Exploring the Stylebook for Alaska


Photo taken at the Research Room of the Alaska State Library

This week’s post focuses on the Associated Press Stylebook for Alaska.

First thing’s first: some readers might be wondering what a stylebook is. Essentially, a stylebook is a writing manual used primarily by journalists that focuses on grammar, proper nouns, and parts of speech, among its contents. For instance, journalists rely on the Associated Press (AP) Stylebook for unified writing across newspapers and periodicals.

Alaska is the only state that has its own stylebook, a fact that has prompted me to delve into its contents that have been used by writers and journalists since its inception in 1991.

According to its author, inconsistency among several newspapers around Alaska over such terms as “dog-sled race” or “sled-dog race”, or when to use “Native Alaskan” or “Alaska Native”, made a unified stylebook necessary.

Upon searching through the contents of the 2nd edition this volume (most recently published in 2000), I found several interesting entries:

People of Alaska

The term “Alaskan” (p. 12) is not to be used as an adjective, unless it is in a proper name. Instead of “Alaskan”, it states, “Alaska” should be used instead: “Alaska cruise vacation” or “Alaska glacier”. (Some readers seem to take issue with this designation, however.)

“Gwich’in” (p. 39) provides correct spelling and punctuation for the Athabascan language and people of Northeast Alaska and Yukon Territory, and includes the Anglicized “Kutchin” only as an outdated term “based on English speaker’s perception of the word and does not reflect the Native [use] in the language” (p. 32). This distinction provides a refreshing and much-needed correction in that it restores linguistic agency to the Athabascan people.

Additionally, “Native” (p. 47) capitalized, used in “Alaska Native”, can only refer to Indigenous people of Alaska, whereas “native” lowercase, as in “native of Alaska”, can be used for any person born in Alaska.

“Yupik” (p. 70) represents three Eskimo languages and the Stylebook entry points out an important grammatical distinction between “Yupik” versus “Yup’ik”, the latter of which is correct for Central Yupik in Southwest Alaska only.


Unlike the “lower 48”, the term “brown bear” (p. 43) is used interchangeably to include “grizzly bears” as well as Kodiak bears (which do not have an entry in the Stylebook). The Alaska Zoo in Anchorage clarifies that Kodiak brown bears are found only on Kodiak Island, which grow to be the largest bears in Alaska due to the abundance of fish. The Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center makes the distinction between Alaska brown bears (which are called “Coastal Bears”) and grizzly bears based on location and size: grizzly bears are found in the Interior, as well as throughout Canada and the contiguous United States. Interestingly, they tend to be smaller than Coastal Bears, which are located only in Alaska. Variations in the coat color of black bears (which can range from black, gold, cinnamon, and gray) gives Glacier bears their very own distinction.

The Stylebook states that a “dog sled” (p. 24) is used in Alaska’s official state sport of “sled dog races” (P. 58), not “dog sled races”. “The dogs race pulling sleds. The sleds do not race,” the Stylebook dryly asserts.


The Stylebook instructs readers to use the following nicknames for Alaska in direct quotes only: “Far North” (p. 28), “49th State” (p. 29), “Great Land” (p. 31), “Last Frontier” (p. 40). The “Outside” (page 50), Stylebook notes, carries a pejorative implication when referring to the contiguous United States.

One colorful expression singled out by the Stylebook is the so-called “termination dust” (p.62) which is referred to as the first sign of snow on the mountains to signify the end of summer.

The Stylebook shows its age in its entry for “Mount McKinley” (p.46), in that the book was published long before its name was restored to Denali. Interestingly, at the time of its publication, the state Geographic Names Board officially listed the mountain as Denali in 1975, but goes on to state that any potential federal name change “is greatly resisted especially by the people of William McKinley’s home state of Ohio.” In spite of this, Alaska went ahead with the name change to Denali in 2015 (a move that was, predictably, met with disappointment from Ohioans).

Words matter. That’s the overall message the Stylebook for Alaska offers. It captures unique expressions and useful delineations of grammar that sets Alaska apart. Though out of date by seventeen years, it remains in continual use by journalists and writers, and acts as an interesting linguistic representation of the state itself. Who knew that you might learn a thing or two from an old grammar guide?


Missionary Schools in Alaska and the Legacy of Child Separation

Large group of Alaska Native children with blankets outside a missionary school.

Photo: Russian School, Sitka Alaska, c. 1889. ASL identifier: ASL-P91-49

In light of recent events at the U.S.-Mexico border regarding separating infants and children from parents, the legacy of missionaries separating Indigenous children from their families is more relevant than ever.

Viewing children from Native tribes as an affront to “Christian values” and as needing to be saved, missionaries throughout Alaska tore families apart and punished them for speaking their language and practicing their beliefs. This shameful legacy continued well into the middle of the 20th Century.

Newspapers from this era, primarily written by and for white men and women, discuss the legacy of missionary schools from the perspective of the “white savior complex”, in that the destruction of Native cultures was necessary for colonialism, under the guise of “saving” tribe members by exposing them to “civilization”. Historical newspapers are primary sources that directly reflect attitudes such as these,  as spelled out in an excerpt from an op-ed from the May 30, 1900 issue of the Douglas Island News regarding Indigenous dances:

Indian War Dance. The habits and customs of a strange people have a peculiar fascination for one who is interested in the study of humanity. As we look at the careless, dirty habits of dress always noticeable in the Alaska Indians; their stoical expression and slanting foreheads, we are forced to believe that as a race they can only belong to the lower orders of humanity, and we expect their actions and expressions to bear us out in this belief. In this we are not deceived, for in most cases they are ignorant and superstitious; clinging to the habits of their forefathers despite the teachings of the schools and missionaries. The beautiful evolutions of the white man's dances, executed as they are designed to be, in perfect time with perfect music, are perhaps the highest point to which this form of amusement has attained. The other extreme is reached when we see the untutored savage, jumping, twisting, whirling, and even groveling in the dirt, to the accompaniment of pounding sticks and discordant voices.

Douglas Island news. (Douglas City, Alaska), 30 May 1900. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. <http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn84021930/1900-05-30/ed-1/seq-3/>

An attitude such as this one, prevalent among white individuals, removed the humanity of Alaska Native people.

Missionaries, from both the Lower 48 and from the Russian Orthodox Church within the state, thus saw fit to establish schools that stemmed from the toxic ideology to “kill the Indian, save the child”. Similar to the current border policy, there was never any intention to reunite children with their parents. Each child in these photographs were separated from family members and their way of life:

A black and white photograph of about 40 Alaska Native children with two white missionary instructors outside a school.

June 15, 1895 [Juneau, Alaska], ASL identifier: ASL-P297-364

Six Alaska Native boys standing in front of the camera in dark clothing and somber expressions.

Alaska Native boys, c. 1925 or 1926, ASL identifier: UAF-2002-158-75

Newspapers provided largely indifferent coverage of these schools, and journalists wrote exclusively from the perspective of the missionaries and teachers.

Miss Rose Sibley, who is on her way to Carcross as a missionary school teacher in the Indian school there, arrived in Skagway on the Princess May this morning and left for her destination on the train today at 1 o'clock p.m.

The daily Alaskan. (Skagway, Alaska), 23 Sept. 1914. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. <http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn82014189/1914-09-23/ed-1/seq-4/>

Rev. Forbes is Enroute North on Inspection. To investigate the need for more Presbyterian missions in Alaska, to inspect existing missions and Sunday Schools and to make any changes necessary in the missionary administration policy of the North, Rev. W. B. Forbes, educational and missionary superintendent for the Presbyterian Sunday School Board, is now enroute north from Seattle with Mrs. Forbes. Dr. Forbes is in charge of the district comprising the Northwest and Alaska. Rev. and Mrs. Forbes left yesterday on the steamer Mariposa. They will go direct to Anchorage and after investigating conditions in that vicinity will return to Juneau and Skagway. Rev. Forbes plans to visit every Presbyterian Sunday School and mission in Alaska. He will place a general Sunday School missionary in charge of the Alaska work. "The development of Alaska," Mr. Forbes said in the Seattle Times of May 19th, "has been rapid in recent years and a corresponding growth in the missionary and Sunday School policies is necessary. I expect to start a forward movement in the North which will keep the church one of the best developed institutions in the North. Success in the present venture will mean similar tours of other United States Pacific Ocean possessions for the purpose of inaugurating similar development campaigns." Rev. Mr. Forbes expects to be more than two months in his Alaska survey. He will be present at a number of Sunday School and temperance conventions in the north, at some of which he will deliver short addresses.

The Alaska daily empire. (Juneau, Alaska), 26 May 1916. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. <http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn84020657/1916-05-26/ed-1/seq-2/>

Miss Emma J. Naftal, missionary teacher in the native school at Carcross, left on the Princess Sophia for Toronto on a nine months' furlough.

The daily Alaskan. (Skagway, Alaska), 05 Oct. 1917. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. <http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn82014189/1917-10-05/ed-1/seq-4/>

Once children aged out of missionary schools, authorities sent children to boarding schools for Native adolescents in Oregon and Oklahoma. In the landmark 1976 ruling Tobeluk v. Lind, 27 students brought forth a lawsuit in 1974 against the State of Alaska over the unjust, separate and unequal boarding schools for Native students and argued on behalf of the construction of a high school in the same town or village with an elementary school. Dubbed the “Molly Hootch Case” for the first student plaintiff named in the suit, this case arrived at a time when the federal government issued reparations for the historic treatment of Native Americans, such as the Alaska Native Land Claims Settlement Act in 1971. Tobeluk v. Lund gave local native tribes agency in reclaiming the education of their children. (The lawsuit can be obtained here in full.)

In recent years, the Presbyterian Church has issued an apology for its treatment of Native peoples, yet historical trauma remains to this day.

An apology to Alaska Natives by Presbyterians. Whereas, some Presbyterian missionaries, with best intentions in bringing the Gospel to Alaska, were among those who misunderstood the nature and purpose of Native culture, art and artifacts (for example, mistakenly teaching that totem poles were idols), and Whereas, this misconception still exists among some Christians in Southeast Alaska, and Native culture is still held in suspicion by some Native and immigrant Christians as a result of these teachings, and Whereas, both the early destruction of Native art, and the continuing denigration and pillage of Native gravesites did not, and do not, promote the Kingdom of God, but rather represent a kind of violence against some of God's children and a loss for us all, Therefore be it resolved that the Presbytery of Alaska...believes that the Lord our God is One, has created all peoples, and declared that creation is good...we disavow those teachings which led people to believe that abandoning Native culture was a prerequisite for being Christian. We deeply regret the church's part in the destruction of Native artifacts and the church's part in the loss of Native languages.

Photo taken at the Alaska State Museum.

How will history judge us for the treatment of thousands of children stranded at the border, torn from their families?

Newsprint as a Preservation Priority

Greetings, all!

The nature of newsprint preservation is a race against time. Like nearly all historic documents, decay is inevitable, but with newsprint, that threat comes faster. Why is this? The answer comes in the way in which it is processed.

Inherent Vice

Not just the title of a Thomas Pynchon novel, the term “inherent vice” refers to an item’s low-quality materials that hasten its decay- a term that perfectly describes the properties of newspaper. The durability and longevity of paper relies on its fiber. Unlike paper made from cotton fibers (such as paper money made from long-stranded cloth fiber), newsprint is created from short-stranded wood pulp, the inexpensive byproduct of the paper-making process. The difference in the fiber strand size impacts the breaking point: short strands break more easily than long strands, which leads to more rapid decay:

The cheap pulp and its relatively rapid decay process reflect the ephemeral nature of the medium itself: Who among us has not heard of a newspaper referred to as “fishwrap”? Or heard the term “Yesterday’s news”? Or have even heard of seedy paperback novels as referred to as “pulp fiction”?

But to those who work to preserve the medium, there is intrinsic value in retaining original newspaper copies. While best practices dictate displaying digital copies of newspapers or articles that have been printed out, such as these from the recent Princess Sophia shipwreck centennial at the Alaska State Museum…


Curators chose to display a physical copy of the Nome Tri-Weekly Nugget in the Princess Sofia exhibit to display the magnitude of the printed names of the passengers who died on board the ship:

Sophia Newspaper

100 years later, one can see the extent of decay from the brittle, yellowed quality of the paper. But it certainly packs an emotional punch.


To stave off the slow burn of newsprint, preservationists turned to microfilm starting as early as the 1950s. Microfilm started to be used widely in libraries in the 1970s as a way to condense larger documents, and therefore use less space. Newspapers stored on microfilm was an ideal solution to the issues surrounding both storage and preservation, and are still in wide use today. However, quality control is a must. As discussed in last week’s post, if there are any filming errors, and the physical newspaper has been destroyed, there is no way to re-create a microfilm copy.

At the Alaska State Library, we still keep original copies of newspapers for just this reason. Boxes of newspapers lie flat in the vault kept at 50 degrees Fahrenheit. For the most part (with the exception for the display of historical artifacts), the only light exposure the paper receives is through a BookEye machine to create a digital copy, if no microfilm issue exists.

Microfilm itself is not a perfect medium. Master reels need to be held in cold storage (ASL keeps the temperature at a chilly 40 degrees Fahrenheit). The reels of silver nitrate and the chemicals used to create images can be very expensive. So what comes next?

For many libraries, the future of historic newspapers is to create a digital platform, which is what Chronicling America is creating. State institutions and libraries are creating digital interfaces of their own: the Arizona Memory Project stands out as a way forward in creating an accessible web-based platform for its historic newspapers.

Given the importance of historic newspapers as primary sources, it is vital that archives and historical collections make newspaper preservation a priority. The medium does not make this easy, but by working from copies saved in cold storage and on microfilm, we are making headway in making newspapers digitally accessible. Not bad for a bunch of chopped-up wood pulp!


Microfilm Quality Control: Or, What Can Possibly Go Wrong?

Greetings, all!

Last week, we provided an update on the re-filming the Nome Nugget. To delve a bit deeper in the topic, I’d like to share some background on the process of filming newspaper- specifically, what we look for in controlling the quality of newspaper images.

Human Error

When looking through microfilm, an occasional, unexpected sight appears:

microfilm invader

(Photo credit: Historical Tennessee Newspapers on Pinterest)

Hands and fingers secure pages when shooting an image, and at worst can cover text in an image and make it difficult to read. This problem is not limited to newspapers, however. Eagle-eyed readers on Google Books have compiled several instances of imaging tech’s fingers, such as these ones:


Photo credit: The Art of Google Books Tumblr

Some of these errors are linked to the need to speed up production, at the expense of overall image quality. (The Google Books project has its share of images that document unexpected findings within its digital pages: theartofgooglebooks.tumblr.com)


Have you ever tried to take a photo of something on a computer screen? If so, then you’re familiar with the pattern that appears in these images:


There’s a name for that effect: Moire. It’s a pattern formed by two sets of parallel lines slightly distorted:


(Photo credit: Wikimedia commons)

This term is also used in the world of fashion as a type of effect with fabric often seen in silk and damask worn in portraits of noblemen and women.

In addition, another type of fabric, called shot silk, combines two colors, one on the warp (the top of the weave) another on the weft (the side of the weave), to create a color-changing effect depending on where the light hits it:


Photo credit: Wikimedia commons

Similarly, when taking a photo of a computer screen, frequencies create a visual effect.

When images are filmed on the Book Eye or the Mekel microfilming machine, they are filmed without a digital interface, and therefore without the moire effect.

Book/Newspaper errors

These errors pose an interesting question: when filming, how much of the actual document should people see? For instance, filmed fingers on pages or handwritten marginalia or entire articles cut out allows the reader to view the document not as a newspaper in a vacuum, but as a copy that others have held and read in the past.

We at the National Digital Newspaper Project do our best to provide newspaper images from original microfilm- and many times the images show marginalia on the pages (usually to correct the dates or issue numbers). One could argue that these errors recreate an experience we’re more accustomed to when dealing with physical objects: stains, marginalia, bookmarks, and even pressed flowers come into play in this digital format. More often than not, an actual person is the one opening the pages and shooting the images. These errors, then, allow us to see the human side of the process.

Many thanks to The Art of Google Books (http://theartofgooglebooks.tumblr.com/) and to Historic Tennessee Newspapers on Pinterest (https://www.pinterest.com/historictnnews/microfilm-invaders/) !

Stay tuned for next week’s post on newspaper as a preservation priority!

Re-Filming the Nome Nugget

Greetings, all!

Even though production has ended on the 2016-2018 National Digital Newspaper Program cycle, we are still hard at work. One particular area of focus is on the venerable Nome Nugget, the oldest continually published newspaper in Alaska. Our Micrographics department is busy re-filming bound volumes of the Nome Nugget from 1911-1924 to include on Chronicling America. The current state of its microfilm is rather poor, as you can see here:

Nome Nugget 1900

Fortunately, the Alaska State Library still has issues of the Nome Nugget from which to shoot better microfilm copies. These issues come in large bound volumes of newsprint, and roughly the size of a standard newspaper today. To film each page, we scan an image on a machine called a Book Eye:

Nome Nugget 1

To capture an image as crisp as possible, we are filming the pages without the glass plate in front. Once the Book Eye scans a page, the image shows up on a screen, which Amber Glen from the Micrographics Department uses to assess the image quality:

Nome Nugget 2

Once an image is saved, we use that digital copy to compile into a master microfilm reel once a volume has been scanned in its entirety. Thanks to her efforts, and those of everyone in the Micrographics Department at the Alaska State Library, we now have high-resolution digital images that will one day be text-searchable on Chronicling America. In other words, a drastic change from images like these:

Nome Nugget 1912 A

To sharper, more legible pages like this:

Nome Nugget 1912 B

Stay tuned for next week’s post on microfilming quality control!