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
Museum 2: Sheldon Jackson Museum
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:
- Ice age animals
- The First People
- Artists behind Beringia
And for the Sheldon Jackson Museum they are:
- Aleut and Alutiiq
- 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!)