Anthropologist, author Lydia Black dies at 81

Posted: Tuesday, March 13, 2007

KODIAK - Anthropologist Lydia Black, who wrote several books on Alaska native culture and Alaska history, died Monday of liver failure at her home in Kodiak. She was 81.

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Black was born in Kiev, Ukraine, and educated in Russia, Germany and the United States. She had five daughters with her husband, Igor A. Black, a thermodynamics engineer who worked for NASA contractors during the 1960s. He died in 1969.

Lydia Black became a professor of anthropology, beginning in 1973 at Providence College in Providence, R.I. In 1984 she came to Alaska permanently and began teaching at the University of Alaska Fairbanks.

Throughout her career, Black traveled Southwest Alaska to research the culture and traditions of the region, specializing in the Unangam (Aleut) of the Aleutian Islands and the Sugpiaq (Alutiiq) of the Kodiak Archipelago.

Fluent in Slavonic and Russian, Black translated many firsthand accounts of Native cultures written during the Russian colonial period.

In her writings, Black was known for emphasizing artistic and cultural accomplishments, rather than social ills of Alaska Native cultures.

Black retired from UAF in 1998, and continued to edit and write in Kodiak, where she helped translate and catalog Russian archives of St. Herman's Seminary.

One of her best-known books, "Aleut art - Unangam aguqaadangin" is a collection of documented art made by Natives of the Aleutian Islands. Another, "Russians in Alaska, 1732 to 1867," was published in 2004.

Black was also known for continuing correspondence and cultivating friendships with many of her students, even after their professional careers began.

"If you know her at all, you would know that once you are her student, you would remain her student for life," said Katherine Arndt, a close friend and colleague who works in the archives at the Elmer E. Rasmuson Library at UAF.

A funeral service is scheduled for noon Saturday at St. Paul Lutheran Church, with a burial to follow at City Cemetery. A reception is scheduled for 4 p.m., Saturday, at the Kodiak Senior Center.

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