In writing “Two Missions to Alaska,” Richard Dauenhauer discussed two important missionaries and their work in helping young, native people in Alaska with their education. Ronda’s “Astor and Baranov” is a similar writing, looking at the contributions of two men just the same. In their competing works, the two authors present a different picture of people who came to Alaska in order to make an impact and who left behind a strong legacy. The authors focus on how two different sets of men saw Alaska as a place of opportunity. Ultimately that opportunity was somewhat different, with Dauenhauer writing about two men who had different visions for Alaska, while Ronda wrote about two men who saw the opportunity to take from Alaska for their own purposes. The authors both use interesting data and resources to write their book, and in both cases, the authors take a look at the development of the history of Russia through the unique lens of the men who played such a major role in shaping the economic development of the state and even the geographic picture of the state.
Dauenhauer writes about two important men in the history of Alaska. Those two men were Sheldon Jackson and Saint Innocent. The author notes the incredible challenge faced by these men as they tried to establish schools that would provide a strong educational foundation for the native children in the state. In particular, the authors found there were linguistic challenges facing the children there. As the author shows, Saint Innocent was not always a Saint. He was first a young man who vacationed with his family in Sitka. It was there that he got his start with dual language education, and he gained familiarity with some of the cultural elements of what the native people in that part of the world were going through. The author uses diaries and primary sources about the life of Saint Innocent to show the motivation that he had to help these young people succeed with dual language education when he finally returned to Alaska in order to establish these schools. The author notes, too, that Jackson believed that it was possible for the people of Alaska to be a part of the church body as a whole even if those people did not speak the same language as the Europeans and Americans who might have been trying to expand Christianity and Protestantism globally. The author notes that Jackson’s ideas on Alaska were destructive to the Native people there. Jackson lacked respect for Native culture and traditions, and as the author notes, Jackson may have even believed the Native people were beneath him. His approach to Alaska was different from that of Saint Innocent, who had more respect for the Native culture of the place.
One of the primary points of the author in writing this work is to show how two men who were very different, with very different backgrounds, could have a similar impact on Alaska while working on a similar mission. Jackson was an American man who had been trained in the Presbyterian tradition. Saint Innocent was a Russian man who had spent much time in Alaska, but ultimately he had been trained in the Russian Orthodox Church. These backgrounds were not the same, but each man was able to gain an appreciation for the need for language education because of various experiences they had during their lives. Still, their backgrounds manifested in a different approach to Alaska and her people. Jackson, for instance, took from his own Presbyterian traditions a haughtiness that caused him to undervalue the ideas and history of the people he was purporting to help.
There are great differences to be drawn between the two men described in the prior story and the two men described by Ronda in his work on Astor and Baranov. Importantly, the author writes of two men who had very different backgrounds but similar goals. In the prior work, the author wrote about two missionaries who both saw an opportunity to give something back to Alaska because of the time they had spent developing their consciousness of an issue that needed attention. Something very different took place with Astor and Baranov. These two men were each after some of their own gain in Alaska. Astor, the author writes, is a man who was known for his pursuit of profit. He had ideas on the West that were similar to the ideas Columbus had in the early West. Namely, he believed it could be his frontier, where he could produce more money and provide his family with even greater wealth. Astor wanted to replace the power base in Alaska—controlled by the US and Russia—with his own. Given that this was an era where large, rich families in the US tended to have an opportunity to behave like governments, Astor saw no reason why he should not be able to own and exploit Alaska as his own. Baranov, on the other hand, was the governor of the territory, and he believed that he could leverage his position and the resources in Alaska for the good of Russia and for his own political good. The author writes that these two men came from very different backgrounds, but they came to see Alaska in the same way—as a cash cow that could be milked in light of the fact that there were very few other cash cows around at that particular time. Baranov importantly resisted Astor in some ways. He could not abide by Astor’s desire to essentially run Alaska as his fiefdom. Aside from that, Baranov leveraged the US position, which did not support Astor because of the American belief that to do so might disrupt the peace between the US and Great Britain.
Where these two stories are similar is in the fact that both authors are describing people who see Alaska as a great frontier with significant opportunity. The big difference, of course, comes in what opportunity the men saw. Two men saw a chance to make an impact, though Jackson’s approach to Alaska was paternalistic and did not take into account the people living there. Two other men saw Alaska as the sort of place that could be exploited for all of the potential wealth that was there. In both cases, Alaska was seen as the home of opportunity, though it was the background and approach of each studied man that gave rise to the differences in how each approached the territory and how each was received.
Both authors of these stories relied on the writings that came from that time to get a better sense of what the men involved were all about. Those primary sources being critical to understanding the subjects, the authors poured through them meticulously. This helped to make both writings full of valuable information to understand the development of Alaska during the Russian Period. Dauenhauer should be noted as taking the harshest tone of either author with the men in question, as he lambasted Jackson for his cultural insensitivity and his unwillingness to put aside the paternalistic desire to replace the Native Alaskan culture with some perverted version of American Christendom that he had learned at some point in his life.
- Dauenhauer, Richard L. “Two missions to Alaska.” An Alaska Anthology: Interpreting the Past (1996): 83-85.
- Ronda, James P. “Astor and Baranov.” An Alaska Anthology: Interpreting the Past (1996)