Monday, January 07, 2008

How Did the Alaska Press Overlook This One?

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,


Cathy said...

Thanks for stopping by my blog. Yes, she is a Karelian Bear Dog. She will be 1 year old at the end of January. She is a really great dog.

Where did you get yours, I got Kaija from a lady in Soldotna. Kaija's mom is from Bearrunoff Kennels breeding before they switched to AKC purebred technically she is mostly KBD with a bit of diluted Russo European Laika. I could care less really......she does what I need her to do and she is KBD to the core in heart.

CabinDweller said...

I got Lita from a very cool person in Kasilof. Like a lot of KBDs in the U.S., she, too, is from lines that have some REL mixed in - which I don't really care about - I'm not planning on breeding dogs.

The good thing is, folks who are into that sort of thing (pedigrees, shows, etc.) have figured out how the mixing happened and where, so people who want to buy a dog (which isn't cheap) can do some checking and make sure they're getting what they think they're getting.

Deirdre Helfferich said...

Dorothy Jean Ray was one hell of a woman. I knew of her through the University of Alaska Press. She liked a book I had worked on there, and sent me a kind letter about it. She was sought after by our editors as a reviewer of manuscripts. There are some obituaries for her: in the WCF Courier and other papers. It's pretty minimimal, and you're right, it's amazing that no Alaska paper has run it. Maybe I can.

CabinDweller said...

Yeah, the same obit ran in the ADN. I'm grumpy because I thought she rated more than just the obit. Perhaps a feature story on her work and some of the folks she worked with or influenced. People out in rural AK respected her.