BARBARA (Sweetland) SMITH
• Russian Culture
BARBARA (Sweetland) SMITH
A dedicated Russian scholar, Barbara Sweetland Smith earned international respect and awards for her research and publications on the Russian Orthodox Church and Russian America. Among the awards she received were the Order of Friendship of the Russian People from the government of the then-Soviet Union; the Order of St. Herman from the Russian Orthodox Church; the Best Book of the Year 1982 from the American Association of Archivists for “Russian Orthodoxy in Alaska: a history, inventory, and analysis of the church archives in Alaska”. Smith also twice received the President’s Award from the Alaska Historical Society in 1988 and in 1996. In honor of her many contributions and achievements, the Alaska Historical Society renamed its Pathfinder Award for the preparation of guides and other resource materials to assist researchers. It is now called the Barbara Sweetland Smith Award.
A graduate of California’s Mills College, Smith went on to do graduate work at Columbia University’s Russian Institute. It was here she developed her expertise in the history of the Russian Orthodox Church and its far-reaching influence in shaping the history of Alaska. She then accepted a position as administrative assistant at the prestigious Harvard Russian Institute for two years before moving to Anchorage in 1970. At the University of Alaska Anchorage, Smith taught Russian history and brought to light many early documents published by the Russian Orthodox Church, explorers, and adventurers. Smith shared her extensive knowledge of Russian historical resources through publishing many books on the influence of the Russian Orthodox Church in the development of Russian America. She authored articles and books about the church activity after 1867 as Russian America became Alaska. Several of her books became widely acclaimed earning her international distinction as a scholar of Russian history in Alaska.
Her expertise and dedication helped make possible the restoration and preservation of rare icons and historic Russian Orthodox churches in the Aleutian and Pribilof islands damaged during World War II. Among other things, Smith was instrumental in securing major funding to conserve, catalog and restore icons of the Holy Ascension Church in Unalaska, perhaps the largest single collection of pre-20th century art in Alaska.
Smith also curated four major exhibitions for the Anchorage Museum of History and Art: “Russian America: the Forgotten Frontier,” “Heaven on Earth: Orthodox Treasures of Siberia and North America,” and “Science Under Sail: Russia’s Great Voyages to America 1728-1867.” These popular, world-class exhibits, some of which traveled the country, portrayed how the Russian presence has shaped Alaska’s history and cultures. She was also active in advocating for private, state and federal funding and support for archives, historical programs, and museums. She was a founder of the respected Alaska History Journal.
Also finding time for community work, Smith served as president of the Anchorage Fellowship in Serving Humanity (FISH) for 28 years – working with the Food Bank of Alaska to provide food pantries for those in need. She also served as a board member and President of Soroptimists International of Anchorage, a group dedicated to improving the lives of women and girls locally and around the world, and as a board member of the national archives of the Episcopal Church.View Extended Bio