Native American History Month: Alaska Native Representation in Historic Newspapers

Please note: Photos in this post contain racist imagery and terms.

Eskimo banner

Image credit: Evening public ledger. (Philadelphia [Pa.]), 29 Sept. 1922. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. <http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn83045211/1922-09-29/ed-1/seq-22/>

“Alaska Native” can refer to members of several different tribes including Aleut, Athabascan, Alutiiq, Haida, Inupiat, Tlingit and Yup’ik, among many others:

anlmap

Image credit: University of Alaska Fairbanks

But too often in Historic Alaska newspapers, (primarily) white men and women represented Alaska Natives in ways that relied heavily on stereotypes to reduce populations of people to caricature.

The issue of Native American representation looms large, in part due to the most recent National Geographic photo essay on the prevalence of Native American imagery on a global scale, the ongoing exhibit “Americans” at the Museum of the American Indian that highlights the current and historic use of products that employ Native American imagery in everyday objects, and an essay from the Jim Crow Museum of Racist Imagery on the harmful, reductive nature of Native American stereotypes.

As a reflection of the times in which the papers were printed, writers used racial slurs or derogatory names to describe nonwhite peoples. The sheer number of pages with the highlighted epithets points to the commonplace nature discrimination against Alaska Natives. By contrast, only 3 pages contain the tribal name Tlingit, all of which reference the same advertisement, 0 pages contain Yup’ik, although there are 1424 pages that contain “Eskimo”, a pejorative term for Yup’ik and Inupiaq Alaska Natives, and one considered offensive to many members of the Inuit tribe in Canada.

In particular, the Eskimo imagery used frequently in newspaper advertisements reduces Alaska Native peoples to crude stereotypes- ones that persist in ads to this day.

Advertisers used Eskimos to sell a number of additional products. These remained particularly prevalent in papers across the Lower 48 to evoke the chilly nature of an ice cream treat or a refreshing soda, and relied on the exoticism of both the distant location and its people.

 

It is important to note that products used Eskimos to capitalize on indigenous imagery, while simultaneously, missionaries, businesses, and governmental agencies sought to erode the Yup’ik and Inupiaq culture and way of life.

Eskimo 2

Image credit: Evening capital news. (Boise, Idaho), 26 Nov. 1916. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. <http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn88056024/1916-11-26/ed-1/seq-16/>

Eskimo 1

Image credit: The day book. (Chicago, Ill.), 27 May 1914. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. <http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn83045487/1914-05-27/ed-1/seq-21/>

Cape prince of wales

Image credit: Evening capital news. (Boise, Idaho), 28 Jan. 1917. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. <http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn88056024/1917-01-28/ed-1/seq-14/>

Although these negative stereotypes, words, and imagery with regards to Indigenous peoples exist within a historical context, it makes their abundance no less shocking and reprehensible to encounter.

Eskimos.PNG

Image credit: Evening star. [volume] (Washington, D.C.), 17 Feb. 1952. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. <http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn83045462/1952-02-17/ed-1/seq-109/>

katzenjammer

Image credit: Evening star. [volume] (Washington, D.C.), 15 Sept. 1918. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. <http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn83045462/1918-09-15/ed-1/seq-58/>

Eskimos 1

Image credit: Evening star. [volume] (Washington, D.C.), 14 Jan. 1940. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. <http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn83045462/1940-01-14/ed-1/seq-88/>

Some may find this parsing of terms used to describe Alaska Natives in newspapers an exercise in “PC culture” or a retroactive attempt to apply current identifiers to another, earlier time. But as stewards of history, it is the job of librarians and archivists to make these primary sources accessible to illustrate the inherent viewpoints of those who created primary sources: to call out biases that informed their worldview.

The notion of agency is key: instead of (largely) white men and women speaking on behalf of Alaska Natives, newspapers such as the Tundra Times and the New Native sought to restore Indigenous voices within the newspaper sphere. The Alaska Digital Newspaper Project is working to include these titles in the upcoming round of funding.

Tundra times masthead

Image credit: Alaska State Library Historical Collections

While there is a great deal more to be done on behalf of Alaska Native representation, the inclusion of more titles to this project is a step in the right direction.

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Parts of a Newspaper: The Front Page

In this installment of the Parts of a Newspaper series, we’ll be looking at the part most central- the front page! Contributing to this post was city reporter for the Juneau Empire, Gregory Philson, who helped shed light on differences between century-old front pages to those of today.

Below is a front page from the former Alaska Daily Empire (now the Juneau Empire) almost exactly 100 years ago, in honor of our guest:Juneau Empire 100 years ago

When encountering an older front page, one of the most striking differences to the modern reader is its sometimes-chaotic layout, such as this one below from the January 5, 1923 issue of the Seward Gateway:

Where's the story

Based on this front page, there is no clear visual “path” to the story from its headline. The main headline likely functioned to draw readers into the issue, and to then send the readers in search of the story, while taking them to the other stories. Back then, headlines needed to print every story on its front page, due to the relatively high production costs. Newspapers today typically will have one “central” story surrounded by secondary ones, which may not be as important to that day.

Looking at headlines on a more micro level, an important, if sometimes overlooked, aspect of front page design is in its typography. In addition to the way words look through typefaces, kerning (letter spacing) and letting (spacing between leaders) matters greatly. Letting should allow the reader to not have to think about how the story is physically designed and to enable the content to be understood.

To demonstrate kerning, examine the headline below from the April 21, 1918 issue of The Seward Gateway Daily Edition and The Alaska Weekly Post:

Bad Kerning

Upon first glance, it is difficult to discern the meaning of the sentence when it looks like “DOUBLEMURDERATKENAI“. Being unable to understand a headline at at quick glance is a clear issue. If the reader does not know immediately what something says, they are less likely to want to read it. Moreover, the philosophy behind proper kerning is to make the words easily read by anyone, which is the objective of any newspaper. Readers simply cannot absorb information if the words themselves are not legible.

Front pages prioritize main stories that highlight conflicts (foreign wars and domestic disputes), or people and events of note. The front page can represent a microcosm of one day in history; readers can search newspaper databases like Chronicling America just by the front page of a specific title. Whether a newspaper represents a small town or a major city, its front page often reflects the people, places, incidents, and events its readers value. A front page of a newspaper reflects a singular moment in time.

Many thanks to our guest, Gregory Philson, and the Juneau Empire, for your time and insights!

 

Featured Content: Batch II: What to Expect

The second batch of Alaskan historical newspaper pages has been accepted for ingest in Chronicling America!  Batch II will include two titles, the remainder of Douglas Island News and the beginning of The Daily Alaskan.  These titles will be available on Chronicling America in December.  Currently available titles for searching are the Alaska Daily Empire (1912-1917), Douglas Island News (1898-1907), and The Thlinget (full run, 1908-1912).

Batch II Details:

  1. Douglas Island news, Douglas City, AK, 1907-1922
  2. The daily Alaskan, Skagway, AK, 1898-1905

For more information on these and other titles visit the Alaska State Library’s page on Alaska Historical Newspapers.

 

FIRST BATCH LIVE!

The first batch of Alaskan historical newspapers is live on Chronicling America – FREE for you to search.     CLICK HERE!

AlaskaDailyEmpire_1915DevelopmentIssue_ChronAm_Mill_Search_screenshot

The 1915 Development Number issue of The Alaska Daily Empire, shown in Chronicling America. Highlighted text represents a search for the term “mill”.

NOW AVAILABLE:

1,206 issues of The Alaska Daily Empire (1912-1918), 448 issues of the Douglas Island News (1898-1907), and 47 issues of The Thlinget (1908-1912).

These digitized newspaper pages are TEXT SEARCHABLE.  For tips on searching check out our previous post, Searching Chronicling America, or visit the Help page.

To start exploring Alaskan papers in Chronicling America CLICK HERE or visit Chronicling America and use the dropdown menu to select “Alaska”.

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Happy Searching!

Opening Statement: The Thlinget

The Opening Statement series features the foreword or introduction given by  editors or publishers in the first issue of the paper addressing its readers. 

 

The Thlinget

The Thlinget, August 1908, Vol. 1, No. 1

Publisher: The Sitka Training School

“FOREWARD

Our Paper bears the name of The Thlinget not because this is the name of the largest tribe of Alaskan natives but because it means “the people” Although primarally a school paper The Thlinget will be constantly devoted to the welfare of all native people of Alaska.  With this introduction we are glad to make your acquaintance and earnestly hope that our acquaintance may develop into warm friendship.”

 

Parts of a Newspaper: Advertisements

In the first installment of Parts of a Newspaper, we’ll dive into an area most people just skim over – advertisements!

Ads can tell us a lot about what is happening in a community during a particular time.  Think about the ads you see in papers today – there are advertisements for goods, businesses, and services offered to name a few.  So what can these tell us?

ValdezProspector_AdCompilation

One way to track the development of a town is to follow the types of goods and services being offered.

  • Shops – Quantity and variety
  • Clothing & housing goods – practical vs. luxury
  • Resources offered & prices – e.g. timber and coal
  • Groceries – variety of stock & prices
  • Entertainment – theaters, bars & billiards
  • Banks & Hospitals
  • Steamships – tourism, transportation, and mail delivery

There are essentials that a town on the Alaskan frontier needed to survive and then there are those that made it thrive.  Comparing businesses, resources, and the price of goods and services across time indicates of how quickly a town is growing.  As industry and business thrived, more people relocated to the towns bringing in more money, this in turn allowed businesses to start offering higher quality goods and luxury items as well as entertainment – something that there previously had not been a market or population to support.

SewardGateway_AdCompilation

Another type of advertisement to consider is the classified ad.  Job advertisements can tell us what type of work was common/available year-round and seasonally in a community.  By tracking types of and demand for employment over time you can detect shifts in industry and economy.

To conclude, advertisements in historical newspapers can offer a wealth of information on class, industry, economy, culture, and retail if you know what to look.  So next time you’re flipping through the paper take a second to study the ads and think about what they say about the marketing, industry, and economy of where you live!

!! Check out our Instagram post on advertisements to learn more about the featured image and what the editor of the Seward Gateway had to say about advertisements and growth of Seward, Alaska in 1904 !!

What is the National Digital Newspaper Program?

Part II

Why devote national resources to something that was not originally intended to be kept longer than the time it took to print the next issue?

In his 1999 response to an award granted by the Heritage Lottery Fund for the purpose of digitizing U.K. newspapers, Chris Smith, the then Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, had this to say:

“Newspapers have been called history’s first draft. The conservation of our stock of local newspapers, much of it suffering from acidity and thus difficult to handle, is incredibly important because it forms a considerable part of our nation’s archives.”¹

As one of the first mass produced means of communication, historical newspapers offer a wealth of information and insight into past events valuable to researchers across fields.  Local papers, especially those of small communities, are records of political, social, cultural, and economic development and decline.  Following are just a few examples of the types of information found in newspapers:

  • Advertisements of goods and services offered by local businesses
  • Political commentary of legislation, political figures, and elections
  • Detailed accounts of events, e.g. disasters, social gatherings and celebrations
  • Letters to the editor: what concerns were people having at that time
  • Public notices, e.g. unclaimed mail, emergency notification and instruction, and delinquent taxes
  • Obituaries: often the only source of detailed information on a person’s life in those times

*A note on what historical newspapers do not do: provide a full record of the human experience by largely ignoring or selectively representing minority populations, often in an unfavorable light.

The concept behind Chronicling America is access.  To have this wealth of information preserved is only one aspect of the National Digital Newspaper Program (NDNP).  The webpage Chronicling America (chroniclingamerica.lov.gov), run by the Library of Congress, ensures that the public will be able to access the fruit of the NDNP’s digital labor 24/7.  Currently there are over 12 million pages of U.S. historical newspapers digitized on Chronicling America ready to be used for everything from searching consumer and fashion trends, to tracking weather history and climate change, to inspiring projects like Freedom on the Move.²  By implementing optical character recognition (OCR), these digitized pages are text-searchable, making it an extremely useful resource for researchers and educators.

While newspapers may be considered the first draft, they are still an important source of unique historical information, a chorus of voices reflecting the concerns and opinions of communities, many of which have otherwise not survived the sands of time. Their preservation is in part the preservation of not only local, but national heritage and through this they can serve as tools of education and instruction for future generations.

 


¹ J. Secker, “Newspapers and historical research: a study of historians and custodians in Wales” (unpublished doctoral thesis, University of Wales, 1999), 17.  http://openaccess.city.ac.uk/id/eprint/17693

 

² Freedom on the Move is a joint project between Cornell University, the University of New Orleans, and the University of Alabama focused on creating a database comprised of all runaway slave ads printed in historical newspapers throughout the South for the purpose of making this information accessible for analysis and education.  For more on this project visit http://freedomonthemove.org/


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For Part I of this post visit What is the National Digital Newspaper Program (Part I)