Cover image for Upside down : seasons among the Nunamiut
Upside down : seasons among the Nunamiut
Blackman, Margaret B.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Lincoln : University of Nebraska Press, [2004]

Physical Description:
x, 206 pages : illustrations, map ; 24 cm
Electronic Access:
Table of contents
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
E99.E7 B6562 2004 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

On Order



In the roadless Brooks Range Mountains of northern Alaska sits Anaktuvuk Pass, a small, tightly knit Nunamiut Eskimo village. Formerly nomadic hunters of caribou, the Nunamiut of Anaktuvuk now find their destiny tied to that of Alaska's oil-rich North Slope, their lives suddenly subject to a century's worth of innovations, from electricity and bush planes to snow machines and the Internet. Anthropologist Margaret B. Blackman has been doing summer fieldwork among the Nunamiut over a span of almost twenty years, an experience richly and movingly recounted in this book.

A vivid description of the people and the life of Anaktuvuk Pass, the essays in Upside Down are also an absorbing meditation on the changes that Blackman herself underwent during her time there, most wrenchingly the illness of her husband, a fellow anthropologist, and the breakup of their marriage. Throughout, Blackman reflects in unexpected and enlightening ways on the work of anthropology and the perspective of an anthropologist evermore invested in the lives of her subjects. Whether commenting on the effect of this place and its people on her personal life or describing the impact of "progress" on the Nunamiut--the CB radio, weekend nomadism, tourism, the Information Superhighway--her essays offer a unique and deeply evocative picture of an at once disappearing and evolving world.

Author Notes

Margaret B. Blackman is a professor of anthropology at the State University of New York College at Brockport.

Reviews 4

Booklist Review

In a series of essays more personal than field notes, more analytical than a journal, anthropologist Blackman recounts the summers she spent among the Nunamiut, an Eskimo group living in Alaska north of the Arctic Circle. The Nunamiut were once nomads, following the seasonal movements of the caribou and other food-providing prey. The changing world after World War II, including the advent of air service, influenced the decision to form a permanent village. There is a tourist presence of sorts, and a "cottage" mask industry to support the village. Blackman's visits span her life from a graduate student to wife and mother to divorced scholar whose career flourishes as she becomes "the" authority on Nunamiut masks, offering an interesting parallel to the tribe's response to advancing society. Readers interested in Native Alaskans and anthropology will enjoy Blackman's unvarnished look at both. --Danise Hoover Copyright 2004 Booklist

Publisher's Weekly Review

Evocative and introspective, the essays in this remarkable collection recall an anthropologist's visits to northern Alaska's Anaktuvuk Pass: a small Native American settlement "cradled by the gray shale mountains that rise around it, verdant in the moment of summer, pristinely white in the deep freeze of winter." Over the past two decades, Blackman traveled to the Pass about a dozen times to conduct oral history and research projects among the Nunamiut Eskimos. In this book, however, she leaves the "impersonal, omniscient voice" of academics behind in order to give a more intimate view of her experiences with Anaktuvuk and its residents. Her prose is correspondingly more fluid and, on occasion, even refreshingly poetic. Some essays, like "Picking [Berries]" and "Masks," discuss Nunamiut customs; others, like "Remembering Susie Paneak," pay tribute to particular individuals. Throughout the volume, Blackman draws comparisons between the lives of the Nunamiut and her own life in New York. For example, Nunamiut diets are affected by "fluctuations in the size of the western arctic caribou herd"-even their dogs are trained to withstand hunger, Blackman remarks-while her own diet in New York is so steady that her daughter, Meryn, can toss her home-packed school lunch in the wastebasket in a gesture of teenage rebellion. Judiciously placed observations like these help establish a context for Blackman's fieldwork, and allow readers to sympathize not only with the Nunamiut Eskimos, but also with the diligent anthropologist who wanted to learn more about them. (Mar. 19) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.

Library Journal Review

Everyday life among the Nunamiut, an Inuit people living at Anaktuvuk Pass in the Brooks Range Mountains of northern Alaska, is exquisitely chronicled in this collection of autobiographical essays drawn from anthropologist Blackman's (SUNY at Brockport) many summers of fieldwork in the village. Blackman's essays follow the chronology of her visits over many years to Anaktuvuk Pass and cover such varied topics as reminiscences by older villagers of the traditional way of life, the impact of modernization and technology on this rural Alaskan community, and the art of caribou-skin mask making. Also revealed are aspects of Blackman's personal life, including her anthropologist husband's debilitating illness and their subsequent divorce. Blackman writes with an engaging style that effectively draws the reader into the depths of each story. These essays are a refreshing departure from standard ethnographic writing and provide a more personal glimpse of the joys and struggles involved in anthropological field research. Highly recommended for anthropology and Arctic studies collections in both academic and large public libraries.-Elizabeth Salt, Otterbein Coll. Lib., Westerville, OH (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

Ostensibly, this work is a collection of short essays concerning the everyday life and culture of the Nunamiut Eskimos of Anaktuvak Pass, a small community in north central Alaska accessible only by airplane. Blackman (anthropology, SUNY Brockport) spent most summers between 1980 and 2002 living in the community interviewing the residents. Some might wonder if another anthropological study of Eskimos is worthwhile, but in this case, the answer is an emphatic "yes." Because she was tired of anthropologists' tendency "to render in stilted prose, the most interesting cultures hopelessly pedantic and unappealing," the author broke the rules and incorporated her personal life, including the collapse of her marriage and her young daughter's growth, into her observations and essays. The results are captivating and remarkably informative. Essays on Eskimo culture become essays on fundamental human nature, and the residents of Anaktuvak Pass become neighbors, friends, and confidants. The reader is drawn into the village culture not by formal instruction, but by osmosis. Some academics may rue the absence of a bibliography and extensive notes and find the work too informal, but they will have missed the point. ^BSumming Up: Highly recommended. All levels and libraries. P. T. Sherrill emeritus, University of Arkansas at Little Rock