by Beatrice Wenger
A boy’s dream comes true.
It is with pleasure and great satisfaction that the work of my husband Hubert is presented to you after many years of “reading and learning.” Our first voyage to Greenland in 1970 was the realization of Hubert’s dream. As soon as we were back home in Paris, he looked for and found a well-equipped small library, a professor specializing in Eskimo studies, and courses to attend. We did not have any scientific education whatever. You understand that I joined him. Edward Weyer’s The Eskimos (1932) became his bedside literature, followed by many other works. His passion for the North and the Eskimo, as well as his great curiosity, resulted in this project.
We worked in libraries in different countries. Outstanding among these has been the Scott Polar Research Institute (SPRI) in Cambridge, England, which offered facilities of all kinds and a cordiality that made our frequent stays there most agreeable. In addition, we found minor but nonetheless important references unavailable elsewhere.
In the 1980s we traveled more and more to Fairbanks—the Rasmuson Library having the most important and complete collection of materials in English on all aspects of Arctic regions. The work had become complex and needed an official institutional home. We found there someone to help outline a computerized project and a scientific and technical team to work with. In 1988 Hubert signed an agreement with the Director of Libraries at the University of Alaska Fairbanks to bring his work to Rasmuson.
Marvin Falk was the man who had to understand the basic concepts and plans of my husband, who was stubborn and knew exactly which parameters he wanted in the work. It took years before the computer capabilities he needed were available and functional.
The choice of sources is of course a personal one and the language of necessity English, even though there are many valuable texts in Danish, French, Spanish and other European languages. The Siberian Eskimo are scarcely represented, because access to their literature came too late for us.
The oversized maps have been reproduced by Rasmuson Library’s photography department, headed by Richard Veazey. He made it possible for us to use the latest technology for reproducing photographic images. Without that possibility, old and often very large maps just could not have been made available.
A project extending over such a long period of time presupposes of course many people who worked on it. Hubert surely was most dependent on his friend and “second ear” Xavier Bouvier, a computer specialist, who worked with my husband once a week for many years until 1995 and later on worked with me. He had to understand and resolve what Hubert had decided or changed during the week and what the computer would not accept. Not always easy, yet I noticed that they had a great time together. Hubert found a willing ear and an outlet for his frustrations, until the two of them—after how many side steps?—found the solution.
I can only say: Thank you, thank you, Xavier!
Our original work team consisted of Marvin Falk, computer specialist, historian and project coordinator; Rose Speranza, anthropologist; Jeffrey Pederson, computer technician; and Ron Inouye, expert in many fields. Rose and Jeffrey stayed until nearly the end of the project. Halfway through, the party was joined by Jim Ketz, a keen anthropologist, who let no detail escape notice. He knows best what it means to bring such a project to the very end. To him I avow special thanks.
Persons of next importance to the project include David Hales, Susan Grigg, and John Lehman. I especially want to mention William Schneider, Curator of Oral History, and Ron Inouye, Hubert’s friends, for their moral support. There are still many persons who have worked on the project: Nelly Moore, Mary Larson, Linda Mowat, Jayne Harvie—and several others I did not mention—who made this project realizable. I am most thankful to all of them.
Special mention of course goes to the Library itself, to the Directors, with a special thanks to Sharon West, who came to Europe and helped me during a very difficult period. I am very pleased to end this project with Paul McCarthy, under whose leadership we had a very timid beginning in 1985!
How can I cite all the persons who taught me to work in the Library and who assisted me with great competence and enthusiasm in solving sometimes very difficult questions. What would have become of this project without the help of Joanna Phillips and Lori Boone of Government Documents, the awe-inspiring level of the Reference desk, Ron’s office and the Periodicals staff. To all of them also goes my great gratitude. It was great to work with you all, thanks.
The Library offered us all these facilities over a long period. Traveling to Fairbanks from Europe was sometimes rather tiring (my baker’s shop is nearer!). But the result we can offer you makes it worthwhile; I hope it will be a help with your own research.
Last but not least I am most happy to give and dedicate, in Hubert’s name, this project to the Eskimo/Inuit of the North, and especially to the North Slope Borough Eskimo who made us understand better their originality and astonishing culture.
To the Rasmuson Library, its director and technical staff, I am grateful that in the future they will take care of the “dream” of my husband.