Chief Peter John Collection

Our indexer, Alex has finished describing the Chief Peter John Collection which we have put online in Alaska’s Digital Archives.  Here’s what he has to say:

Indexing photos can be a strange, sometimes incongruous experience. Certain collections offer surprisingly intimate insights into the lives of people you’ve never met and know next to nothing about. As a Nevadan, and having moved to Alaska only recently, I know precious little about Alaska’s native peoples. Until a few months ago, I’d never heard of Chief Peter John. Even now, after indexing some +700 photos of his life, I still know precious little. After all, here is a man who, on June 28th, 1914—the day Archduke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated in Sarajevo—was living the subsistence lifestyle of an Athabascan in Minto, Alaska. How much could I really know?

Even for someone better acquainted with Alaska and its peoples, the photographs of the Chief Peter John Collection offer an intimate but necessarily limited look at a man whose life was long and rich, by any measure. He was born in 1900 and died in 2003. He served as Tanana Chiefs Conference Traditional Chief from 1992 to 2003 Though a few photos depict Peter John earlier in life, most focus on his later years, some even dealing with his burial and funeral potlatch, as in “Chief Peter John’s funeral potlatch, Minto.”

Chief Peter John's funeral potlatch, Minto.

Chief Peter John’s funeral potlatch, Minto.

This, to me, is one of the most powerful photos in the collection. The depth of emotion on display here is irrepressible. It leaps out and grabs you. On the one hand, I’ve never been to a potlatch—much less the funeral potlatch of a Traditional Chief—but to look at this photo, to see the movement, the open mouths, the drumstick poised to strike the drum, is to glean some of the heat and sound from the real thing. And this is precisely what I mean when I talk about the incongruous experience of indexing. The appearance of familiarity within the unfamiliar. The realization that Peter John liked to drink Coke, a realization I came to after seeing him with cans of it, in photograph after photograph. To know such a seemingly innocuous detail is, I think, a kind of intimacy.

And then there’s the matter of Elsie, Peter’s wife. He must have loved her deeply. I know because, even in photos taken several years after her death, he can still be seen wearing the blue cap that commemorates her life.

An intimacy, indeed.

Edge of the bed.

Edge of the bed.

Man, woman, and child

Man, woman, and child.

Peter John in blue cap.

Peter John in blue cap.



Research room closed for lunch

The research room will be closed from 12:30-1:30 pm today.

We are very sorry for the inconvenience.

Arnold Granville Photographs

Native Alaskan girl.

Native Alaskan girl.

Our indexer, Lisa has finished describing the Arnold Granville Photographs which we have put online in Alaska’s Digital Archives.  Here’s what she has to say:

Arnold Granville took over 300 photos as a district supervisor for the Alaska Department of Education,though he had been a teacher and a principal prior to his taking on the supervisory role. Some of the places he lived and taught school are seen in this collection, where he makes mention of them. Most of these photos were taken between 1953 and 1965, though a few were taken as late as 1975. A large portion of these photos are taken in the Aleutian Islands and the Alaska Peninsula. There are a few photos of schools in the Interior, such as Minto and Tok. Some of the larger schools are also captured in this collection, such as Anchorage High School and Palmer High School. I found Afognak’s schools interesting, though sadly they did not survive the tsunami that destroyed the village in 1964 after the Good Friday earthquake.

Dick Avery and students.

Dick Avery and students.

I absolutely love this collection! Having worked in elementary schools for almost ten years, I thoroughly enjoyed seeing the many students and school buildings of rural Alaska. Many of the locations are very remote, and strikingly beautiful. The views out of some school windows are of pristine Alaskan bays and mountains. Several of the schools were one-room schoolhouses serving all grades in the area in which they were built. One school had a VW mini-bus as their school bus. Another school, in Anaktuvuk Pass, had to be flown in! The teacherages were unique as well, since many of them were actually a part of the school building itself. A few of them were trailers next to the school, while some were quaint little (emphasis on little) cabins near the school buildings. One can only imagine the challenges of conducting school in such isolated places, where supplies must be flown in or brought in by boat. If you enjoy looking at maps, I suggest looking up some of these locations on Microsoft virtual earth—it really gives a good perspective on how remote many of these schools really were. One can only imagine what it might have been like to be a teacher fresh out of college, going to teach in one of these Alaskan villages.

View of Chignik from Anchorage Bay.

View of Chignik from Anchorage Bay.

Alaskan Air Command Photograph Collection

Our indexer, Alex has finished describing the The Alaskan Air Command Photograph Collection which we have put online in Alaska’s Digital Archives. Here’s what he has to say:

This is an album comprised of twenty-five photos documenting Operations Rainbow and Fish for Kids, the Air Command’s efforts to stock Lake Louise, Green Lake, Gregory Lake, and Six Mile Creek with rainbow trout during the summer of ’55. Mostly practical but occasionally striking, the photos are composed in black and white, with captions that provide fairly detailed descriptions of the steps involved in stocking Alaska’s waterways.

Carried in suspension by the water.

Carried in suspension by the water.

Carried in suspension for the water,” for example, depicts several hundred trout fry being introduced to Six Mile Creek via a long hose attached to a tank in the back of a truck. “Past tests have proven losses are negligible by this method,” says the caption, though, to my mind, the most interesting thing about this photo is its composition: While two men labor to operate the hose in the foreground, in the background, a film crew has set up on the banks of the creek. In this way, an entire scene is evoked.

Rainbow fry in the troughs

Rainbow fry in the troughs.

Similarly, “Rainbow fry in the troughs” is a dynamic image that offers insight into an earlier step in the fish-planting process. “This is the start of Project ‘Fish for Kids,’” reads the caption, and the picture itself is positively brimming with different energies and textures: sun and shadow; the still, sturdy grid formed by the troughs; the squiggling and the wriggling of the fish.

Personnel that made the plant.

Personnel that made the plant.

Finally, “Personnel that made the plant” gives us a look at the men involved in these projects, putting a human face on the whole operation. It’s the final photograph in the collection, which I think is fitting. Though the Alaskan Air Command Photograph Collection is probably of most interest to those involved in fisheries or in the history of fish-stocking in Alaska, it’s also full of unique and compelling images from a bygone era.

New Jukebox!

The Oral History Program at Elmer E. Rasmuson Library at the University of Alaska Fairbanks is pleased to announce completion of the Cold War in Alaska: Nike Missile Sites Project Jukebox, available on-line at

People who visit this site can listen to oral history recordings with veterans who worked at Nike Missile Sites in Anchorage and Fairbanks in the 1960s, as well as with experts on the effects of the Cold War on Alaska. You can hear about damage to the missile sites in Anchorage from the 1964 Earthquake, and what it was like working with nuclear warheads. There are stories about spies, airplanes being shot down, and the role Alaska played in the Cold War.

This project was supported by funding from the Alaska Historical Commission.

For more information about the project, please contact:

Leslie McCartney, Curator of Oral History, University of Alaska Fairbanks    (907) 474-7737

Karen Brewster, Research Associate, University of Alaska Fairbanks    (907) 474-6672

cold war jukebox_publicity announcement

50th anniversary reception today!

Archives50 flyer 2015-06-26-B-1

On the Road Recording Old Timers: the British Petroleum Oral History Project

Otto and Mattie Steiner

Otto and Mattie Steiner

Our indexer, Lisa has finished describing the On the Road Recording Old Timers: the British Petroleum Oral History Project which we have put online in Alaska’s Digital Archives.  Here’s what she has to say:

This collection is an added component of a much larger project which was a series of interviews done with pioneer Alaskans. Recorded in 1990, these interviews covered a wide range of Alaskan life. Take, for instance, Alaskan coal miners from the mid-1940s…you can almost feel the camaraderie among the miners.  It can also be seen between the artillery soldiers stationed at Yakutat Bay during World War II.

One of my favorite pieces in this collection was a Christmas card made from a photograph of Clyde and Nellie Sherman. The letter on the back was written to Nellie’s friend during World War II, providing an interesting glimpse into that time in history.

Tank at Ladd Field

Tank at Ladd Field

Pearl Bragg Laska (nee Chamberlain) had a challenging time getting to Alaska in 1944, where she’d heard there was a need for pilots—but make it she did.

From founders of homes for girls, to hunters, farmers, and educators, you’ll find plenty of interest within this collection.  You’ll even find Shirley Temple Black making an appearance in this collection during her visit to Fairbanks!

The taped interviews that go along with the photos in this collection are available at the Rasmuson library; some have been put online in Alaska’s Digital Archives. I hope you’ll take the time to listen to a few. I’ve had the privilege of listening to some and I highly recommend them! They give a world of meaning to the photos you’ll see in this collection.

Coal truck on the move

Coal truck on the move


The library is closed to the public today, Wednesday, June 24, 2015. Consequently the research room is closed  to the public.  We are very sorry for the inconvenience.

Do you have a story about the Archives that you would like to share?

Please post it on the 50th anniversary website:


Alaska and Polar Regions Collections & Archives 50th

George A. Morlander Photographs

Our indexer Lisa has finished describing the George A. Morlander Photographs collection which we have put online in Alaska’s Digital Archives. Here’s what she has to say:

Fishing boat at pier.

George Morlander moved to Alaska from Minnesota in 1925 to teach for the Alaska Native Service (ANS). The ANS teaching positions in various schools took George and his wife, Lona, to Kivalina, then along the Yukon and Kuskokwim Rivers, and then on to southeastern Alaska. George later became the superintendent of the ANS boarding school in Eklutna, Alaska. Though the boarding school moved locations twice after World War II, George chose not to move with the school. He had suffered a leg injury while traveling by dog sled, and this factored into his decision to finish his career as an administrative assistant in Bethel. Moving to Ferndale, Washington upon his retirement in 1952, George lived until 1986 when he passed away at the age of 92.

Fishing through ice

Fishing through ice.

The 826 color slides that make up the George A. Morlander collection show an amazing cross-section of Alaskan geography and culture. Mostly taken between 1948 and 1950, these photos cover locations all over the state of Alaska. The varied subjects of these photos range from school children at recess, to fishing and subsistence living, to dog sledding and other travel, to landscapes, and more. Many photos capture Native Alaskans in traditional dress, as in photos UAF-1997-108-844, UAF-1997-108-878, and UAF-1997-108-765. Some evoke a feeling of wonder at the vastness of this state, and some a healthy respect for the harshness of the climate in this land. In working through this collection, I felt I became a little better acquainted with this state and its people. It was very difficult to pick out just a few photos to highlight, as there are so many great ones in this collection!

Train passes mountains.

Train passes mountains.