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Research Tools: Rasmuson Library Historical Translation Series

A Guide to Primary Resources in the Alaska & Polar Regions Collections, University of Alaska Fairbanks

Rasmuson Library Historical Translation Series

Most of the very early literature on Alaska quite rare and is in foreign languages. After receiving a large collection of very rare Alaskana donated by the National Bank of Alaska, dating from the 1700s and early 1800s, the library decided that key foreign language titles should be made available for scholars and the reading public. Scholarly works in foreign languages concerning Alaska in this era were also included.

The Rasmuson Library Translation Series program was conceived in 1981. Representative Brian Rogers (more recently UAF Chancellor) and his colleagues secured legislative appropriations to support the program for the first several years. The University of Alaska Press under UA Vice President George West took on the series, and the first volume was published in 1985. Elmer Rasmuson strongly supported the translation program and now his bequest to the library has become its primary funding source.

Translators with a scholarly interest in the subject matter of the translations have been chosen whenever possible. Several donated their effort, such as anthropologist James VanStone of the Field Museum in Chicago, David H. Kraus, head of the European Division of the Library of Congress, and Carol Urness, Curator of the James Ford Library at the University of Minnesota. Others devoted years of their time for small contracts of several thousand dollars, such as Professor Raymond Fisher of UCLA or Margritt Engel and Karen Willmore of UAA, and Professor Lydia Black and Dr. Kathy Arndt from UAF.

Published Translations

The following titles are listed in chronological order. All published in a numbered series by the University of Alaska Press.

Holmberg’s Ethnographic Sketches. Heinrich Johan Holmberg. Edited by Marvin Falk and translated by Fritz Jaensch. Vol. 1 (1985)

Holmberg was a mining specialist from Finland who took time during a visit to Alaska in 1850/51 to gather oral accounts from Native elders, especially Kodiak. Translated from the German account originally published in Helsinki, it includes accounts of the first contacts Natives had with Europeans. This volume also has his brief history of the Russian American Company and an account of the shipwreck of the Saint Nikolai as related by Homberg from the account by Timofei Tarakanov.

Tlingit Indians of Alaska by Anatolii Kamenskii. Translated with an introduction by Sergei Kan Vol. 2. (1985).

Written by a Sitka parish priest who spent three years laboring among the Tlingit, this book was published as a small Russian language edition in 1906. Professor Kan, who has done extensive field work among the Tlingit and has published widely, added additional sources from Orthodox periodicals and the Alaska Church Collection of the Manuscript Division of the Library of Congress. It is a valuable source of data for the study of the Tlingit culture, society and history circa 1900, the activity of the Russian missionaries in southeastern Alaska after 1867, and the general history of the Territory of Alaska under the American administration.

Bering's Voyages: the Reports From Russia. Gerhard Frederich Müller. Translated with commentary by Carol Urness. Vol. 3.(1986).

Professor Carol Urness of the James Ford Bell Library at the University of Minnesota has richly documented a new translation of Nachrichten von Seareisen, St. Petersburg, 1758. She explains the 18th century background of Russian exploration which led to the discovery of Alaska, describes the controversy surrounding Müller’s work, shows how this was received and what its long-term influence has been. It is extensively documented and the bibliography and footnotes provide guidance to the reader for further study.

Russian Exploration in Southwest Alaska: The Travel Journals of Petr Korsakovskiy (1818) and Ivan Ya. Vasilev (1829). Edited and introduced by James VanStone; translated by David Kraus. Vol. 4 (1988).

These accounts of some of the earliest contacts between Eskimos and European in southwest Alaska were only known until now through mention in secondary sources. VanStone, one of the leading anthropologists of Alaska in the 20th century, evaluates the geographic and ethnographic contributions made by Korsakovskiy and Vasilev.

The Khlebnikov Archive: Unpublished Journal (1800-1837) and Travel Notes (1820,1822, and 1824). Edited by Leonid Shur; translated by John Bisk. Vol. 5 (1990).

Kiriil Khlebnikov served at the Sitka headquarters as business manager of the Russian American Company for decades He travelled widely in his duties, keeping careful notes on a wide range of subjects in addition to his information on company matters. His journal includes accounts of travel to the Russian colony at Fort Ross in California and trade with Spanish and later Mexican officials there.

The Great Russian Navigator, A. I. Chirikov by Vasilii A. Divin. Translated and annotated by Raymond H. Fisher. Vol. 6 (1993).

Chirikov had served on Bering’s first voyage through Bering Strait in 1728 and was second in command during the Bering voyage of 1741 that discovered Alaska for Russia. He also made other important contributions to the cartography of 18th-century Russia. This is a translation of the first full length study of Chirikov, published in Russian in 1953. Professor Raymond Fisher of UCLA adds a preface, annotations, supplementary bibliography and a comprehensive index.

Journals of the Priest Ioann Veniaminov in Alaska, 1823 to 1836. Introduction and commentary by S.A. Mousalimas; translated by Jerome Kisslinger. Vol. 7 (1993).

These twelve journals comprise formal reports by Veniaminov (later Innokentii, an archbishop and finally Metropolitan of Moscow) to his superiors while assigned to the Unalaska parish and then the Novo-Archangelsk (Sitka) parish. Entries locate villages, provide insights into village leadership and describe travel routes and conditions. Included is an account of a trip to and description of the Russian American settlement of Fort Ross located in the newly independent Republic of California.

To the Chukchi Peninsula and the Tlingit Indians 1881/1882: Journals and Letters by Aurel and Arthur Krause. Translated by Margot Krause McCaffrey. Vol. 8 (1993).

In January 1881, the Geographical Society of Bremen, Germany, sponsored two brothers, Drs. Aurel and Arthur Krause, on a one and one-half year expedition to Alaska and the Chukchi Peninsula. This account includes the brothers’ studies and observations on natural history, ethnography and arts as well as their personal experiences.

Essays on the Ethnology of the Aleuts by R. G. Liapunova. Translated by Jerry Shelest with W. B. Workman and Lydia Black. Vol. 9 (1996).

Rosa Liapunova was the leading Russian ethnographer on the Aleut population of her generation (she died in 1992). She had access to collections not available in the West, and was able make these ethnographic artifacts and documents available through her publications. These essays are especially strong in the description of 18th century Aleut material culture.

Fedor Petrovich Litke, by Aleksandr I. Alekseev. Translated by Serge LeCompte and edited by Katherine Arndt. Vol. 10 (1996).

Litke was one of Russia’s leading scientists of the 19th century and an Arctic explorer with 4 surveying expeditions around Novaya Zemlia. He was the tutor to the Tsar’s son, Grand Duke Constantine Nikolaevich – who was destined to become the head of the Russian Navy. Litke was a founder of the Russian Geographic Society and became president of the Russian Academy of Sciences. He was in Alaska first as a senior midshipman aboard the Kamchatka, (1817-1819) and then returned years later in command of the Seniavin (1826-1829). The Litke expedition was one of the most sophisticated and productive scientific voyages to Alaska in the early 19th century, resulting in a number of seminal publications.

Grewingk’s Geology of Alaska and the Northwest Coast of America: Contributions Toward Knowledge of the Orographic and Geognostic Condition of the Northwest Coast of America, with the Adjacent Island, by Constantin Caspar Andreas Grewingk. Edited by Marvin W. Falk and translated by Fritz Jaensch. vol. 11 (2003).

Grewingk, who later became one of the Russian Empire’s leading scientists, gathered and organized everything that Russia knew about the geology of Alaska in 1850. He analyzed mineral samples sent to St. Petersburg by explorers and examined all of the publications relevant to geology and geographic exploration up to that time. This documents all known volcanic activity going back to pre-discovery oral traditions gathered by explorers and clerics. He describes phenomena that are often assumed to have been discovered only after the sale of Alaska, including specific copper, coal, and gold deposits. In addition to creating the first published mineralogical maps of the Alaskan territory, he developed some of the earliest theoretical accounts of Alaska fossils, volcanoes, and the concept of the Bering Land Bridge.

Steller’s History of Kamshatka: Collected Information Concerning the History of Kamshatka, Its Peoples, Their Manners, Names, Lifestyle, and Various Customary Practices by George Steller. Translated by Margritt Engel and Karen Willmore. vol. 12 (2003).

Everything was of interest to Georg Wilhelm Steller, who was appointed naturalist on Vitus Bering’s Second Kamchatka Expedition by the Russian Academy of Sciences. Steller arrived in Kamchatka in 1740, sailed with Bering to discover Alaska in 1741, and then stayed to compose his handwritten manuscript on Kamchatka in 1743 and 1744. That manuscript was finally published in German thirty years after his death. Steller's extensive natural history includes special contributions to the study of fish, in which he described over thirty new species and two new genera, and to ornithology, which also includes the first descriptions of numerous species. His careful observations of Kamchatka's Native peoples add to the small and invaluable collection of ethnographic and linguistic descriptions made during the initial acculturation process and the growth of a new economy based on the fur trade. He was the first scientist to suggest, based on direct observation, similarities between the ethnography and natural history of the Russian Far East and that of the newly discovered Alaska.

Through Orthodox Eyes: Russian Missionary Narratives of Travels to the Dena’ina and Ahtna, 1850’s-1930’s. Edited and introduced by Andrei A. Znamenski. vol. 13 (2003).

Through Orthodox Eyes brings into English an important collection of Russian missionary records that shed new light on the spread of Orthodox Christianity among the Athabaskan peoples of the Cook Inlet, Iliamna, Lake Clark, Stony River, and Copper River areas. These records provide unique insights into Russian perceptions of Native societies in Alaska, and include new ethnographic information on Athabaskan seasonal hunting and fishing cycles, settlement patterns, migration, demography, shamanism, marriage practices, relationships between Natives and miners, and alcohol abuse.

Until Death Do Us Part: The Letters and Travels of Anna and Vitus Bering. Edited with Commentary by Peter Ulf Møller and Natasha Okhotina Lind; translated by Anna Halager. vol. 14 (2008).

Professors Møller and Lind discovered a trove of Bering family letters, until then unknown, in Russian archives. These were published in a highly successful Danish edition in 1997. This translation is a new edition, translated into English and incorporating new discoveries and scholarship since 1997. Just before departing on his final voyage which resulted in the discovery of Alaska, Vitus, his wife Anna who accompanied him to Okhotsk and his son Anton wrote letters back home to the Baltic and St. Petersburg, many thousands of miles away. Over a period of two months in 1739-1740, sixteen letters were written, never to be delivered to their intended recipients. These letters offer intimate glimpses of family relationships and the concerns of daily life. Each letter is translated with the originals reproduced on the facing page. Also included are several lists of items brought by Anna back to Moscow in 1742, after the death of her husband. These inventories tell us about what items were considered valuable, as well as about the sort of trade goods were available to early settlers in the Russian Far East.

Natalia Shelikhova: Russian Oligarch of Alaska Commerce. Edited and translated by Dawn Lea Black and Alexander Yu. Petrov. Vol. 15 (2010).

This volume makes available for the first time a variety of primary source materials relating to the life and work of Natalia Shelikhova, a principal founder of the Russian American Company which governed Alaska up to its sale to the United States in 1867. She accompanied her husband, Gregory Shelikhov to Kodiak Island where he founded one of Alaska’s first permanent Russian settlements. The letters, petitions, and personal documents presented here will be indispensable for the students of Alaska and eighteenth nineteenth-century women's history.

Albin Johnson. Seventeen Years in Alaska: A Depiction of Life among the Indians of Yakutat. Translated by Mary Ehrlander. Volume 16 (2014).

The book was self-published in 1924 in Swedish. Johnson was stationed in Yakutat from 1889 to 1905. The book is special interest for those interested in Tlingit and in missionary history. The Swedish Evangelical Covenant missionaries Jenny Olson and Edward Anton Rasmuson both worked with Johnson in Yakutat, were married by him in 1905 and remained in Yakutat for 9 1/2 more years after Johnson left. It was in Yakutat that their son Elmer Rasmuson was born.

Exploring and Mapping Alaska: The Russian American Era, 1741-1867. Alexy Postnikov and Marvin Falk, translated by Lydia Black. Pp. ix. 525, ills. Vol. 17 (2015)

Translation Series: current and future projects

These translations often take years (and even decades) to complete. Thus there are several projects in the works at any one time.

Current Projects:

3.) Nikolai Shnakenberg, Eskimosy: istoriko-etnograficheskii ocherk (The Eskimo: Historical Ethnographic Account). 1941. / M. 0. Knopfmiller, Morskoi zveroboinyi promysel Chukotki (Sea-mammal Hunting in Chukotka), 1940.

Both of these unpublished works on the Siberian Yupik population of Chukotia are based upon observations made during the 1930’s. Both authors died during W.W. II. Each of these manuscripts is accompanied by an extensive set of unique and unpublished photographs. This material will be the only ethnographic study of this people in print from the work of Bogaraz circa 1900-1925 to renewed studies begun in the early 1970s by Mikhail Chlenov and Igor Krupnik. Peter Schweitzer (UAF Professor of Anthropology with long-term research interests in Chukotia) is serving as editor for this volume and will contribute a thirty page essay and about 15 pages of commentary to the finished book.

A contract from Rasmuson Library Translation program funds was issued to Chuner Taksami of the St. Petersburg Kunstkamera (which holds the rights to these manuscripts). The Kunstskamera provided typed copy in Russian with full publication rights for the text and the photographs. These files and the accompanying photographs were received in 1999 and 2000. Katherine Arndt has completed a draft translation of the Schnakenberg portion of the manuscript. Kathy has discovered some internal inconsistencies that lead her to think that some lines were dropped from the original when it was keyed in. The Kunstkammer has agreed to provide a newly corrected text in Russian. Professor Schweitzer would like to add an additional selection from another author (Orlova), housed in another repository and is taking steps to gain the necessary permissions.

4) The Diary of H.E.: A Displaced Life as a Creative Voyage of Discovery. Translated by Tamara P.K. Lincoln.

Helen Holl Evans left an extraordinary diary in the Estonian language, which is now in the Elmer E. Rasmuson Library Archives. She traveled the world as a displaced émigré, who lived in Norway, South Africa, England, China, Australia and elsewhere, ending her days in Fairbanks.

Tamara Lincoln (who spent her childhood in Estonia) has worked with this manuscript since she discovered it in 1977. A member of the library faculty at UAF, she was granted a sabbatical (spring semester 2005) to work on this complicated project, and continues to work on it in retirement.

5.) A. P. Lazarev, Plavanie Vokrug Svieta (Around the world voyage account), 1823.

The library originally commissioned Serge Lecompte to translate Lazarev in 1983. The draft translation is complete, but needs substantial editing.

6.) Shorter works. These will need to be grouped or published as small works.

  1. An 1864 Memorandum on the Russian American Company written by the State Chancery, Department of the State Economy, following an official review related to the proposed sale of Alaska. (Status: translation by Kathy Arndt complete, text not yet edited)
  2. “Contribution toward the Understanding of the Bone Structure of Rhytina Stelleri” by Alexander von Nordman (1861). This is a detailed description of the now extinct Steller Sea Cow based on an extant skeleton and it is accompanied by drawings. (Status: translation by Fritz Jaensch complete, but not yet edited)
  3. One of the earliest detailed accounts of Cook’s death to be published was “Professor Georg Forster’s Miscellaneous Writings about Captain Cook’s last voyage and Unfortunate Death in the Southern Sea.” (Status: this translation from the Swedish edition by Pia Oliver was commissioned and donated to us by the late Warren Howell. We have the original book)
  4. Teben’kov, “Journal to the northernmost regions of Russian America, 1832/33,” translated by Katherine Arndt. Michail Teben’kov later became the governor of Russian America. He also compiled the last great atlas of Russian America in 1852. (Status: translation complete, awaiting editing)

7.) Kathy Arndt’s translation of a Katmai journal.

Creole Nikolai R. Fomin was the Alaska Commercial Company trader resident at Katmai from May 1878 to April 1890. Three of the official journals or logbooks that he kept while post manager are preserved in the Alaska Commercial Company collection at the Rasmuson Library. Because they are handwritten in Russian, they have been virtually inaccessible to most researchers. While their primary value is for the information they provide on the seasonal round of sea otter hunting and trade, they also provide glimpses of Alutiiq village life in the 1880s. They are particularly important because they cover a period for which little Alaska Commercial Company correspondence survives.

8.) Lieutenant Unkovskii of the Russian Imperial Navy was on board the Suvorov on her round-the-world voyage to supply Russian America (1813-1816).

His manuscript voyage account has never been published. We have microfilm of both the original journal and a typescript prepared for publication in Russia during the 1930’s but never published after the editor ran afoul of the purges.

Status: Jane Miller of Middlebury College took this on as a sabbatical project in about 1982. She came to UAF to work on the project for about 3 months. She subsequently left the academic world without completing her project. Repeated attempts to contact her have proven fruitless. A new translator will be needed to complete this project.

Marvin Falk, Ph.D.
Professor of Library Science and Curator of Rare Books, emeritus
2 November 2011

Elmer E. Rasmuson Library
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