Frederica de Laguna Northern Books

The Life of Frederica de Laguna - Part 1


The career of Frederica de Laguna, Freddy, as she was called by her friends, spanned more than 70 years. She began her anthropological studies in 1927 at Columbia University, went to do research in France, England and Denmark, then started fieldwork in Greenland.

She was one of the anthropologists / archeologists who worked to establish archaeological and ethnological research in Alaska in the 1930s doing ground breaking field work among the Alaskan people from Prince William Sound with the Chugash and the Eyak, then the Tanaina and Ingalik and other groups of the Yukon Valley; she began working with the Tlingit people doing archaeological work, then included the Atna of the Copper River Valley.

Freddy repeatedly visited the Tlingit community of Yakutat for the monumental ethnographic work for which she is best known. Under Mount Saint Elias: The History and Culture of the Yakutat Tlingit, her groundbreaking holistic study of the archaeology, ethnohistory and ethnography of one culture, was published by the Smithsonian Institution in 1972.

She was to be honoured later for her Yakutat work at a potlatch in 1997 which became the focus for a documentary about her work: Reunion Under Mount Saint Elias directed by Laura Bliss. Meanwhile, she had begun teaching at Bryn Mawr College where she established and developed an anthropology program until it became a full fledged department (1967) with its own graduate program. She served on a number of professional associations and her work was recognized by colleagues and native communities alike.

Freddy continued her beloved research work until the last days of her life. She completed the manuscript for a new edition of the three volumes of Under Mount St Elias. At the time of her death, she was also working on the biography of a Tlingit woman whom she had known in Yakutat, and on a new series of books for students (Northern Encounters), including a presentation of the Eyak people of Alaska, and another on the Greenlandic people. She was still in touch with colleagues, students and friends and was also busy managing her small independent academic press, the Frederica de Laguna Northern Books, started in 2001, with three titles already in press.

Until the end, her activities spanned the Northern regions to which she had devoted her life, and the various fields of enquiries which composed her well known holistic perspective on anthropology as the specific discipline located at the crossroad of many social and human sciences. She continued to be involved in the fulfilment of what she regarded as a main duty of the anthropologist, communication with both the communities under study and the public at large.