Alaska Day

The Two Best Investments Ever Made by the United States--Alaska's Purchase and Government Built Railroad; 1867-1915; The Alaska Citizen; Fairbanks, Alaska, Monday Morning, October 18, 1915

How does one acknowledge Alaska Day, a federal holiday to commemorate the transfer of Alaska from Russia to the United States?

The holiday traditionally celebrated the westward expansion of the United States as an extension of Manifest Destiny. For many, it is a day fraught with the unexplored legacy of colonialism, of sacred land loss, and of the intentional erasure of Alaska natives from the history of their land.

Historic Alaska newspapers celebrated the holiday as a reminder of the United States as a world power, particularly in the context of events during the First World War. Articles from this time period emphasized the patriotic obligation Alaska residents in schools owe the then-territory:

Observance of Alaska Day by Schools Urged: Broad Significance Attached to Observance of Anniversary of Transfer. Alaska Day, which is October 18, should have a broad and deep significance to every Alaskan, declares the Alaska School Bulletin for October. "The observance of the day should inspire its every man and woman, every boy and girl, a love and loyalty to this great Northland and to the nation of which we are a part," it declares. The Bulletin is issued monthly from the office of the Territorial Commissioner of Education and goes to every school in Alaska. Commenting on Alaska Day, it says: Alaska Day, October 18th., marks the fifty-fourth anniversary of the transfer of what is now the Territory of Alaska from Russia to the United States. This vast Empire containing approximately 600,000 square miles of territory was purchased for $7,200,000, representing less than two cents per acre. The total mineral production of Alaska from the date of purchase to the year 1920 was more than sixty times the purchase price. The fisheries during the last decade alone have yielded more than forty times the amount of the purchase price. There is every reason to believe that neither of those great industries has reached the peak of production. The coal and oil fields are practically unexplored. Those who know state that the coal fields of the Matanuska and Nenana River valleys are more than equal in extant to the original coal fields of West Virginia and Pennsylvania. Timber for use in the paper and pulp industry is being utilized for the first time in the history of the Territory. Billions of cords of such wood are situated at points which are readily accessible to present or possible mill sites. William H. Seward certainly caused Uncle Sam to sow seed which was destined to bring forth many an hundred fold when he urged and consummated the purchase of Alaska.

From the October 12, 1921 issue of the Alaska daily empire.

“The observance of the day should inspire in every man and woman, every boy and girl, a love and loyalty to this great Northland and to the nation of which we are a part”

Patriotic sentiment aside, these articles also point to the economic output of the Alaskan territory, to imply that the raw materials of timber, gold, and seafood help boost the United State’s gross domestic product. The sheer bounty of resources “discovered” and turned a profit by white settlers to the territory.

In a statement from the above article that would prove fortuitous:

“The coal and oil fields are practically unexplored. Those who know state that the coal fields of the Matanuska and Nenana River valleys are more than equal in extant to the original coal fields of West Virginia and Pennsylvania.”

(Crude oil reserves from Prudhoe Bay that would not be tapped until 1968, and the profits from oil drilling would remain front and center of the Permanent Fund Dividend (PFD) in 1980).

Alaska Day is to be Celebrated on Thursday, the 18th: The Seward public school will celebrate Alaska Day, October 18, which is next Thursday. Miss Wallace, principal, announced today that she had received telegraphic instructions from Commissioner of Education L. D. Henderson, who requested that all school superintendents, principals and teachers pay special attention this year to Alaska Day. Commissioner of Education Henderson suggested that the teachers secure speakers to outline, the full meaning, in the light of history, of the transferring of Alaska from Russia to the United States, what it means to the residents of the Territory to be a part of the United States, what America's mission is in the world and what part each of us must take in a super-union democracy. On next Thursday afternoon at 2:30 o'clock the pupils of the high and grammar school will assemble in the high school rooms. Judge W. H. Whittlesey will make the address of the afternoon and patriotic songs will be given by the students. The actual transfer of Alaska from Russia to the United States took place at Sitka on October 18, 1867. At that time the flag of the Czar of Russia was lowered and the American flag was raised. The United States was represented by General Rousseau of the regular army at the ceremony.

From the October 13, 1917 issue of the Seward gateway.

Other articles used the abundance of territorial profit as a bargaining chip to help fund mail services among other amenities:

This is the Birthday of Territory of Alaska: Alaska, As Possession of the United States, is 48 Years Old Today-- Fairbanks Has More Than Paid For It and Its Entire Case and Yet Cannot Get a Mail Service

From the October 18, 1915 issue of the Alaska citizen.

Newspapers used the holiday to instill patriotism in its citizens (Alaska Natives would not be recognized as United States citizens until 1924) by celebrating Alaska’s economic contributions and its territorial shortcomings. Virtually none of the Alaska Day coverage in historic newspapers dealt with Alaska Natives, and deliberately so, based on their second-class status. While the annual Alaska Day Festival in Sitka celebrates October 18th in a traditional manner, with parades, costumes, dances, and pageantry, many groups are confronting this legacy in light of the holiday that, ostensibly, signifies stolen land transfer.

While the people of Alaska have a day off in honor of Alaska Day, it is important to reflect on the history of the holiday, of the generational pain and trauma caused by forceful removal from sacred land, and of the resiliency of Alaska Native tribes throughout the state.


Project Update: Funding Approved!

Hooray! Hoopla!

Image credit: The daily morning Alaskan. (Skagway, Alaska), 18 March 1902. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress.

Hello all,

Exciting news on the project front: a representative from the National Endowment for the Humanities contacted the Alaska State Library to notify us that we have been approved for an additional funding cycle from 2018 through 2020. This means that we can continue to produce content for Chronicling America and make historic Alaska newspapers online and text-searchable, free of charge.

In addition, we recently received a phone call from the office of Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski congratulating us on the work in progress, and on the project thus far.

Work has already started on this next cycle, as we are continuing to digitize and input metadata for the National Digital Newspaper Program.

From all of us at the Alaska State Library, we are thrilled to continue this project for another round, and for patrons to be able to search historic Alaska newspapers online.

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. <>

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. <>

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. <>

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. <>

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!


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!

Greetings from the Alaska Anthropological Association Conference!

AAA PosterLast week, National Digital Newspaper Program (NDNP) director Anastasia Tarmann and project coordinator Janey Thompson attended the 45th Annual Meeting of the Alaska Anthropological Association in Anchorage to spread the word about historic Alaska newspapers and progress on the project.

In addition to a poster, we prepared brochures that provided a brief overview of the project, a Chronicling America demonstration on a laptop computer, and unique microfilm bookmarks.

While talking to scholars at the table, many shared their experiences using Chronicling America to assist in their research, one of whom used the site to study changes in brand logos in advertisements over time. Additionally, a few attendees shared titles that we should consider adding to the project and offered to serve on the title selection committee.

In addition to “tabling”, we each had the opportunity to attend lectures given by conference attendees. These presentations of their papers related to the archaeology and anthropology of Alaska, with topics ranging from language revitalization, to museum exhibit design, to the excavation of hearth sites, to the affects of global warming on historic anthropological landmarks.

The Alaska Anthropological Association annual meeting gave us an opportunity to see what researchers and scholars throughout Alaska are studying, and how best our newspaper resources can assist them. Many thanks to all those who made the annual meeting possible!

AAA Conference

Parts of a Newspaper: The Front Page

In this installment of the Parts of a Newspaper series, we’ll be looking at the part most central- the front page! Contributing to this post was city reporter for the Juneau Empire, Gregory Philson, who helped shed light on differences between century-old front pages to those of today.

Below is a front page from the former Alaska Daily Empire (now the Juneau Empire) almost exactly 100 years ago, in honor of our guest:Juneau Empire 100 years ago

When encountering an older front page, one of the most striking differences to the modern reader is its sometimes-chaotic layout, such as this one below from the January 5, 1923 issue of the Seward Gateway:

Where's the story

Based on this front page, there is no clear visual “path” to the story from its headline. The main headline likely functioned to draw readers into the issue, and to then send the readers in search of the story, while taking them to the other stories. Back then, headlines needed to print every story on its front page, due to the relatively high production costs. Newspapers today typically will have one “central” story surrounded by secondary ones, which may not be as important to that day.

Looking at headlines on a more micro level, an important, if sometimes overlooked, aspect of front page design is in its typography. In addition to the way words look through typefaces, kerning (letter spacing) and letting (spacing between leaders) matters greatly. Letting should allow the reader to not have to think about how the story is physically designed and to enable the content to be understood.

To demonstrate kerning, examine the headline below from the April 21, 1918 issue of The Seward Gateway Daily Edition and The Alaska Weekly Post:

Bad Kerning

Upon first glance, it is difficult to discern the meaning of the sentence when it looks like “DOUBLEMURDERATKENAI“. Being unable to understand a headline at at quick glance is a clear issue. If the reader does not know immediately what something says, they are less likely to want to read it. Moreover, the philosophy behind proper kerning is to make the words easily read by anyone, which is the objective of any newspaper. Readers simply cannot absorb information if the words themselves are not legible.

Front pages prioritize main stories that highlight conflicts (foreign wars and domestic disputes), or people and events of note. The front page can represent a microcosm of one day in history; readers can search newspaper databases like Chronicling America just by the front page of a specific title. Whether a newspaper represents a small town or a major city, its front page often reflects the people, places, incidents, and events its readers value. A front page of a newspaper reflects a singular moment in time.

Many thanks to our guest, Gregory Philson, and the Juneau Empire, for your time and insights!