~ Shop ~

ALASKA – ETHNOGRAPHIC MAP: Ethnographische Skizzen über die Völker des Russischen Amerika. Erste Abteilung: Die Thlinkithen. Die Konjagen. Karte des Russischen Amerika. Nach den neuesten Quellen gezeichnet von H. J. Holmberg. 1854.



The first ethnographic map of Alaska, by the Finnish anthropologist H.J. Holmberg, bound within the accompanying Part 1 (of 2 independently-issued parts) of Holmberg’s groundbreaking study of the region. 


Additional information


Place and Year


1 in stock


4°: 141 pp. + folding lithographed Map (17.5 x 26.5 inches  / 44.5 x 67.4 cm), bound in contemporary quarter cloth with marbled boards (Very Good, some light areas of foxing to text, map with areas of minor discoloration, binding with minor shelf ware, more pronounced along front fore-edge).


This fascinating work features the first ethnographic map of Alaska, drafted by the eminent Finnish anthropologist and naturalist Henrik Johan Holmberg, bound within Part 1 (of 2) of Holmberg’s magnificent description of Russian America (Part 2 of Holmberg’s work was issued independently 8 years later).  The map, made during the twilight of Russian hegemony in what would later become Alaska, is the first to detail the territories of the 4 major Native American First Nations within the region: the Tlinget; the Kodiak; the Dena’ina and other Athabaskan peoples; and the Aleut peoples, which are further divided into the domains of specific named tribes.  Importantly, this is the first map to pay proper respect to the established societies of Alaska in an era when Europeans till maintained a relatively light footprint.


Geographically, the map’s coverage embraces the southern four-fifths of Alaska (all but the Northern Slope), with its coastal areas being quite accurate, predicated upon the latest sources, such as the early 1840s surveys of Laurentii Alekseevich Zagoskin.  However, its coverage of the interior is quite limited, with only a sketchy delineation of the ‘Fl. Jukchana’ (Yukon River).  Geographical features are copiously labeled, areas of elevation are shown with hachures, with shading emphasizing the coastlines.  The ‘Erklärungen’ (Legend of Symbols), in the upper right, identifies: ‘Festung’ (forts); ‘Volkane’ (volcanoes); odinotschka (monasteries / missions); ‘Berge’ (mountains); ‘Ansiedelung der Russen’ (Russian settlements); ‘Russischen Kreolon’ (mixed Russian-Native American settlements); ‘Eingebornen’ (Native American settlements).


The various Native American Nations (and their sub-divisions), as classified in the table ‘Ansiedelungen der Eingebornen’ (Settlements of the Natives), in the upper right, are labeled throughout the map as follows: I. ‘Thlinkíten’ (Tlinget), including 2 geographic divisions and 10 tribes, with names on the map underlined by lines composed entirely of dots, occupying the Panhandle in Southeastern Alaska; II. ‘Konjagen’ (Alutiiq peoples and those speaking other Eskimo languages), including 4 geographic divisions and 25 tribes, underlined by dashed lines, occupying a band of territory extending from the Pacific at Kodiak Island, the southern Kenai Peninsula and Prince William Sound, and then across and up along the shores of the Bering Sea; III. ‘Thnainia’ (Dena’ina and other Athabaskan peoples), including 5 geographic divisions and 21 tribes, underlined with lines of dashes and crosses, occupying most of the interior and the coastal areas on an around the Kenai Peninsula (the Anchorage region); and IV. ‘Aleuten’ (Aleutian), including 11 geographic divisions and 24 tribes, underlined by dashes and dots, occupying the Alaska Peninsula and the Aleutian Islands.


While the book in which the map appears was published by H.C. Friis, the map was lithographed by Frans Oscar Liewendal, who was the country’s leading practitioner of the medium and the proprietor of Finland’s first lithographic press (founded in 1834).


Holmberg’s present book (which translates as ‘Ethnographic Sketches About the Peoples of Russian America. Part 1. The Tlingits. The Kodiak people’), in which the present map resides, is a complete work in and of itself.  It features the entirety of Holmberg’s ethnographic analysis of the Native Nations of Alaska, whereas the second volume of Holmberg’s work was issued independently 8 years later and which focuses on a different subject matter (being the history of Russian activities in Alaska).


The present Part 1 contains Holmberg’s groundbreaking ethnographic study of Alaska’s Native Nations, being among the first sensitive and intelligent treatments of the topic, and certainly the earliest comprehensive study of its kind.  Holmberg described the work as being “ethnographic sketches – collected partly from Russian reports, partly from my own observations during a stay of eighteen months in those parts”.  He spent some time living among the Tlingit of Southeastern Alaska and the Koniag Alutiiq people of Kodiak Island, giving an especially authoritative account of their settlements, religion, hunting, fishing, weddings, festivities, shamanism and dress.  He also carefully selected information from the accounts of the geologist Constantine Grewingk, the zoolologist I.G. Vosnezenski, and the missionary Ivan Evseyevich Popov-Veniaminov.  Holmberg’s insights were of great interest at the time, and are today of immense value to historians who seek to understand the traditional ways of these societies before they were completely transformed by Euro-American influences.


Henrik Johan Holmberg (1818 – 1864) was a Finnish ethnographer, geologist and naturalist whose studies in a range of diverse disciplines remained influential even long after his time.  While Finland had been part of the Russian Empire since 1809, Holmberg generally wrote in the German, as that language that was then favored by the intelligentsia in the Baltic region.  In 1839, he enrolled in the school of the Mining Inspectorate of Finland and joined its staff upon graduation.  In 1850, he joined the Russian American Company and travelled to Alaska in search of gold.  However, he soon became transfixed by the amazing cultures of the Native Nations, as well as the geography and history of the region.  He proved himself to be an exceedingly perceptive and open-minded observer of life in Alaska, and had an uncanny ability to master a varied number of academic disciplines, including those far outside of his formal education.  He learned a number of dialects of Alaskan languages and acquired an unprecedented collection of ethnographic and natural specimens.  He also conducted interviews with tribal elders, recording eyewitness accounts of pivotal historical events, such as the 1784 Awa’uq Massacre.


Holmberg returned to Helsinki in 1852 and his adventures in Alaska fascinated the members of the Finnish Society of Sciences and Letters (an affiliated organization of the Academy of Sciences in St. Petersburg).  The Society became a major patron of his work, agreeing to sponsor the publication of his accounts of Alaska.  Holmberg penned other publications, including works on the geology of Finland, Mineralogischer wegweiser durch Finland (1857) and Materealien zur geognosie Finlands (1858); and a pioneering study of Finnish Neolithic and Bronze Age archaeology, List and Illustrations of Finnish Antiquities (1863).  Holmberg also undertook scientific expeditions to Sweden and Norway and served as curator of the Historical Museum of Finland.  In 1860, he was appointed to the important post of Inspector of Fisheries of Finland.


The present work represents the second printing of the first part of Holmberg’s two-part study of Alaska.  Part 1 of Holmberg’s Ethnographische Skizzen was first issued as part of the transactions of the Finnish Academy of Sciences, Akten der Finnlandischen Societaet de Wissenschaften, vol. 4 (1855).  Shortly thereafter, this treatise was separately published as a stand-alone book, being the present work, including his great map.  Part 1 included the entirety of Holmberg’s published ethnographic study on Alaska, and while it anticipated a second volume (regarding a different subject matter), it acts on its own as a self-contained work.


Part 2 of Holmberg’s study of Alaska, subtitled Entwickelung der Russisch-Amerikanischen Compagnie [The Development of the Russian-American Company] concerned the history and development of the Russian-American Company.  It included the expeditions of its protagonists, notably the late 18th Century settlement founded by Grigory Shelikhov on Kodiak Island.  It was published within Akten der Finnlandischen Societaet de Wissenschaften, vol. 7 (1862).  Thus, the distinct first and second parts of Holmberg’s study were separately issued form one another and are today scarcely ever found together.


Holmberg’s ethnographic analysis has an enduring legacy as an invaluable source on Alaska’s Native Nations.  His pioneering ethnographic map of Alaska remained the authoritative work of its kind for three decades, being superseded in detail and accuracy only by Ivan Petroff’s Map of Alaska And Adjoining Regions compiled by Ivan Petroff Special Agent Tenth Census 1880. Showing The Distribution of Native Tribes (Washington, D.C., 1884).


All editions of the parts of Holmberg’s study of Alaska are today rare.


References: Re: Book: Russica, H1059; Sabin, 32572; Not in Lada-Mocarski; Re: Map only: M.W. Falk, Alaskan Maps: A Cartobibliography of Alaska to 1900 (1983), 1855-12.

Additional information


Place and Year