakti was taken to an Iicht (shaman) by his mother and was treated for reasons he never understood. He also experienced being sent to the “Russian school” in Sitka as an 8-year-old, only to be sent home again because it closed due to the overthrow of Tsar Nicholas II of Russia, its benefactor (1917). A year later, the 10-year-old served as an interpreter for a doctor who visited Killisnoo during the 1918 flu epidemic that brought many Alaska Native tribes to the edge of extinction.

JUNEAU — More than 1,000 papers documenting Alaska Native history by Tlingit elder Walter Soboleff have been posted on the Internet by Sealaska Heritage Institute in what officials are calling a unique and priceless collection.

Running from 1929 to 1995, the documents provide insight into the Native land claims struggle and the Alaska Native Brotherhood, institute president Rosita Worl said. … “He begins at a real pivotal time in our history,” she said.

from APRN.org
Web Extra: Dr. Soboleff at 100 (extended version)

Tue, October 21, 2008 At the Elders and Youth gathering that precedes the AFN convention, First Alaskans Institute trustee Byron Mallot spoke about the incredible legacy of Tlingit elder Dr. Walter Soboleff. Soboleff will turn 100 years old in November and Mallot said introducing him was humbling. Here is an extended interview with Dr. Soboleff.

[revised 2008-11-14] The Anchorage Daily Newsreader provides additional links to his birthday celebration.

CELEBRATING A CENTURY-OLD NATIVE LEADER: The tributes continue for Walter Soboleff of Juneau – a Tlingit scholar and Presbyterian pastor – who turns 100 years old today, reports the Juneau Empire. In a speech Thursday at the Southeast Alaska Native Summit, Soboleff said that as white culture overtook Alaska, he “tried to take the best of both worlds.”

His son Ross Soboleff, 57, said that pluralist attitude was novel in his father’s time. “It certainly was presented to us, and to his generation, ‘The Native ways are old. We’ve got to put those aside and take on the new life.’ He was someone who pioneered the idea that, well, no, you don’t have to put those aside, those things are part of who you are. … I can make it in this greater society we live in, but I’m still a Native. Things that are part of our way of life have validity and value. Someone had to come up with that idea. This guy was one of the first to see that it’s possible – not just see that it was possible, but to actually do it.”

The article includes photos from Soboleff’s life. Soboleff gave a dramatic keynote speech at the Elders and Youth Conference last month in Anchorage. You can hear it at the Alaska Public Radio Network site. More than 1,000 papers by Soboleff documenting Alaska Native history are being archived by the Sealaska Heritage Institute. Many can be seen here.


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Notes for the WWII Aleutians Alaska NM project

Thursday, September 02, 2004
Bataan Prisoners’ Returned to SFe’s Bruns Hospital http://tinyurl.com/j3yak

When the Wind Was a River: Aleut Evacuation in World War II or http://tinyurl.com/l49ay

Book review of Dean Kohlhoff’s When the Wind Was a River: Aleut Evacuation in World War II. Lydia T. Black, Ph.D. / Reprinted from: Pacific Historical Review v65, n4 (Nov 1996)

This book about the experience of a small group of indigenous Native American inhabitants of the Aleutian Archipelago during and after World War II. One of the villages was Atka — where the Chapel of St. Nicholas was damaged. […]


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Nonagenarian autobiographies

Ruth Gruber, woman of letters, tells her own story.
The Truro Daily News

Witness: One of the Great Correspondents of the 20th Century Tells Her Story by Ruth Gruber

With her perfect memory (and plenty of zip), 95-year-old Ruth Gruber – adventurer, international correspondent, photographer, maker of (and witness to) history, responsible for rescuing hundreds of thousands of Jewish refugees during the Second War II and after – tells her story in her own words and photographs.

Gruber’s life has been extraordinary and extraordinarily heroic. She received a B.A. from New York University in three years, a master’s degree from the University of Wisconsin a year later, and a Ph.D. from the University of Cologne (magna cum laude) one year after that, becoming at age 20 the youngest Ph.D. in the world (it made headlines in The New York Times; the subject of her thesis: the then little-known Virginia Woolf).

At 24, Gruber became an international correspondent for the New York Herald Tribune and travelled across the Soviet Arctic, scooping the world and witnessing, firsthand, the building of cities in the Siberian gulag by the pioneers and prisoners Stalin didn’t execute … and when she was 33, Ickes assigned another secret mission to her – one that transformed her life: Gruber escorted 1,000 Holocaust survivors from Italy to America, the only Jews given refuge in this country during the war. […]

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Somewhere Towards the End by Diana Athill 192pp, Granta Books, £12.99

http://books.guardian.co.uk/review/story/0,,2239306,00.html
It’s a relief to find an amusing look at getting old, says Katharine Whitehorn
Saturday January 12, 2008, The Guardian

Diana Athill is 90 and has almost no regrets, despite having lived a life which most women of her class and era might have thought regrettable in the extreme.

And she still thinks so; that’s the joy of it. Although she sees with grim clarity the drawbacks and horrors of old age, illness, death, what comes across most is her acceptance and interested curiosity about the condition. She knows she has to be a carer for Barry, who has become diabetic and has other health problems and won’t control his diet. She dislikes being a carer very much and grumpily asks herself: “If a life so severely diminished is shortened by eating doughnuts what will it matter?” But she accepts it.

From The Times, January 11, 2008
Reflections on the gravity of growing older, Jane Shilling
http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/comment/columnists/jane_shilling/article3166519.ece
I’ve just been reading Somewhere Towards the End, Diana Athill’s memoir of old age

From The Times, http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/comment/columnists/guest_contributors/article3168331.ece

January 11, 2008
Sleepwalking into a crabbit old age– What are we doing introducing more health screening to allow us to live even longer? Valerie Grove

As Jane Shilling wrote, reviewing Somewhere Towards the End, by 90-year-old Diana Athill, Athill is cheered that women in her family “make old bones and good deaths”. But there is a chilly coda to this. Athill looked after her own dying mother.

…Athill has observed that good deaths tend to require the presence not merely of the principal actor, who is too busy dying to take charge of the manner of his or her demise, but also a producer and director, in the person of a daughter.

“But I have no daughter… And I haven’t got the money to pay for care of any kind. If I don’t have the luck to fall down dead while still able-bodied, it will be the geriatric ward for me.”

Even her redoubtable mind shrinks from this. “Fortunately, if a prospect is bleak enough, the mind jibs at dwelling on it,” she stoically adds.

We all jib at it: but for most the geriatric ward is the reality,

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/arts/main.jhtml?xml=/arts/2008/01/11/boath106.xml

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