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October 04 , 2007

Upside Down

Seasons among the Nunamiut


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.

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