2023 Conference: Connections and Disconnections in Alaska History
Alaska Historical Society Annual Conference
Central Kenai Peninsula (and available virtually over Zoom)
Thursday, October 5 – Sunday, October 8
Thank you for joining us at the 2023 Alaska Historical Society Conference!
The conference opened with an afternoon tour of the Holy Assumption Russian Orthodox Church, a National Historic Landmark, followed by a reception at the Kenai Visitors Center with a performance by the Salamatof drummers. Thank you to the Church and the Salamatof drummers! Presentations ran Friday morning through Sunday afternoon at Kenai Peninsula College.
This year’s conference theme, “Connections and Disconnections in Alaska History,” speaks to how historic developments have had both positive and negative impacts on the territory and state. We hoped the theme would inspire presenters to explore many facets of Alaska. An overview of the conference schedule shows it worked. Keynote speaker Diane Hirshberg will hone in on Alaska
education, especially that affecting Indigenous and rural youth, while examining why many Alaska students struggle to succeed.
Other panels take up Alaska transportation modes and industries and colorful and unorthodox contributors to Alaska history. Even the diversity of Alaska place names reflects our historical connections and disconnections. We’re especially pleased with a major focus on Kenai Peninsula history to help us better appreciate this year’s conference site. Viewing Alaska’s history through the lens of connections and disconnections helps us understand our past and inform discussions and decisions about today and tomorrow.
Diane Hirshberg is director and professor of education policy at the Institute of Social and Economic Research, University of Alaska Anchorage, and vice-president academic for the UArctic Thematic Network on Health and Well-being in the Arctic. Her research interests include education policy, Indigenous and circumpolar education, and the role of education in sustainable development in the Arctic. She co-edited the book Education, Equity and Inclusion: Teaching and Learning for a Sustainable North, published in 2023, which features her co-authored chapter “Adaptation isn’t Just for the Tundra: Rethinking Teaching and Learning in Alaska’s Arctic.” Her current work focuses on the role of education and knowledge sharing in self-determined sustainable development in remote villages and in supporting community efforts to build energy security and sustainability in northern and Indigenous communities. Hirshberg
teaches in the Master of Public Policy Program at UAA. She has a Ph.D. in education from UCLA, an MPA from Columbia University, and two bachelor’s degrees from UC Berkeley.
Keynote Address: From Sheldon Jackson to the Fight for Tribal Schools: The Unfinished History of Colonization’s Impact on Alaska’s Schools and Students
Speaker: Dr. Diane Hirshberg
Across Alaska, students, especially Indigenous and rural youth, struggle to succeed in school, as measured by (admittedly flawed) standardized measures of proficiency such as graduation rates, dropout rates, and achievement test scores. Many factors are blamed for this, from high rates of teacher turnover to poor school facilities to inadequate teaching methods and curricula. However, too many policymakers, researchers, and educators fail to critically examine how historic colonization and assimilation efforts in Alaska created and propagated the current situation. Hirshberg will discuss the history of the schooling system in Alaska including its intended purposes from early territorial days through the residential schooling era to the present, and trace how the contemporary education system continues to reflect and suffer from this oft-unexamined history.
Friday, October 6, 10:30- 12:00pm: SESSION 1: Alaskans Who Shaped Our History
Moderator: Patricia Partnow
Marcia Biederman – The Courage of a Haida Woman: How Agnes McAlpin Won Her Human Rights in Divorce Court
Ray Hudson – The Best People on Earth: Connections and Disconnections in the Writings of Philemon Tutiakoff
Michael Livingston – Benny Benson’s Bilking and Diminution (NOT recorded)
Sunday, October 8, 8 – 9:30am: Lost Alaskans and Project Jukebox
Moderator: William Schneider
Ellen Ganley and Shir Lev Bach – Finding the Lost Alaskans: Volunteer and Researcher Experiences with the Morningside Hospital History Project
Karen Brewster – Conversations About Change: Observations of Environmental Change and Effects on People at Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park in Skagway, Alaska, and Bering Land Bridge National Preserve in Nome, Alaska