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Local historian’s effort makes research easier for others

Posted: March 27, 2014 - 9:34am

For the research Homer author and historian Janet Klein has done on the surrounding area, she frequently has turned to “The Ethnography of the Tanaina,” by Cornelius Osgood. Originally printed by Yale University in 1937, and reprinted in 1966 and 1976, the text remains a useful tool, except for one thing: It has lacked an index. Researchers, like Klein, had to go through the book’s 200 pages one at a time in search of applicable material.

“As best I can determined, ‘The Ethnography’ … has never been indexed, and although the book is out of print, it is and will probably remain an indispensable reference for years to come,” said Klein, who has taken it upon herself to make things easier by creating a 21-page index that covers everything from  “W. R. Abercrombie,” from whom Kodiak’s Fort Abercrombie gets its name, to Zdluiat, a village on the east side of Knik Bay.

Osgood’s is the only ethnography about the Tanaina, now Dena’ina, of Cook Inlet, offering descriptions of the material culture that the Yale professor of anthropology, who died in 1985, collected from local resources.

“Osgood was here in 1931 and again briefly in 1932, and went around Cook Inlet to various informants from various communities,” said Klein. “It was usually older men, remembering the ways of their parents and grandparents. The information he was going after was what the culture was like prior to the coming of the white person. How they ate, where and how they hunted, what was the role of different people in society. It’s really the only publication that gives us the sense of the material culture early on.”

Recognizing the book’s value, Klein has repeatedly used Osgood’s book. One example was the beluga project Klein did for the Alaska Sealife Center.

“I went page by page through it, looking for beluga and every time I found a reference, I wrote down the page number,” said Klein.

That exercise prompted her to use those notes to create an index that would make future research — hers as well as others — much easier.

“A year ago, it was like, you know, I’m retired and I should just make this a real index,” she said.

While being true to the Osgood text, Klein recognized much had changed since it was written. Her index addresses inconsistencies in spelling, updates obsolete words and attempts to clarify words with more than one meaning. For instance, she notes that Tanaina is now Dena’ina and English Bay is now Nanwalek.

Those changes don’t detract from the value of Osgood’s work, however.

“Now of course, there’s so much reference to the Dena’ina and the new exhibit and new books coming out by the Dena’ina people themselves, and anthropologists and museums, but I think this will always be a major reference for people wanting to do research,” said Klein. 

One of those newer glimpses of the Dena’ina culture is “Dena’inaq’ Huch’ulyeshi: The Dena’ina Way of Living,” an exhibit recently on display at the Anchorage Museum. The exhibit, which will make a visit to the Pratt Museum later this year, features artifacts, multimedia presentations and text that looks at the culture’s past and present.

While Osgood’s book has been printed three times, the pagination and material have remained the same, making Klein’s index applicable to any of the three printings.

Copies of the “Index to the Ethnography of the Tanaina,” described by Klein as “a wee publication with terrific information,” are available directly from Klein through Kachemak Country Publications and cost $12 each.

For more information, contact Klein at 235-8925 or janetklien12@gmail.com.

McKibben Jackinsky can be reached at mckibben.jackinsky@homernews.com. 

 

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