Museums in the North offer special experiences to those visiting and those living in the North.  For visitors they have the opportunity to share Northern life, history, culture and being.  For locals, museums offer ways to connect even deeper with their home, land, neighbors, forbearers, community, visiting scholars, artists and more.  

For this assignment, I have chosen two museums that I have had the opportunity to visit, one I have visited as a sort of local as it is located in Alaska, in a community that I am very familiar with and the other as a visitor as I have only been to the community and museum once in my adolescents while traveling. Both of these museums have connections to large Northern historical events that changed the landscape of the North forever; The Ice age and Colonial assimilation.  

The museums are the Yukon Beringia Interpretive Center which focuses on the unique ice age heritage of Yukon and the other being the Sheldon Jackson Museum which Museum’s collection comes from the Rev. Dr. Sheldon Jackson, a Presbyterian missionary who served as General Agent for Education in Alaska in the 1890s.

 

Museum 1:Yukon Beringia Interpretive Center

https://www.beringia.com/ 

 

Museum 2: Sheldon Jackson Museum

https://museums.alaska.gov/sheldon_jackson/ 

 

As stated both these museums focus on times of great change in the north and reflect unique periods in Northern history that resulted in very changed landscapes.

 

According to their website: 

 

“The Beringia Centre is dedicated to the presentation and preservation of the First Nations and scientific history of the vast sub-continent called Beringia.”

 

And focuses primarily on land based history.  

 

In contrast the Sheldon Jackson Museum is more based around its founders collection and collecting practices during contact times and features artifacts from all across Alaska, as stated by their website:

 

“he made annual trips to Alaska, traveling extensively throughout the region. Dr. Jackson took collecting seriously, acquiring nearly 5,000 items during his travels.”

 

This connects the museum to this one historical figure and his ideologies about collecting Indigenous culture.  

 

It seems very much so at opposite directions for one museum to focus on history that had such a large impact and large range that they have access to it all the way in the Yukon and in contrast the Sheldon Jackson museum’s range is brought on by one man’s travels and access to cultures that were historically isolated from one another.  The concepts of “shared” history feel different in the context of these two museums. 

 

Both museums each have four exhibits listed.  For the the Yukon Beringia Interpretive Center they are:

 

  • Beringia
  • Ice age animals
  • The First People
  • Artists behind Beringia

 

And for the Sheldon Jackson Museum they are:

 

  • Aleut and Alutiiq
  • Athabascan
  • Inupiat and Yup’ik
  • Northwest Coast

 

My memory of the Yukon Beringia Interpretive Center only serves recall the Ice age animals exhibit, which at the time really blew my mind, as these sorts of skeletal fossils are like nothing I had seen before and the knowledge of this kind of Natural History of the North was really fascinating to me as a teenager.  The articulated skeletons were huge and created a sense of awe in me that I still remember.  Seeing as I have only been there once, this exhibit really was the big takeaway for me and I have always wanted to see it again to learn more.  The Sheldon Jackson museum exhibits are in an octagonal room and sectioned into quarters, with each exhibit having its own quarter.  These exhibits also left a large impression as they are some of the most intact objects from contact times with a large variety of objects that were made before major impacts to cultural changes filtered into the material culture of Alaska’s Indigenous peoples, meaning that the influences of colonization are a lot less visible.  I have had the pleasure of participating in an Artist residency there several years ago and had visited the museum several times due to connections to the community of Sitka and The Sheldon Jackson college.  For the Sheldon Jackson Museum the building and campus itself are apart of the history that they are trying to preserve, because of this the spaces feel old and dated, the building itself is:

 

“the oldest museum in Alaska and is located in the first concrete building in the state. Construction began in 1895 and it has been occupied since 1897. The building was placed on the National Historical Register in 1972.”

 

In contrast the Yukon Beringia Interpretive Center has been remodeled and rebranded several times and has been criticized and praised for its Architecture, winning at least three architectural awards for its design:

 

  • AIA Western International Design, Award of Merit, 2000
  • Governor General’s, Medal of Excellence, 1997
  • Alberta Association of Architects, Merit Award 1995

 

Both these museums are places I want to visit again and spend more time in and I feel that while they go about it in very different ways they both offer a connection to Northern Historical events  that are still living with us today.  Quyana!

 

Q: What type or topic museum would you hope to see in the North?  (I wish we had an indigenous technologies and sciences museum, among many others!)

5 Thoughts to “The Yukon Beringia Interpretive Center and Sheldon Jackson Museum”

  1. Dylan Debuse

    Erin,

    That is so cool that Alaska’s oldest museum is in the first concrete building of the state! It’s neat how the museums you chose can be contrasted by the the amount architectural work put in.

    Dylan

    1. Dylan Debuse

      Erin,
      I completely forgot to answer your question in my last comment.

      I think Music in the last frontier is an unfortunately under appreciated topic and I think with all of the wonderful Native Alaskan musicians in the state, a really great exhibit could be made on the sounds of Alaska.

      Dylan

  2. Michael Hubert

    Erin,
    like Dylan said I would like to see music as a part of a exhibit , and modern day art from native Alaskans , also I would like to see my technology from this area from fishing to flight
    good post this week

  3. Tony Thompson

    Hi Erin,
    I love the Sheldon Jackson Museum! I was able to visit in the fall of 2019 when I was in Sitka for Whalefest. It was really awe-inspiring seeing all of the pieces and being in such an old space. As a science nerd, I totally agree with you that an Indigenous Science and Technology museum would be incredible! I also love learning about how animals evolved in these spaces, so I always enjoy exhibits like Ice Age animals and the like. Thanks for sharing!

  4. Angela Linn

    Thanks Erin – great compare/contrast between two really different northern museums! I visited the Yukon Beringia Interpretive Center about five years ago when my son was still pretty young and we were both also impressed with all the Pleistocene animals on display! It provided a wonderful sense of wonder for young and old. We were there as part of the Canadian Archaeological Association meetings (Josh was presenting at the conference) so it was full of archaeologists eating appetizers, so it might have had a slightly different feel, but there was a lot of life and energy in the space.

    I have yet to step foot into the Sheldon Jackson Museum, but I’ve spent a good deal of time thinking about the impact of Jackson – both his assimilative educational policies that contributed to the loss of Alaska Native languages in contrast with his desire to preserve the cultural heritage of Alaska Native people in the first museum of Alaska! The museum is itself a historical artifact and it has faced major threats in its past (most recently the proposed sale by Gov. Dunleavy, which thankfully was not followed through with: https://www.alaskapublic.org/2019/03/12/state-plans-to-sell-sheldon-jackson-museum-in-cost-cutting-efforts/). I hope future governors can see the importance of it, and all the museums of Alaska for the reasons you point out.

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