Creating Alaska

Scope of Work Creating Alaska: The Origins of the 49th State University of Alaska

In 1955, Alaska’s Territorial Legislature called for a Constitutional Convention. Its 55 delegates met on neutral ground, away from the Capital in Juneau, allowing them to rise above strident politics and partisan wrangling. They gathered at the University of Alaska in Fairbanks and eventually crafted a document that was hailed as a model Constitution. Four years later, as a result of this effort, Alaska was admitted into the Union as the 49th state.

In preparation for the 50th Anniversary of Alaska’s Constitutional Convention and eventual statehood, the University of Alaska launched a special project: “Creating Alaska - The Origins of the 49th State.” Creating Alaska was a three-year project to research and commemorate the fiftieth anniversaries of Alaska’s Constitutional Convention in 2005-06 and the granting of statehood in 2009. Through a documentary series, an interactive multimedia website, teacher education programs, university courses and public symposia, Creating Alaska helped to give present and future generations a better understanding of the creation of the great State of Alaska.

Creating Alaska was an amalgamation of two University projects focused on the anniversaries of Alaska’s statehood milestones. As a result, one key aspect of the project was the recognition of the fiftieth anniversary of the Alaska Constitutional Convention in 2005-06. This preliminary anniversary resulted in a more holistic view of the statehood struggle, beyond a focus solely on Alaska’s admission to the Union in 1959. This greater scope resulted in a more in-depth review of the events and people involved in Alaska’s journey to statehood.

Creating Alaska was an excellent educational opportunity to share the real meaning of statehood with all Alaskans. This project layed the foundation for a comprehensive multi-media examination of the struggle for Alaska statehood. Creating Alaska was a statewide vehicle to provide Alaskans with a better understanding of how the state came to be, and helped to raise the level of public debate on many of the contentious issues Alaska faced at the time. In particular, it examined the crucial role the University of Alaska played in creating the blueprint for the future of Alaska.

A key part of the educational and outreach missions of the Creating Alaska project was a special program that examined the forces and personalities that shaped the 49th State. Building on interviews with key players in the drive to statehood, KUAC, in association with other Alaska Public Broadcasters, acquired critical historical material and further interviews in order to explain to viewers and listeners the economic, social and political factors that led to statehood.

Further, all of the material collected by the Creating Alaska project and KUAC was deposited in the University of Alaska Fairbanks Elmer E. Rasmuson Library and the UA Museum of the North for use by historians and the general public.

Specifically, the Creating Alaska project allowed the University of Alaska to achieve six goals:

  • Identify and collect historic materials pertaining to the Constitutional Convention and the statehood movement;
  • Conduct interviews with remaining figures from the statehood era;
  • Archive all collected material at UA libraries and museums;
  • Produce educational materials to coincide with the anniversary of Alaska’s statehood and constitution;
  • Identify and research historic sites associated with the constitution and statehood movement; and
  • Promote public awareness of the Alaska statehood movement and develop partnerships with outside organizations and individuals interested in participating in the recognition of these historic events.

Goal 1: Identify and collect historic materials pertaining to the Constitutional Convention and the statehood movement

In the forty-five years since Alaska’s entry to the Union, there have been periodic projects focused on researching and recognizing the individuals and events that played key roles in the success of the statehood movement. In recognition of the 25th anniversary of statehood, the State of Alaska established the Alaska Statehood Commission to review the place of Alaska within the Union and conduct research on the remaining statehood movement leaders. This research, which typically took the form of audio-recorded interviews, was used primarily for the generation of reports, books and academic material. In addition, many Alaska historians have undertaken independent research projects highlighting particular individuals or trends in the statehood movement. These materials have typically been deposited with UA libraries and archives throughout Alaska, and locations outside the state. There were also many collections of photos, print, text and other memorabilia in private hands. A key focus of the project was to identify these materials in public and private hands, with the hopes of preserving them for future generations either through facilitating donation to a University archive, or by acquiring high-quality reproductions.

Creating Alaska partnered with the Alaska Moving Images Preservation Association (AMIPA) for access to historical footage of the constitutional convention and statehood era. AMIPA is in possession of several video clips shot by Steve McCutcheon, professional photographer and delegate to the Alaska Constitutional Convention. These clips are some of the only remaining moving images of the convention.

Goals 2 & 3: Conduct interviews with remaining figures from the statehood era and Archive all collected material at UA libraries and museums

As mentioned above, oral history work with statehood pioneers has been conducted in the past. However, most oral history work conducted to date is in analog audio format only. The Creating Alaska project conducted interviews with statehood survivors, utilizing digital video and audio formats. The oral history work conducted by the Creating Alaska project adds a rich new dimension to existing archives, while expanding the focus of the existing histories to include current Alaska events.

All interviews conducted by the project were digitally rendered to allow their viewing and use by teachers, researchers and students through the technological gateways of the University of Alaska libraries and museums. A portion of the grant funded the hiring of two individuals to log and duplicate the interviews conducted for streamlined access by future historians.

 Goal 4: Produce educational materials to coincide with the anniversary of Alaska’s statehood and constitution

Creating Alaska produced a half-hour special feature for KUAC/AlaskaOne Public Television, which aired in November 2003. The program began with a short documentary on the political landscape during the struggle for statehood, posing the question: “Was statehood for Alaska inevitable?” The program concluded with a roundtable discussion of historians and political scientists regarding the various events, groups and individuals who played a role in the statehood campaign. This short introductory piece established the foundation of the project’s oral history work. A copy of the pilot program is included.

The project conducted in-depth interviews with statehood political leaders, delegates to the convention and statehood opponents. These and additional interviews were the basis for a documentary series on the Alaska Constitution and the statehood campaign. The Creating Alaska project and KUAC/AlaskaOne Public Television developed the documentary series over the course of two years, with the series installments released at corresponding historic anniversaries.

As part of the “Alaska History and Cultural Studies” pilot program developed by the Alaska Humanities Forum for the Anchorage School District, Creating Alaska participated in the creation of a teacher education course focused on Alaska statehood and the constitution. A funding request submitted by the Alaska Humanities Forum included monies for the teacher education program.

Goal 5: Identify and research historic sites associated with the constitution and statehood movement

When the Alaska State Constitution was drafted at the University of Alaska in 1955-56, the Constitutional Convention met at the recently completed Student Union Building, now known as Constitution Hall. Other convention events, including the opening ceremonies and the signing of the completed constitution, occurred in the Old Gymnasium, now known as Signer’s Hall. The Creating Alaska project worked with the UAF Master Planning Committee and other departments of the University of Alaska Fairbanks to develop a plan for recognizing the history of these buildings. The project also coordinated with the UAF Master Planning Committee to designate areas of campus that could be locations for memorials or monuments to the men and women who fought for Alaska statehood.

Goal 6: Promote public awareness of the Alaska statehood movement

As a result of Alaska’s highly transient population, there were few people in the state at the time of the project's creation with an understanding of the history or necessity of the statehood movement. Alaska currently faces many issues that divide the state along geographic, ethnic and partisan lines. In Alaska’s relatively brief political history, internal conflict has been more the rule than the exception. The statehood movement, however, is consistently mentioned as the sole time when Alaskans worked together for a common political cause. The statehood struggle seemed to bring out the best in Alaskans, as they worked to reduce the political influence of outside interests who controlled the territory economically. Creating Alaska's commemoration of this era of political statesmanship provided Alaskans with a better understanding of how the state came to be, and helped raise the level of public debate on many of Alaska's contentious issues.

The Creating Alaska project promoted public awareness of the Alaska Constitution and statehood movement through a variety of factors, including the documentary series, special university courses, public symposia, promotion of the Creating Alaska website, cooperation with state and local governments and a media campaign. Creating Alaska continues to educate through this archival website.

Project Leads:

Where appropriate, Creating Alaska will fully utilize the infrastructure and resources of the University of Alaska for the success of the project. These resources include historians, historical documents and records, technology, fundraising and public relations infrastructure and access to the AlaskaOne Public Broadcasting Network, including KUAC, KAKM, KTOO and KYUK.

The project is guided by a Steering Committee composed of representatives of AlaskaOne Public Television, UAF History Department, Office of the President, UA Board of Regents and project staff.

The principal investigator and chair of the project’s Steering Committee is Karen Perdue, Associate Vice President, University of Alaska. She will also serve as Series Producer for the public television series.

Robert Hannon, Public Affairs Director of KUAC TV will serve as producer/writer. Robert Hannon has 20 years of broadcast experience producing series, hosting television productions as well as reporting on science and health issues. He has written and produced two video documentaries on Global Climate & Research and regularly hosts for public broadcasts. UAF History Professor Terrence Cole serves as the Creating Alaska Project’s historical expert. Cole, who has written several books on Alaska history, will continue to conduct oral history interviews for the project, and will travel extensively on behalf of Creating Alaska with the KUAC film crew. Both Hannon and Cole serve on the project Steering Committee.

Also serving on the Steering Committee are:

  • Brian Rogers, Chair of the UA Board of Regents and former state legislator. Rogers was a member of the Alaska Statehood Commission in the 1980’s, and currently serves as co-chair of the Creating Alaska Advisory Board.
  • Greg Petrowich, KUAC General Manager. Petrowich will assist with internal allocation of resources and coordination of KUAC and UA project objectives.
  • Ann Ringstad, UA Director of Community Relations. Ringstad will oversee day-to-day operations of the project and bring a wealth of experience and information to project planning and development.
  • Joseph Hardenbrook, Creating Alaska Project Coordinator. Hardenbrook will oversee day-to-day operations of the project, including website development, research, event planning and execution and general project development.

In addition to the Steering Committee, Creating Alaska has established a 23-member Advisory Board composed of leaders from the Alaska statehood era, historians and current and former political leaders. Included on the board are three delegates to the constitutional convention, three former governors of Alaska, three staffers to the convention, former legislators and three Alaskan historians. The board is co-chaired by UA Board of Regents Chair Brian Rogers and former Alaska State Judge and Secretary of the Alaska Constitutional Convention Thomas Stewart. The Advisory Board helps guide the overall direction of the project and greatly facilitates the oral history work and identification of existing historical materials.

Members of the Advisory Board are:

  • Walter J. Hickel
  • Mike Stepovich
  • Jay Hammond
  • Victor Fischer
  • George Sundborg, Sr.
  • Jack Coghill
  • Neva Egan
  • Dr. George Rogers
  • Dr. Thomas Morehouse
  • Katie Hurley
  • Grace Berg-Schaible
  • Thomas Stewart
  • Lew Williams, Jr.
  • Doris Bartlett
  • Marlene Johnson
  • Mary Nordale
  • Sidney Huntington
  • Walter Parker
  • Bill Tobin
  • Brian Rogers
  • Chancy Croft
  • Dr. Claus-M. Naske
  • Dr. Stephen Haycox
Back to Top