Thu, October 12, 2023

Alaska Historical Society Recognizes Alaskans for Historic Accomplishment

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.