National Museum of Natural History Arctic Studies Center

Arctic Studies Center

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Teacher Resources:

PDFOf Kayaks and Ulus: The Bering Sea Eskimo Collection of Edward W. Nelson “The Man Who Collected Good For Nothing Things” curriculum packet: This curriculum packet contains 5 small booklets detailing the travels and discoveries of the great 19th century naturalist, Edward W. Nelson and his time with the Bering Sea Eskimos of Western Alaska (now called the Yup’ik). This packet consists of information about Yup’ik folklore and daily life as well as both primary sources from Edward W. Nelson’s letters and journals and secondary sources which put Nelson’s discoveries into a larger perspective. Throughout the packets are numerous pictures to give a visual understanding of Nelson’s discoveries as well as study questions and discussion topics to foster critical thinking and a big picture view. The packet is based on original materials in Nelson’s monographic study, the Eskimos About Bering Strait” (1899) and by the exhibition catalog, “Inua: Spirit World of the Berinjg Sea Eskimo” (1982) by William Fitzhugh and Susan Kaplan.

PDFArt to Zoo: Of Kayaks and Ulus: This Art to Zoo (now called ‘Smithsonian in Your Classroom’) article is based on the curriculum packet above. Like the curriculum packet, it contains information on Yu’pik life and culture as well as Nelson’s discoveries and many pictures, study questions, and discussion topics to get students thinking about the material. It is much shorter than the above packet, but also contains a pull-out activity page about the art of the Alaskan Eskimos and a word search.

Teaching From Objects and Stories: Learning about the Bering Sea Eskimo People: This lesson plan and activity guide gives teachers materials and guidance for teaching students about the Bering Sea Eskimos through artifacts and stories. Working like detectives, students will be given guidance in how to learn about a culture through the everyday objects they use and the stories they tell. Great for social studies or language arts, these activities teach students about a new culture while showing them how to use primary sources and critical thinking to discover about other cultures.

PDFReport upon the Natural History Collections Made in Alaska between the years 1887 and 1881, by Edward W. Nelson, edited by Henry W. Henshaw, prepared under the direction of the Chief Signal Officer, U.S. Army Signal Corps. 1887. (Many of Nelson’s descriptions of animals and their behavior are based on information obtained by Nelson from Yup’ik people he met at St. Michaels trading post and in his travels in the country.)


From Edward W. Nelson Himself:

Get a first hand account of the Bering Strait Eskimo by reading Selected Sections of Edward W. Nelson’s Alaskan Diaries, 1877 – 1881 where he discusses, in his own words, notes on cranes, bear hunting, the Kashim ( men’s ceremonial house), and a description of the annual ‘harvest renewal’ ceremony known as the Bladder Festival.

Check out these pictures from Edward Nelson’s Journeys

1) Nelson’s Journeys: Nelson made a number of epic journeys along the coast and into the interior of western Alaska, traveling by dog sled, bidarka, and finally on the Revenue Cutter Corwin. On his journeys Nelson studied the wildlife, mapped unknown territory, and observed the daily life of people who were his hosts. As a result of his extensive travels he managed to buy ten thousand implements ranging from ceremonial masks to children’s toys. He documented where each was collected, how it had been made and used, and what it was called in Yup’ik. While traveling he lived off the land, enduring the hardships and witnessing the beauty that made the Bering Sea region a special place to live. During the last few months of his term in Alaska, Nelson was the naturalist on board the Corwin, and he visited northern Alaskan and eastern Siberian peoples. During this voyage Nelson continued his detailed ethnographic work, with the result that his collection demonstrated the cultural diversity of the Bering Sea and Bering Strait regions.
2) Revenue Cutter Corwin: The U.S. Revenue Cutter Corwin, first under the command of Captain Hooper, and later of Captain Healy, made an annual voyage to Alaska beginning in 1880. The Corwin maintained order in Alaska, settling disputes and enforcing United States laws, as well as conducting studies of the geography, natural history, and ethnography of the area. During her 1881 voyage, of which Nelson was a member, the Corwin was searching for the lost whaler Jeannette. Hooper criss-crossed the Bering Strait and penetrated north into the Arctic pack. The Corwin crew scaled the cliffs of Herald Island and were the first Westerners to set foot on Wrangel island while seeking the remains of lost whaling ship, Jeannette and her crew.
3) Natural History Report: Edward Nelson’s report on natural history collections made in Alaska between 1877 and 1881.
4) Green Fish (Hexagrammus ordinatus): One of many beautiful illustrations from Edward Nelson’s Natural History Collection report (1884).
5) Norton Sound Seal Hunter: A St. Michael hunter, dressed seal-gut parka and hunting hat ornamented with old-squaw feathers in his kayak, casting a seal spear. (SI – 3846)
6) Yupik People: Photograph of Yup’ik people by Edward Nelson during his travels in the Yukon Kuskokwim delta between 1878 and 1879. (SI – 6376)
7) Yupik People: Photograph by Edward Nelson during his travels in the Yukon Kuskokwim delta between 1878 and 1879. (SI – 6916)
8) Yupik People: People from many regions of western Alaska visited St. Michael to trade. This photograph shows a group of men in Kuskokwim dress wearing hats probably introduced by the Russians. Photograph by Edward Nelson. (SI – 6338)]

Additional Materials:

Dr. Fitzhugh would like to provide visitors with excerpts from two books:

Inua: Spirit World of the Bering Sea Eskimo, by William Fitzhugh and Susan A. Kaplan

Introductory chapter of the 1982 exhibition catalog Inua [Part 1]

Introductory chapter of the 1982 exhibition catalog Inua [Part 2]



PDFIntroduction to the reprint edition of The Eskimo About Bering Strait written by Dr. Fitzhugh.


PDFSee the Floor Plan for the Upcoming Exhibit on the Yu’pik People.