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

CONFERENCE DATES: Thursday through Saturday: October 8-10 and 15-17, 2020

This year, we will be holding the meeting digitally by Zoom. To avoid Zoom fatigue, we are stretching it out over two weeks. We will have a 1-1/2 hour morning session and a 1-1/2 hour afternoon session 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.

Registration fee is $50. This allows you to participate in every session. This webinar is for users with a Zoom account, so if you do not have one you will need to sign up for one prior to registering. New to Zoom? Sign up for free.

We want to make sure that everyone who registers can access the panels. If you are interested in participating in a training session in how to use Zoom, please let us know, by sending an email to or calling 907-240-4917. We also plan to offer training especially for presenters in how to give a paper via Zoom, including how to use PowerPoint slides. Training sessions will be held prior to the conference, likely in the first week of October. If you have impaired vision or hearing, or have other accessibility issues, please let us know in advance so that we can provide captioning or other support.

Register Now

AHS Theme

“Place and Power” is the theme for the 2020 Alaska Historical Society Conference. When we were going to gather in Sitka while the community commemorated the 1867 transfer of Alaska from Russia to the United States 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.

 Millennia of Tlingit history are marked in clan houses, place names and clan histories intimately connected with specific places. The power relationship between the Russian American Company colony at Sitka and the Tlingit people is represented in the Fort Site from the Battle of 1804, now the Sitka National Historical Park, and in surviving structures such as the Russian Bishop’s House and St Michael’s Orthodox Cathedral. The struggle between Alaska Native people and the U.S. government is also represented in the history of the Alaska Native Brotherhood Hall, Sheldon Jackson School, and Mt. Edgecumbe High School.

Conference sessions are being planned on Women’s Suffrage, the 50th Anniversary of the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA), and the Legacy of Richard Nelson.  The West, including Alaska, was ahead of the nation in recognizing the rights of women, thereby challenging us to ask how place influenced attitudes and what effect the Progressive Movement had on Alaskans and their views on women’s rights. Next year, 2021, marks the 50th anniversary of the passage of ANCSA, a major political settlement with profound consequences for Native sovereignty, subsistence rights, and governmental regulations on land use. The death of noted anthropologist and nature writer Richard Nelson provides a chance to examine a legacy of recording Native relationships to place and discuss how spiritual lessons learned from elders influenced his own understanding of place.

Keynote Speakers

Dr. Tom Thornton and Harvey Kitka

About the Speakers:
Dr. Tom Thornton is the Dean of Arts & Sciences and Vice-Provost for Research and Sponsored Programs at the University of Alaska Southeast (UAS) in Juneau, Alaska. He earned a bachelor’s degree in Sociology/Anthropology from Swarthmore College and both a master’s degree and Ph.D. in Anthropology from the University of Washington. He has taught anthropology at UAS and is interested in historical ecology and cultural development in and stewardship of places. He has worked on numerous anthropology and human ecology projects where he has collaborated with a number of Southeast Alaska tribes and organizations, including Sealaska Heritage Institute, Sitka Tribe of Alaska, and the Southeast Native Subsistence Commission. He has published over 70 works in his fields of study, and his book, Haa Léelk’w Hás Aaní Saax’u: Our Grandparents’ Names on the Land, won a 2012 Alaska Historical Association award. Tom has worked with a number of Tlingit elders, including Herman Kitka Sr and his son, Harvey, from Sitka whose collective sense of place has informed a good part of his perspective and projects as an anthropologist.

Harvey Kitka was born in Sitka in 1941. His parents were Herman and Martha Kitka. He is Tlingit, of the Kaagwaantaan clan, and his real name is Yanshkaowoo. He is retired from fishing and electrical work, and now takes part in tribal needs. Over the past fifteen years, he has worked and published with Tom Thornton on a variety of traditional place name and cultural documentation projects.


PDF of Conference Schedule        Presentation Abstracts and Presenter Biographies

Thursday, October 8

10-11:30 am  Conference Welcome and Keynote Speech

Keynote Speakers:
Thomas Thornton – Senses of Place and History in the “Toponymic Hotspot” of Sitka Sound

Harvey Kitka – Reflections on Place and History in Sitka Sound

Moderator: Rachel Mason

2-3:30 pm  Remembering Richard Nelson

Debbie Miller – Loving Alaska and the Joy of Listening

George Gmelch and Sharon Gmelch – The Legacy of Richard King Nelson (1941-2019):  An Anthropological Perspective

Hank Lentfer – Anthropologist to Artist: The Literary Legacy of Richard Nelson

Moderator: Bill Schneider

Friday, October 9

10-11:30 am  Women’s Suffrage

Sue Sherif – Before and After the 19th Amendment: An Overview of Woman’s Suffrage in Honor of Beverly Beeton

Anne Elise Pollnow – The Sitka Woman’s Club: Sitka’s Connection to the Woman’s Suffrage Movement

Moderator and Honoring Beverly Beeton: Anjuli Grantham

2-3:30 pm   Topics in Alaska History

Shana Loshbaugh – The Brief, Awkward History of Fort Kenay

Leanna Prax Williams – Missing from the Northern Sky: An Analysis of Newspaper Coverage of the Merrill and Eielson Searches, 1929-1930

Philip Wight – Roadblock: The Origins of the Anti-Roads Movement in Alaska, 1960-1980

Tia Tidwell – Christine Storm, Main Character in Edna Ferber’s Ice Palace

Moderator: Tom Bundtzen

Saturday, October 10

10–11:30 am 1918 Influenza Epidemic

Aaron Leggett – A Dena’ina Perspective on the 1918 Flu Epidemic

Tim Troll – The Spanish Flu in SW Alaska: Bristol Bay and Unalaska

Moderator: Michael Hawfield

2:00-3:30 pm   Annual Business Meeting, Election Results, Awards, Memorials, Local Historical Society Reports

Thursday, October 15

10-11:30 am  Sitka – A Powerful Place

Angela Schmidt – Historical Scenes of Sitka (films)

Anne Elise Pollnow – Tlingit Placenames on the Katlian Bay Road Project

Rebecca Poulson – Sitka in the 1880s: Small-Town Politics and Personalities that Shaped Alaska

Moderator: Erik Johnson

2-3:30 pm  Sitka’s History

Daniel Monteith – Sheldon Jackson Boarding School and Its Impact on Language and Culture

Fred Woods – The Rise of the Sitka Saints: A Century of Sitka Later-day Saint History

Doug Vandegraft – Historic Bars of Sitka

Moderator: Rebecca Poulson

Friday, October 16

10-11:30 am The History of ANCSA

Paul Ongtooguk – ANCSA: The Whitewater of Indigenous Land Claims

Grand Chief Peter Johnston – The Yukon Land Claims Process: Together Today for Our Children Tomorrow

Stephen Haycox – Complex Circumstances, and Unforeseen Consequences: The End of Treaty-Making and ANCSA

William Schneider – ANCSA: Aboriginal Title to the Land and Aboriginal Hunting and Fishing Rights

Moderator: Patuk Glenn

2-3:30 pm   Monuments and History in the Public Square Discussion

Panelists: Aaron Leggett, Mary Ehrlander, and Ross Coen

Moderator: Ian Hartman

Saturday, October 17

10-11:30 am  Russian America

Stephen Haycox – “Longue durée”: Russia’s Half-Hearted Approach to North America

Dawn Black – The Interactions of the Russian American Trading / Hunting Companies and Priests with the Alaskan Artels on Marmot, Hinchinbrook and Sitka (Baranov) Islands

Moderator: David Ramseur

2-3:30 pm Alaska Canneries

Bob King – The Journals of Ole Mathison

Anjuli Grantham  – New Analysis of the Alaska Packers Association’s China Contracts

Katie Ringsmuth – A Project for the Moment

Moderator: Averil Lerman

Contact Information

For questions about the conference schedule or to sign up for Zoom training, contact Rachel Mason, Chair, 2020 Conference Committee:   907-240-4917

For questions about this website, accessing Zoom, or using Zoom for presentations, contact Karen Brewster, AHS Board Member and Conference Technical Consultant: 907-479-7479

For general information or questions about conference registration, contact Jo Antonson, AHS Executive Director:  907-276-1596