Friday, May 13, 2011

Project Jukebox’s Online Oral History Recordings

Sealaska Heritage Institute (SHI) oversees and cares for over 7,000 recordings that concern the Tlingit, Haida, and Tsimshian people, and seeks to make these materials available to the public. SHI regularly assists researchers and educators by providing access to our growing collection of recordings. While most of our historical recordings are not available digitally and online (though an inventory of our holdings is online), SHI has placed many language resources online. Many of these online language recordings assist with the language learning process. (click on image for example)

For those interested in oral history recordings online, SHI recently examined some of those online through Project Jukebox. While some individuals may have heard of Project Jukebox, a digital branch of UAF’s Oral History Program, it is unclear how many people know the details of the content available through Project Jukebox. Perhaps up to 50 recordings on Project Jukebox directly concern the Tlingit and Haida people and contain important cultural and historical information.

For those not familiar with Project Jukebox, their website states that the Oral History Program is part of Alaska & Polar Regions Collections of the Elmer E. Rasmuson Library at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. The program was established in 1981 to collect and curate audio and video recordings that relate to various aspects of Alaska's history and the people who have contributed to its rich heritage. The collection contains over 9,000 individual tapes, including interviews with politicians, pioneers, and Native elders. Key collections include "Alaska Native Songs & Legends" by the Alaska Library Association (searchable index located on ANKN site), "Early Day Alaskans" by the Tanana-Yukon Historical Society, "The Alaska Native Elders-In-Residence Program" by the UAF Alaska Native Studies Department, and "On the Road Recordings with Old Timers.”

In regards to some specific digital recordings that concern Southeast Alaska Native cultures, two larger projects include the Dry Bay Project and the Sitka National Historical Park Project.

Project Jukebox describes the Dry Bay Project in the following way;

“The Dry Bay Jukebox Project is the result of a collaborative effort between the traditional clans of Dry Bay (Gunaaxoo), the National Park Service (NPS), the National Forest Service (NFS) and the University of Alaska Oral History Office. The project was funded by the NPS, which currently manages a large portion of the traditional territory of the Gunaaxoo Kwáan, extending from Lituya Bay in the south through Glacier Bay National Preserve to the Alsek River in the north. Traditional Gunaaxoo Kwáan lands north of the Alsek River to the Italio River are presently administered by the Yakutat District Ranger's Office of the Tongass National Forest, which supported the project by providing transportation, professional expertise and access to many important places.”

The Dry Bay Project provides oral history information on the Tlingit habitation of the Dry Bay area and life in and around Yakutat, Alaska. Another segment of Project Jukebox also contains oral histories concerning Yakutat, which may prove of interest to researchers.

The Sitka National Historical Park Project is, according to the Project Jukebox website,

“comprised of fourteen oral history interviews, photographs, and a walking tour of the Russian Bishop's House. It is designed to provide an overview of the Sitka National Historical Park; its history, its facilities, and its importance to members of the Sitka community. This project was created to let Sitkans explain in their own words what the park means to them. It offers a wonderful perspective on "the meaning of place" to a community.

The bulk of the interviews included in this digital project are with Tlingit elders, artists, and National Park Service employees. It provides important information on the Tlingit and Haida art at Sitka National Historical Park, and important information about historical relations between the Tlingit and Russians during the pre-1867 period.

In summary, Project Jukebox has placed a number of important oral history recordings online that are of educational value to the Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian people. UAF Alaska & Polar Regions Collections also has additional recordings on the Tlingit, Haida, and Tsimshian that are not available digitally and online, but are available for research. While SHI’s holdings on the Tlingit, Haida, and Tsimshian are larger than UAF’s, it’s important that researchers know about the resources also available at universities in the state such as UAF.

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