Archival Photos of Rural Alaska Reinforce Shared Cultural Identity
Battling place anonymity, archivists enlist Alaska Native Elders
Akiak pupils and teacher, Miss Schlosser, ca. 1930
Alaska State Library - Historical Collections
ANCHORAGE—This week, Anchorage Museum Atwood Resource Center staff and volunteers will be engaging with Alaska Federation of Natives (AFN) delegates, attendees and visitors in hopes visitors can identify people, places, notable landscape features or waterways, and elements of the built environment in historic photographs from the museum’s collection.
It is part of the museum’s award-winning Photo Identification Project established in 2013 to reinforce the significance of place in preserving shared identity and culture.
Since the project’s inception, more than 1,600 photographs have been partially or completely identified by Alaska Native elders and others who have resided or currently reside in communities throughout rural Alaska. Knowledge gathered through the project supplements Alaska’s historical record and helps present an authentic narrative of the region.
“Each year, the museum receives thousands of photos with little or no identifying information accompanying them. Without the input from AFN attendees – many Alaska Native Elders from remote parts of the state – irreplaceable knowledge of our place is at risk of being lost forever.” says Shina DuVall, Anchorage Museum senior collections manager. “One year, an Elder was able to identify a photograph showing the original location of her village, which had been relocated decades earlier, adding to Alaska’s historical and environmental record.”
In addition to collecting valuable information, the project provides an opportunity for people to connect with their past and with each other.
“Every year we see people make connections with their own history, identifying family members, friends, even themselves in older photos,” says Duvall. “We’ve even seen family members reunited – people who sit down to review photos and realize they are sitting next to their cousins.”
Photo Identification at Alaska Federation of Natives Conference
The museum’s Atwood Resource Center Photo Identification Project will be located at booth 182 on the first floor of the Dena’ina Civic and Convention Center Thursday, Oct. 18 through Saturday, Oct. 20 during AFN exhibition hall hours.
The museum’s Atwood Resource Center received two awards this year for the project from the American Association for State and Local History (AASLH): a 2018 Award of Merit and a 2018 History in Progress (HIP) Award. Leadership in History award criteria includes good history, community engagement, innovation and inclusivity. The prestigious HIP Award, given at the discretion of the Leadership in History awards committee, recognizes highly inspirational, exceptional scholarship, or exceedingly entrepreneurial in terms of funding, partnerships or collaborations, creative problem solving, or unusual project design and inclusiveness. Only five percent or fewer Award of Merit winners are given the HIP Award. In 2017, two museum Atwood Resource Center staff members received Alaska State Historical Records Advisory Board Certificate of Archival Excellence Awards for their work on the project.
The Atwood Resource Center houses the museum’s library and archives. Its focus is history, ethnography, science and art of Alaska and the North. The collection includes more than 750,000 photographs, 15,000 books, 800 rare books, 800 maps, auction catalogues, periodicals, plus artist files for thousands of Northern artists.