Tue, July 18, 2023

Historical Society to Launch Lecture/Discussion Series to Enhance Alaska Civil Discourse

Press Release: Historical Society to Launch Lecture/Discussion Series to Enhance Alaska Civil Discourse

Topics Include Americanization of Alaska, Native Sovereignty, Climate Change, Conservation and Development

News Release Contact: David Ramseur, President
July 17, 2023 907-317-3657

To help raise the level of civil discourse across Alaska, the Alaska Historical Society (AHS) is launching a four-part lecture and panel discussion series focused on major public policy issues facing Alaska. The sessions, scheduled to kick off this fall at the Anchorage Museum, are designed to combat the often willful distortion of history and create a more productive environment in which to arrive at sound public policy.

“Today in Alaska, as in much of the rest of the country, our civil discourse has deteriorated to a point where sensible public policy is not only enormously challenging, but often unachievable,” said William Schneider, University of Alaska Fairbanks professor emeritus and recent past president of the Alaska Historical Society.

“By demonstrating how knowledge of history can inform and improve current public policy debate, we hope to raise the level of discussion so an informed public can encourage decision-makers to draw on history to make fact-based policy which serves the broadest diversity of Alaskans,” Schneider said.

The AHS is Alaska’s largest statewide organization dedicated to the informed exchange of ideas through a factual appreciation of Alaska’s history. It is partnering with the Cook Inlet Historical Society and the Anchorage Museum on the series. The Atwood Foundation has provided a generous grant to cover costs. Other supporting organizations include the League of Women Voters, the University of Alaska Anchorage Seawolf Debate Program and OLÉ!, an Anchorage-based nonprofit which offers educational classes.

Each session will feature a small panel of experts who will discuss the topic at hand and take questions from both a live and on-line audience. Alaska students will be encouraged to participate.
The series will tentatively kick off in October with a focus on the “Americanization of Alaska.” Starting in 1867 with the transfer of Alaska from Russian to American control, the federal government extended its administration over the territory. Americanization had both enormously positive and negative impacts which continue today. The unsettled relationship between the federal government, the state and Native groups deserves closer discussion as Alaskans consider areas such as resource management and policies relating to responsibilities to Alaska Natives under the federal trust.

Subsequent sessions will address:

Alaska Native sovereignty and equality for all – The landmark 1971 Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act was broadly welcomed as the settlement of long-standing Alaska Native claims. Some contend the act greatly limits Native sovereignty while others point to Native assertion of self-governance and an active role in contracting for management of vital services such as health care and education.

Historic examples of how conservation and development can co-exist – Alaska is recognized as a state with rich natural resources vital to the nation. Since Statehood in 1959, resource development has been vital to the state. Similarly, conservation advocates and their organizations have played a role to ensure responsible development. This session will assess the historic record by pointing to examples that apply to present and future development.

Alaska: the canary in the coalmine for climate change – Many scientists consider Alaska Ground Zero for predicting the direction and impacts of climate change. This session will examine research produced in Alaska and how it speaks to the present.

The AHS has long been concerned about how the willful distortion of history and rampant misinformation shape public opinion and has driven the electorate both in Alaska and nationally into corners of extremism where reasonable compromise on vital public policy is too frequently unattainable. The Society has taken public positions on controversial public policy issues and with this series, hopes to strengthen Alaskans’ appreciation of our history and raise the level of our civil discourse.
More details about the series will be released closer to the first session in the fall.