Alaska Native Historian Holly Guise on the Value of Oral Histories

Alaska Native historian Holly Miowak Guise (Iñupiaq) reflects on how recorded oral accounts connect Alaskans and incorporate Indigenous voices into today’s historical narratives.

“Oral history is a powerful way to reach students, academics, and the public, enabling listeners to connect with a speaker, hear about their life, and perhaps more readily empathize with them. It’s also important for integrating Indigenous perspectives missing from Western archives. 

Oral histories are meant to be listened to. Even when a transcript is available, it’s best to listen to the audio, which offers human voice, character, intonation, and the interactions between the interviewer and interviewee. Today, websites or YouTube channels allow people to hear oral histories from their homes or classrooms.

I created a website, ww2alaska.com, during a postdoctoral year at the University of California Irvine that hosts testimonies from Unangax̂ survivors of relocation and internment during World War II, Native veterans who fought discrimination on their homeland, and the perspectives of Native children during this era. The website allowed me to integrate oral histories with historical context, maps, and photographs.

I also work to preserve elder oral histories at the Center for Native American and Indigenous Research. My oral histories with Unangax̂ elders are preserved at the Aleutian Pribilof Islands Association Heritage Library in Anchorage; those with Tlingit elders are at the Sealaska Heritage Institute in Juneau; and interviews with Iñupiat veterans are at the Iñupiat Heritage Center in Utqiaġvik. All veteran oral histories are also at the Alaska Veterans Museum.”

Guise is assistant professor of history at the University of New Mexico and an editorial board member for the Alaska History Journal. Her book World War II in Alaska: Native Voices and History will be published by the University of Washington Press. 


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