“Communities Remembered and Imagined”
October 7-9 and 14-16, 2021

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Conference Program          Abstracts and Presenter Biographies

Kennecott Mine in 2010. Photo by Neal Herbert, courtesy National Park Service.

Our 2021 conference will be completely digital and held via Zoom. To avoid Zoom fatigue, we are spreading the sessions out over two weeks: Thursday through Saturday, Oct. 7-9 and 14-16, 2021. We will have a 1-1/2 hour morning session and one or two 1-1/2 hour afternoon sessions on each day. There are no concurrent sessions. The sessions will be recorded, so if you miss one or want to hear a paper again, you can access it later on the AHS website (see below for 2020 Conference Presentations). There will be a workshop about Techniques of History on Saturday, October 9 from 10:00-11:30am, and we will also be holding our annual business meeting (including memorials and awards) on Friday, October 15 from 3:30-5:00pm and a meeting of local historical societies on Saturday, October 9 at 9am.

For questions about the conference program, please contact Rachel Mason at

Conference Registration
The registration fee is $50
. This allows you to participate in every session. A conference program will be mailed to those who register before October 1. Digital versions of the program, abstracts and presenter biographies will also be available here.

Registrants will receive separate Zoom meeting invitations by email to the AHS business meeting as it is a regular Zoom meetings with its own passcode access different from the conference’s webinar sessions. Please contact if you wish to just participate in the AHS business meetings.

In order to pay the registration fee and participate, you must have a Zoom account. To sign up for your own free account, visit and enter your email address. You will receive an email from Zoom (, in which you have to click “Activate Account.”

Using Zoom
We want to make sure that everyone who is giving a presentation is comfortable with how to give a Powerpoint presentation via Zoom and everyone who registers can access the panels, so we have created Zoom Instructions For Moderators, Zoom Instructions For Presenters, and Zoom Instructions For Attendees. If you have other questions not answered by these instructions, please contact Karen Brewster, the Conference’s Technical Coordinator at or (907)479-7479. If you have impaired vision or hearing, or have other accessibility issues, please let us know in advance at so that we can provide captioning or other support.

Conference Theme
Alaska is full of once-thriving communities that now stand empty, or have vanished without a trace.  Some were boom towns that grew up around a gold mine or processor, but shrank when the source of wealth dried up. Others were forcibly abandoned because of natural disaster or war, or lost population to lack of government services and the draw of economic survival. At the same time, other towns have risen from the ashes of former ones, or have been rebuilt in a new location. We have also seen some fictional Alaskan towns as settings for books, movies and television.  Some of them are thinly disguised real places; others are a combination of reality and imagination. Alaskans have always had to be flexible and creative in building our communities, relying not only on sharing a physical location, but also on more intangible connections to the people in our lives. As the pandemic has reined us in more tightly in our homes and communities, but increased our digital communications, we can appreciate a more accommodating definition of community. This year’s conference theme, Communities Remembered and Imagined, focuses on the life cycles of communities, particularly on those phases that exist only in memory or imagination. We are also planning a special sessions on the 50th Anniversary of ANCSA, and much more!

Keynote Speech by Tom Kizzia: The Impermanent Past: Living in the Space Between

The ghost town story provides an essential counterbalance to the boom narrative of the frontier. We visit these places in the American West, haunted by a beguiling absence, and a mortal question hovers: Is this where we’ve been, or where we’re going? The story of the “lost decades” in Alaska’s iconic ghost town, McCarthy-Kennecott, carries special power, given the state’s engrained historical fear of becoming a ghost state. 

Tom Kizzia is an award-winning Alaskan author and journalist, who traveled widely in rural Alaska during a 25-year career as a reporter for the Anchorage Daily News. He is the author of the bestseller Pilgrim’s Wilderness and the Alaska village travel narrative The Wake of the Unseen Object, recently re-issued in the Alaska classics series of the University of Alaska Press. His journalism has appeared in The New Yorker, the Los Angeles Times, The Washington Post, the Columbia Journalism Review, and in Best American Science and Nature Writing 2017. He received an Artist Fellowship from the Rasmuson Foundation and was a Knight Journalism Fellow at Stanford University. A graduate of Hampshire College, he lives in Homer, Alaska, and has a place in the Wrangell Mountains outside McCarthy. His latest book, Cold Mountain Path: The Ghost Town Decades of McCarthy-Kennecott, Alaska, 1938-1983 (Fall 2021) covers a period in McCarthy’s history when the town was nearly abandoned. His presentation based on this book is a perfect fit for this year’s conference theme.


October 8-10 and 15-17, 2020
“Place and Power”

2020 Presentations

Sitka from water, showing the Three Sisters in the background. Sitka Harbor-7, Alaska State Library Photo Collection.

“Place and Power” was the theme for the 2020 Alaska Historical Society Conference. Given the COVID-19 pandemic, we canceled the face-to-face event in Sitka and held the meeting digitally by Zoom. To avoid Zoom fatigue, the conference was stretched out from October 8-10 and 15-17, with 1-1/2 hours in the morning and 1-1/2 hours in the afternoon of each day. For those of you who missed a session or want to hear a paper again, you can now access recordings of the presentations.

When we were going to gather in Sitka, it provided a fitting location for exploring larger questions of power relations over time, such as how governmental laws and policies impact Alaskans and shape our understanding of history and identity.

Conference sessions included: women’s suffrage; the 50th anniversary of the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA); the legacy of noted anthropologist and nature writer Richard Nelson; the 1918 flu epidemic; Sitka’s history; Russian America; history in the public square; and Alaska canneries.

2020 Conference Schedule             Abstracts and Presenter Biographies

Fundraising Auction

During every conference, AHS holds a silent auction that is the organization’s primary fundraiser. Donations of items of historical relevance are encouraged. For donations, contact our Executive Director at Alaska Historical Society
 P.O. Box 100299
 Anchorage AK 99510-0299, (907) 276-1596,

Conference Proceedings
From 1990 to 2013, Conference Proceedings were published and are available for purchase. To learn about conferences since 2015, view past schedules at the Conference Archives.

Enjoying a performance during banquet at the 2013 annual conference in Haines, Alaska. Photo by Anjuli Grantham.

Enjoying a performance during banquet at the 2013 annual conference in Haines, Alaska. Photo by Anjuli Grantham.

Enjoying the 2016 Awards Banquet at the Baranof Hotel in Juneau, Alaska.

Enjoying the 2016 Awards Banquet at the Baranof Hotel in Juneau, Alaska. Photo by Chris Allan.