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American Folklife Center Collections: Alaska

This guide provides access to ethnographic resources documenting expressive culture in the state of Alaska at the Library of Congress.

Introduction

Ree Nancarrow, artist. 1996 Alaska State Winner. Lands' End All-American Quilt Contest Collection. Library of Congress American Folklife Center.

American Folklife Center collections from Alaska document the diversity of its expressive culture. Among its unique holdings are extensive recordings from Alaska Native and Native American communities, dating back to 1904, as well as interviews about pioneer life in Alaska in the early 20th century and performances of songs dating back into 19th century Alaskan history. The latter include the performance of a 28-verse song telling the story of early Russian settlers in Sitka ca. 1808-1810; recordings and manuscripts pertaining to Charles Whitfield Carter who came to Alaska in 1901; an interview with a missionary doctor recorded in 1941; and performances of Gold Rush and traditional logging songs by Paul Roseland (1928-2019), the "Singing Sourdough."

The materials from indigenous communities include the 1904 Tlingit cylinder recordings assembled by John Swanton; Ingalik songs from 1925; Haida songs and tales from 1963; multiple Tlingit and Athabascan collections gathered by Frederica de Laguna, sometimes in partnership with other researchers; as well as more recent performances by Tlingit and Yupik dancers. The De Laguna collections overlap or are complemented by her materials deposited at the American Philosophical Society Library in Philadelphia and at the Smithsonian's National Anthropological Archives, so all three repositories should be consulted to see what documentation exists. More recently, the collection of Tlingit songs and texts gathered by Nora Marks Dauenhauer and Richard Dauenhauer between 1960 and 1997 has come to the Library, paralleling the Dauenhauer Tlingit Oral Literature Collection at the Sealaska Heritage Institute Archives.

Collections of Interest

The following materials link to fuller bibliographic information in the Library of Congress Online Catalog. Links to digital content are provided when available.

Public Programming

In this audio excerpt of a presentation at the Library of Congress, Chuna McIntyre explains a song in English, then sings it in Central Yup'ik. The song concerns a vision of the arrival of Europeans in Alaska by a Yup'ik medicine man a year before the exploration of the Alaska coastline by Captain James Cook between April and September, 1778. The Yup'ik had little further contact with Europeans until the second half of the nineteenth century, as they live north of the areas favored by Russian fur traders. Forms part of the Chuna McIntyre and the Nunamata Yup'ik Eskimo Dancers at the Library of Congress Collection. November 12, 2003