Plans for history conference advance

The plans for a history conference next April in Soldotna marking the anniversary of America’s purchase of Alaska from Russia are under way. With just over four months until the event, the organizers are gathering presenters, public engagement and, as always, stories.

“It’s progressing,” said Shana Loshbaugh, the main organizer. “Right now we have more things going on on the central peninsula, and we also have … things rolling now in Homer.”

The event, celebrating 150 years since the U.S. government purchased Alaska — called a sesquicentennial anniversary — will focus on the 19th century in the Alaska area, particularly the period around 1867, the purchase year. Presentations will include details from the Alaska Native history of the area, Russian culture and U.S. presence in Alaska.

Loshbaugh said the organizers are still contacting potential presenters but have reached verbal agreements with a few, including a Russian language researcher who is studying the Ninilchik dialect, which is distinct from Russian dialects of today. A call for submissions has gone out as well for anyone who wants to give a presentation of approximately 15 minutes. The conference may feature other events, too, such as documentary screenings or boat tours, she said.

One secured presenter is the keynote speaker, historian Andrei Znamenski of the University of Memphis. In in a 2003 book, Znamenski translated the journals of Kenai-area missionaries who worked among the Dena’ina people of Southcentral Alaska. He also was a keynote speaker at the 2009 annual meeting of the Alaska Historical Society.

The Alaska Department of Natural Resources Office of History and Archaeology is providing grants to local organizations for events celebrating the sesquicentennial, backed by a resolution passed by the Legislature in 2014. But beyond the grant, the conference relies on volunteer work, and people have been reaching out to the organizers to help throughout, Loshbaugh said. The Pratt Museum in Homer is helping to support the effort as the fiscal agent, receiving grant funds and donations.

“We have a whole lot of promising leads that we are following at this time, and we have more and more people that are contacting us with ideas and also offering to help us,” she said.

The last major history conference on the Kenai Peninsula was held in 1974, patterned after the statewide celebration of the centennial in 1967. Jim Hornaday, who co-chaired the organization of the 1974 conference, also is helping with the 2017 conference.

Alaska was a different place in 1974. Native cultures were much less visible at that time, Hornaday said. This time around, there will a lot more Native presence, he said.

“Overall, it was really a good thing because now the Natives are really active,” he said. “Before that, you hardly heard anything about the Natives.”

The conference featured a variety of events and people, including the mayor of Kenai, linguists, historians and local schoolteachers. The organizers put together a book with the details of the conference’s information called “Native, Russian and American Experiences of the Kenai Area of Alaska,” he said.

“We’re excited about this planned program in April,” Hornaday said. “As I understand it, I’m sure there’ll be some new things, and it’s kind of an update from what we did 40 years ago.”

The Kenai Peninsula historical conference is one of a set of events happening statewide throughout the year, including concerts in Anchorage, an art walk in Sitka and a statue dedication in Juneau. The Alaska Historical Society maintains a calendar of all the events on its website.

The conference, which will take place at Kenai Peninsula College in Soldotna, is scheduled for April 21 and 22. Registration will open in 2017 and can be found on the conference’s website, kenaipeninsulahist.wixsite.com/conference.

Elizabeth Earl is a reporter for the Peninsula Clarion. She can be reached at elizabeth.earl@peninsulaclarion.com.

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