Travels Among the Dena: Exploring Alaska's Yukon Valley

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University of Washington Press, Jul 1, 2000 - Social Science - 368 pages
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This robust and engaging travel narrative re-creates a remarkable adventure in the summer of 1935, when Frederica de Laguna, then in her late 20s, led a party of three other scientists down the rivers of the middle and lower Yukon valley, making a geological and archaeological reconnaissance. De Laguna has based her story on her field notes, journals, and letters home. She augments this first-hand account with excerpts from the reports of earlier explorers and data published after her trip. The result is a fascinating and informative cross-cut of historical events along the Yukon River and its tributaries.

Travels Among the Dena chronicles the expedition from its outfitting in Seattle and the trip by steamer and railway to Fairbanks and Nenana, through an 80-day journey on skiffs down the Tanana and Yukon rivers to Holy Cross near the coast, with side trips on the Koyukuk, Khotol, and Innoko rivers, before a one-day return flight to Fairbanks with pioneer bush pilot Noel Wien. Maps illustrate the route taken downriver, and the author’s photographs capture images of the time. The resulting volume is both a delightful addition to the literature of travel adventure in Alaska and an important contribution to the discipline of anthropology.

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About the author (2000)

Frederica De Laguna, October 3, 1906 - Frederica Annis Lopez de Leo de Laguna was born on October 3, 1906, the daughter of two philosophy professors. Though she was sickly as a child, her tastes were for the academic and so she was never hindered in her pursuit of knowledge. Her father, who had a strong influence in her life, regaled her with stories of his many travels and instilled in a young Frederica a thirst for different cultures. She first attended the progressive Phoebe Thorne Smith School, but was also privately tutored to supplement her schooling and to teach her French. On a family sabbatical to France, De Laguna attended the Lycee de Jeune Filles at Versailles. She received a scholarship to Bryn Mawr College and went there to study both economics and psychology, but had to drop the latter after she fell ill. At her graduation, she was awarded the prestigious Bryn Mawr European Fellowship which would allow her to continue her education abroad, travelling through Europe. But before she left for Europe, De Laguna took a year of Anthropology at Columbia University. Through that course, she discovered a career where all of her talents would be utilized, as well as an interest in all things eskimo. In 1928, De Laguna left for Europe. She went first to England to study prehistory and then to France to join a field school at the Dordogne area. There she met other anthropologists, but returned again to London for a seminar with Bronislaw Malinowski. From there, De Laguna traveled to Copenhagen, Denmark and met the great Arctic archaeologist, Therkel Mathiassen. She took a six month trip with him to Greenland where the two discovered the unknown Inugsuk culture, which dated back to Norse times. In 1932, De Laguna returned to Columbia and wrote her dissertation on the relation of Paleolithic and Eskimo Art. She began Alaskan research in 1930 with Dr. Kaj Birket-Smith and in 1934 published "Archaeology of Cook Inlet Alaska" which was so thorough that it was reissued in 1975 by the Alaska Historical Society. She then went on to study Chugack prehistory, which was financed by the United States Soil Conservation Service. She quit that for a National Research Council Fellowship, which allowed her to study at various American and Canadian libraries and museums. In 1938, De Laguna returned to Denmark to review the collections she made with Birket-Smith. This trip was funded by the proceeds from the publication of her fictional detective stories in 1937. She also served as a delegate for the University of Pennsylvania Museum for the International Congress of Anthropological and Ethnological Sciences in Copenhagen. De Laguna joined the WAVES during World War II, leaving in 1945 as a Lieutenant Commander. She returned to Alaskan fieldwork in 1947 where she studied the Tinglit village and eventually wrote her crowning work "Under Mount Saint Elias" in 1972. By 1967, De Laguna had created and chaired the Anthropology Department at Bryn Mawr. She retired from there in 1975, and was awarded with the Linbach Award and made a Kenan Professor, an endowed award. In 1975, she was elected to the National Academy of Science. De Laguna was the President Elect of the American Anthropological Association, and, as a member in 1960, edited and published "Selected Papers from the American Anthropologists, 1888 - 1920.

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