Aunt Phil’s Trunk Volume Three: Bringing Alaska’s History Alive by Phyllis Downing Carlson & Laurel Downing Bill

Aunt Phil’s Trunk Volume Three: Bringing Alaska’s History Alive

by Phyllis Downing Carlson & Laurel Downing Bill

Laura Downing Bill’s Aunt Phil’s Trunk, Volume 3, is subtitled, Bringing Alaska’s History Alive! As a huge fan of history, and knowing very little of Alaska, I was excited to delve in. The book follows a chronological pattern, outlining the major legislation and industrial movements that transformed Alaska from its long plateau as a First Nations/Native American culture to the 1930s. Later volumes in the series are excerpted in previews following the text of Volume 4, teasing the reader through to the beginnings of modern American state Alaska is today. Historical photographs, excerpts from contemporary news accounts, and peeks into the first-hand memoirs of everyday people chronicle the last century. I estimate half the book is made up of these source materials, and they are delightful. The later chapters, particularly those about the “Daring Flyboys,” Native Alaskan Culture, and the incursion of the greater American political process into Alaska even before its induction to statehood, are the most in-depth, as one would expect. There is a huge amount of information presented, much of it entirely new to me.

For all the information it contains, however, I found the book rather thin. The photographs entirely support the concept of a Great-Aunt’s trunk inspiring a great work—they amount to a time-lapse effect, especially in the e-book format—scrolling through the book’s pages, the quality of the photography clarifies along with the changes in the content, bringing the reader a sense of Alaska coming forward through time. What has been done with them, unfortunately, is not nearly as compelling as the source materials deserve. The first several chapters read like a book report: full sentences, fleshed out to more than bullet points, but still not more than a list of facts and events. The lack of analysis makes it difficult to invest in the development of the state. On the occasions I was intrigued and felt drawn into an aspect of the history, I found myself Googling in other windows, having realized fairly quickly that textured back-story was not as detailed in certain parts as I wanted it to be. Aunt Phil’s Trunk may be said to bring Alaska’s history alive, but in its current state, its quality of life could be improved with a deeper dive into contemplating how the pictures came to be.

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