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Serendipity and Industrial Labor Development: Indigenous Labor in the Western Arctic Commercial Whaling Industry

Author(s): Mark Cassell

Year: 2014

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Summary

In the late 19th-early 20th century, the American commercial whaling industry in the western Arctic developed an industrial labor force of Iñupiat Eskimos to conduct and support shore whaling in north Alaska. Remuneration for Native labor took the form of foodstuffs, trade items, and productive resources such as boats and harpoons. For common Iñupiat Eskimos, independent acquisition of these material goods could provide the means to become a whaling captain, an umialiq, and operate their own subsistence whaling crews, and counter the long-established path to umialiq status involving generations of family wealth, access to productive, social, subsistence, and spiritual resources, and community power and control. I contend that the impetus for this had little to do with commercial whaling or industrial capitalism, but was an entirely indigenous exercise in human agency to adjust their social world. Commercial whaling showed up and became the right means to an end at the right place at the right time. It was serendipity. The success of these historical indigenous adjustment efforts and process is seen today in the proliferation of umialit in modern Iñupiat subsistence whaling.


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Cite this Record

Serendipity and Industrial Labor Development: Indigenous Labor in the Western Arctic Commercial Whaling Industry. Mark Cassell. Presented at Society for Historical Archaeology, Quebec City, Quebec, Canada. 2014 ( tDAR id: 436671)


Record Identifiers

PaperId(s): SYM-11,03

Arizona State University The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation National Science Foundation National Endowment for the Humanities Society for American Archaeology Archaeological Institute of America