AHS Blog  |  49 History

Alaska Historical Society Recognizes Alaskans for Historic Accomplishment

Date Posted: October 12, 2023       Categories: 49 History

Ian Hartman and David Reamer Honored as Historians of the Year

Two prominent Anchorage historians who wrote the ground-breaking book, Black Lives in Alaska: A History of African Americans in the Far Northwest, were named historians of the year by the Alaska Historical Society over the weekend at its annual conference on the Kenai Peninsula.

University of Alaska Anchorage history professor Ian C. Hartman and public historian and Anchorage Daily News columnist David Reamer were awarded the James H. Ducker Historian of the Year Award. It is named for longtime Alaska historian James Ducker, who served for 30 years as editor of the Society’s journal, Alaska History.

The book, published by University of Washington Press, opens with little-known accounts of Black whalers and fugitives from slavery who came to Alaska in the mid-1800s. It details Blacks in Alaska’s gold rushes, their service in Alaska with the military during World War II and the Cold War and discusses the racial mistreatment Blacks encountered in Alaska and their actions to achieve their civil rights.

The authors involved many Blacks who live and work in Alaska today. The Society said the work is well and carefully documented and details important but little-known historical developments in Alaska. The award carries a $250 cash prize for each author.

Other awards announced at the AHS annual conference include:

Seward historian, author and columnist Doug Capra was awarded the Evangeline Atwood Award for Excellence for his books, plays, articles and newspaper columns that contribute to documenting and interpreting the history of Seward and the eastern Kenai Peninsula.

The award remembers a founder of the Alaska Historical Society who wrote, supported and advocated for Alaska history from the 1940s into the 1990s. Capra taught history at Seward High School and worked as an interpreter at Kenai Fjords National Park.

The Anchorage Park Foundation and the Native Village of Eklutna, with special recognition of Aaron Leggett, won the Esther Billman Award for the Anchorage Indigenous Place Names Project. The partnership project started in 2018 to install markers throughout the Municipality of Anchorage to acknowledge the Indigenous names for geographic places. The most recent is “Nuch’ishtunt” – the place protected from the wind – installed at Point Woronzof.  Other markers have been installed at Potter Marsh, Westchester Lagoon, Muldoon Park and the mouth of Ship Creek.

The posts include artwork, preserve the Dena’ina language and explain the site’s cultural significance and history. The project could not have been possible without Aaron Leggett’s leadership. Leggett is curator of history at the Anchorage Museum and president of the Native Village of Eklutna.

Billman was the longtime curator of the Sheldon Jackson Museum in Sitka. The award recognizes a society, museum, government agency or organization for a project contributing to the preservation and understanding of Alaska history during the past year.

The Alaska Jewish Museum was awarded the Elva Scott Local Historical Society Award for its virtual exhibit, From Purchase to Prosperity: The Jewish Founders of the Alaska Commercial Company, co-curated by Leslie Fried and J. Pennelope Goforth.

Scott was a founder of Homer’s Natural History Society and Pratt Museum, and after moving to Eagle was newsletter editor, tour guide and officer of its historical society. The award recognizes a historical society or museum for its programs, newsletter, publication or a significant recent accomplishment.

The Jewish Museum exhibit looks at Alaska’s history through West Coast risk-taking Jewish businessmen who engaged in commerce following the departure of the Russians and established a company that still operates in Alaska today. The exhibit tackles the complicated relationship between Western commercial enterprise and diverse Native peoples and the impact of colonialism on them.  The website includes documents, images—several in 3D, and a bibliography.  Information is clearly presented, and the site is well-designed to easily navigate through the exhibit.

The Society made four awards in its Contributions to Alaska History Awards, which recognize individuals and groups for projects, publications and other efforts that have significantly promoted and added to understanding Alaska history.

Ketchikan Museums was recognized for its newsletter and website’s Artifact of the Month column. The feature is a highlight of the quarterly email newsletter from the Tongass Historical Museum and Totem Heritage Center. Each Artifact of the Month has a photo of an object used in Ketchikan, often related to a current exhibit, and a story about how it was used.

Fairbanks historians Leanna Prax Williams and Rebecca Heaton received the award for coordinating and advocating for Alaska History Day. The program, in partnership with National History Day, has promoted learning and applying historical skills to Alaskan students for over 30 years. Williams and Heaton, who worked with the Fairbanks History Fair for more than five years, stepped up to undertake coordinating the state competition. Under their leadership, entries nearly doubled this year and at least 800 students participated in some way.

Anchorage educator Alice Tower Knapp received a Contributions to Alaska History Award for her book, On Track!: The Nordic Skiing Association of Anchorage. A retired school librarian and lifelong Nordic skier, Knapp spent her Covid years going through scrapbooks, newsletters, photographs and administrative records of Anchorage’s Nordic ski association that started in 1964. She details early races and hosting national competitions, the popular backcountry and Junior Nordic programs, the growth of ski jumping and biathlon programs, and club events like the annual Ski Train, Ski for Women, and Tour of Anchorage.

Fairbanks historian Chris Allan was recognized for a long list of significant contributions to the AHS over the past two decades. His contributions include writing 14 engaging articles that have been published in the journal Alaska History, authoring the regular oddments in our newsletter, generously providing content for our website including eight Eyewitness Series booklets that showcase voices of the past, finding beaver logs and making auction donations.

Allan served two terms on the Board of Directors, was president for two years, program chair, oversaw a redesign of the website, and is frequently called on to answer obscure inquiries that come to the Society. He works for the National Park Service as historian for Gates of the Arctic and Yukon-Charley Rivers parks and preserves.

This year’s recipient of the Morgan and Jeanie Sherwood Award for best article in the last volume of Alaska History, the peer-reviewed journal of the Alaska Historical Society, went to Ray Hudson for his article “The Imaginary Frontier and Its True Poverty: The Aleutian Islands at the End of the Nineteenth and Beginning of the Twentieth Centuries.”

Hudson lived and taught at Unalaska for about 30 years and has written articles and published books about the people and place. The late Professor Sherwood was a longtime Alaska historian and he and his wife endowed the award with a $500 annual prize.

The Society also presented a special award to acknowledge the enormous contributions of board member Rachel Mason, an Anchorage National Park Service historian. Mason has served as an officer, program chair, awards chair, member of the newsletter staff and in about every other capacity with the society.

Her historical research is often of difficult research topics. Three of her ground-breaking studies include Seward’s red light district, coordinating publication of Nick Golodoff’s memoir about the Attuans internment in Japan during World War II, and documenting the “lost Aleutian villages” that Unangan residents taken to Southeast Alaska internment camps during World War II were not allowed to return to.

The final award is the President’s Award, known as the Beaver Log because it comes with an authentic log felled by an Alaska beaver. This year’s award went to Kaila Pfister, a new member of the AHS board.

She was recognized for excellent service including her efforts to have the Society use technology to spread the word about Alaska history including the Society’s website, Facebook postings, and overseeing technology at the annual conference which was both live in-person and Zoomed. Pfister also has served on the logo and journal redesign committees and will be leading the organization through a redesign of its website this coming year.

The Alaska Historical Society is the state’s only statewide historical association dedicated to preserving and educating Alaskans about the state’s history.

Silent Auction Items

Date Posted: October 4, 2023       Categories: 49 History

See the most updated auction prices as of Saturday morning here.


The Alaska Historical Society is reviving its annual conference silent auction. The auction is the organization’s primary fundraiser to support its many programs. All auction items
have been generously donated by supporters and friends.

Look inside to explore the treasures to be had. Many are books—some familiar, some rare and unusual. There are lots of great and quirky ephemera items. Take this opportunity to build your Alaskana collection or to acquire items to give as gifts. At the same time, you will be supporting the Alaska Historical Society.

The auction items will be displayed in the Book Room at the conference with bid sheets. There will also be several boxes of bargain books for sale. Several authors plan to bring books and will be signing and selling them too.

Those not attending the conference are welcome to submit bids through our email members@alaskahistoricalsociety.org. The AHS website www.alaskahistoricalsociety.org will be updated Friday evening and Saturday noon with the current high bids—in case remote bidders want to increase their bids. The auction will close Saturday at 5 p.m.

View the AHS auction catalog here.

How the Auction Works

  • All bids must be for a minimum of 50% of the listed estimated value.
  • Bidding is open to all. Invite friends and family to bid!
  • Successful bidders attending the conference should pay and take their items after the
    auction closes or Sunday morning. Successful remote bidders will receive an email the
    following week with instructions on how to pay. After payment is received, the items
    will be mailed.

Remember to Bid early and often – the auction ends at 5 p.m. on Saturday!

Alaska History Day is Coming up in April

Date Posted: February 17, 2023       Categories: 49 History

Alaska History Day is coming up in April – please consider volunteering a few hours of your time as a judge!

What is Alaska History Day?
It is the Alaska statewide contest for National History Day. NHD is a year-long academic program focused on historical research, interpretation and creative expression for 6th- to 12th-grade students. By participating in NHD, students become writers, filmmakers, web designers, playwrights and artists as they create unique contemporary expressions of history.

When is it?
Judging for Alaska History Day will be April 3-10, with results announced April 14, 2023.

Who can be a judge?
You! We are looking for educators, historians, librarians, and others interested in serving as judges for our online contest. You don’t need to be an expert in a topic to be a judge! And since this contest is virtual, you can volunteer from anywhere you can connect to the internet. Why be a judge? Volunteering as a judge is an excellent way to support education in Alaska. You are helping our students gain crucial skills: problem solving, critical thinking, research and reading skills, self-confidence, and more.

What does an AHD judge do?
After a judging orientation, you will review student projects and offer constructive feedback; then, work with your fellow judging team members to rank the entries.

How to sign up?
Fill out the judges’ information form here.

You will also need to register as a judge here so you can access student entries.
Keep an eye out in your email for additional updates and scheduling.

Comprehensive Guide to Landmark Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act

Date Posted: August 25, 2022       Categories: 49 History News

The first-ever comprehensive guide to historical sources about the landmark Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA) has been completed by the Alaska Historical Society (AHS).

The three-volume, nearly 1,200-page Guide to Sources for the Study of the 1971 Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act identifies the vast majority of documents in existence about the historic claims act legislation located in archives, libraries, personal collections and online from Alaska to Washington, D.C. It serves as the premier information gateway for researchers, historians and those interested in the fascinating history of how the largest land claims settlement in U.S. history became law.

The AHS spent more than two years identifying documents about the act and detailing where they are located and how they can be accessed. The project unearthed numerous fascinating “gems” leading to passage of the act, such as:

  • A 20-page report about the first statewide meeting of Alaska Native leaders in Anchorage in 1966 that laid the groundwork for establishment of the Alaska Federation of Natives.
  • A 1970 speech by President Nixon on Indian policy in which he called for a new approach to the federal treatment of Native Americans, a historic change from termination to self-determination.
  • A speech by Dr. Henry Forbes, whose financial backing helped establish the Tundra Times and who worked with Howard Rock, the newspaper’s founder and editor.


“The Alaska Historical Society has produced a valuable resource guide to the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act,” said Tlingit elder and land claims activist Irene Rowan, who also served in Washington, D.C., in the 1970s as special assistant for Alaska programs to the Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs in the U.S. Department of the Interior. “This tool is important to those wishing to learn who was involved—why, how and who benefited. The guide will be useful in so many ways for so many people for many years to come. I commend and thank the AHS for taking on this mammoth and important project.”

“ANCSA was a major turning point in the history of Alaska Natives and their relationships to local, state and federal governments,” said Chuck Smythe, senior ethnologist with the Sealaska Heritage Institute. “This invaluable sourcebook provides a guide to primary and secondary sources for understanding what led to this act and its aftermath, which is still unfolding across the state.”

Tundra Times newspaper, December 22, 1971. Courtesy of Ukpeagvik Iñupiat Corporation and Tuzzy Consortium Library of Utqiaġvik, Alaska.


The project is organized into three separate documents for ease of use:

  • VOLUME 1 – HISTORY AND ARCHIVAL COLLECTIONS is an inventory of primary sources about the act detailing where specific historic documents are housed and how to view them. Sites include university, state and national archives, presidential libraries, museums, on-line data bases and agencies such as the National Park Service.
  • VOLUME 2 – ANNOTATED BIBLIOGRAPHY is a bibliography of published and unpublished sources of information about the act including books, articles, films, websites, major archival collections and even college theses and term papers. For example, it includes the college research paper Iñupiaq leader Willie Hensley wrote in 1966 which brought to light the legal reasons Natives had a claim to land.
  • VOLUME 3 – RESOURCES FOR THE TEACHING OF ANCSA AT 50 is a guide for educators wanting to teach about ANCSA and features curriculum approaches and key questions to pursue with their students.


The guide is a fully searchable and navigable electronic PDF document available online.


Essential funding for the project came from Alaska Native regional corporations including Doyon, Sealaska, Calista, Bering Straits and Koniag, as well as from the Rasmuson Foundation and the Atwood Foundation.


Contact William Schneider, project director, at wsschneider@alaska.edu

Download Project’s Informational Flyer

Download AHS Press Release, August 22, 2022

Eyewitness Booklet Series

Date Posted: March 15, 2021       Categories: 49 History News

Chris Allan has compiled five booklets of what he calls the “Eyewitness Series.”  They are being made available on the Alaska Historical Society’s website. Chris’s intent with the first four booklets is to showcase voices of the past: “I wanted to get away from the traditional historian’s narrative form where primary sources play a secondary or tertiary role behind the historian’s voice and analysis. I like the idea of people hearing history from the eyewitnesses. In each case, I was so impressed with what was available in digitized newspapers that I wanted to share it.” His booklet about mining operations at Coal Creek and Woodchopper Creek does the same as the others but allows photographers from the 1930s to tell the story. Each booklet includes advertisements, early maps, paintings, drawings and photographs previously unpublished or never collected in the same place.

Hoping to stimulate others to undertake new investigations, Chris also prepared a guide called “The Newspaper Bonanza: How to Discover Alaska’s Past in Newspaper Databases.”

The booklets are:

Eyewitness Series #1: American Side of the Line: Eagle City’s Origins as an Alaskan Gold Rush Town as Seen in Newspapers and Letters, 1897-1899, a collection from the town’s first year during the Klondike Gold Rush.

Eyewitness Series #2: As the Old Flag Came Down: Eyewitness Accounts of the October 18, 1867 Alaska Transfer Ceremony, a collection of sources describing the ceremony at Sitka after the United States purchased Alaska from Russia.

Eyewitness Series #3: A Rough and Tumble Country: Juneau’s Origins as Alaska’s First Gold Mining Boomtown as Described by Eyewitnesses, 1880-1881, a collaboration with Mark Kirchhoff about the discovery of gold in Gastineau Channel and the evolution of what would become Alaska’s capital city.

Eyewitness Series #4: Of Gold and Gravel: A Pictorial History of Mining Operations at Coal Creek and Woodchopper Creek, 1934-1938, Yukon-Charley Rivers National Preserve, a collection of seventy-five photographs illustrating the construction of two mining camps and two gold dredges in Alaska’s backcountry.

Eyewitness Series #5: A River’s Many Faces: Depictions of Life on the Yukon River by Charles O. Farciot and Willis E. Everette, 1882-1885, a collection of photographs and drawings offering glimpses of an Indigenous world shaped by fur trading companies and, increasingly, by outsiders searching for gold.