Noted Alaskan Historian, Dorothy Jean Ray, 1919-2007
Preeminent Alaska historian Dorothy Jean Ray passed away on Dec. 12, 2007 and didn't even get a story in one of Alaska's newspapers. I wouldn't have known had I not read the Dec. 12 print version of the ADN and the boxed obit purchased by the Ray family. An obituary ran in the Dec. 16 edition of the paper.
Who, you ask?
Think of the cliche 'standing on the shoulders of giants' because that is what every historian/ethnohistorian/ethnographer/anthropologist working in Northwest Alaska (with the exception of Ernest Burch) is doing when they work in that area. You can't talk about the history of the Nome region as a whole or its villages without referencing Ray. When working on my master's thesis, I had to read just about everything she ever wrote and there are citations sprinkled liberally throughout.
So, yes, I've just outed myself as a history geek, but perhaps those of you of a similar bent will understand when I say that even her footnotes were worth reading - and taking a look at her citations gives you a good idea of how widely read and what a meticulous researcher she was.
Her writing shows shows a sharp intelligence, a definite sense of humor, and her dedication to and affection for a part of Alaska that so few of our state's residents will ever see, let alone understand. Other than the Iditarod and the Gold Rush, that is. Note: I'll be editing this later.
Her type of history wasn't just based on the written word, one of the chief flaws of what I like to call 'old dead white guy history.' She actually talked to the Alaska Native folks of the region she was writing about, interviewing elders and capturing information that would have been lost with each elder who has since passed. Oh, this approach is unremarkable now, but back when she started, it was not the way history was written.
I never actually met her, but owe so much of my understanding of that part of Alaska to her work that I made a point of thanking her in the introduction to my thesis. A colleague passed on the paper and later told told me she had been glad for the acknowledgment.
What a shame that no one acknowledged her life and contributions in print.
Quyana, Ms. Ray.
Above: Photo nicked from the Anchorage Daily News obit, http://www.legacy.com/ADN/Obituaries.asp?Page=LifeStory&PersonId=99647290.