Friday, June 12, 2009

The Content of Rare Books

One objective of SHI’s Special Collections Research Center is to collect special and rare books that document the Tlingit, Haida, and Tsimshian. We collect special publications because we seek to support both general and specialized research, and research often necessitates the need for unique materials. The more unique materials a library has, the stronger its research potential is at that library. We have published works dating as far back as 1798, and many of our rare books offer unique and one-of-a-kind insight into Southeast Alaska Native life. This post seeks to briefly touch upon just a couple of our many unique books, some recently obtained which were published in the 1880s and one published in Swedish during the 1920s.

During the late 1800s it was quite popular for travelers to visit places around the world, and then publish their travel accounts as a book. The adjacent scan shows the title page for the 1885 book A Trip to Alaska by George Warden. It discusses a trip Warden made to Alaska in 1879 and the places he visited. As the scan of the table of contents shows, Warden made stops in Wrangell, Sitka, and other villages in Southeast Alaska. He discussed the towns, the people, and local Native art. His book, and many books like this, offer insights into life in Alaska during the 1879 period. Other books, like the 1884 Life in Alaska by Mrs. E. S. Willard contains the published letters of a female missionary residing at Haines. Her published letters discuss life at Haines in great detail, mentioning names of people, events that transpired, and a host of other activities. Her book, like many others of the period, contains drawings of Native art items, clan houses, totems, and images concerning the Haines Presbyterian Mission. The adjacent scan is one of twenty-two sketches from the book, and this image shows Tlingit art. These are just a few books of this nature held by SHI Special Collections.

There are not only great and interesting books printed in the English language, but many in European languages since Europeans visited Alaska regularly before and after it became an American territory. Often these non-English language books go unstudied, but a careful observation shows that they can yield interesting information for those not fluent in European languages. One special book of interest is the 1924 Swedish language book Sjutton ar i Alaska by Albin Johnson. This book discusses Swedish missionary Albin Johnson’s missionary work and friendships made while serving as a missionary in Yakutat. The book contains numerous photos of people and places and discusses life in Yakutat. The adjacent scan shows one image from the book, with people dressed in traditional regalia.

Overall, SHI Special Collections aims to be a place were those interested in Tlingit, Haida, and Tsimshian studies can find resources that foster learning and educational studies on Native culture and life. SHI is proud to collect these materials and make them available to the public. If you have any questions about materials available at SHI Special Collections, contact the archivist and see our website at

1 comment:

Unknown said...

This sounds wonderful!! I would like to check out the SHI library when I go to Juneau. The early Alaska Magazine is also a wonderful place to research. I discovered these at the University of Washington.

Looking forward to your future blogs!