This week on 80 Days, we talked about Alaska, the United States of America’s 49th state. The name Alaska comes from the Aluet word Alyeska, meaning great land, and it is a plentiful place in many respects. Rich in natural resources, Alaska has a longer coastline than the other 49 states combined and is the largest state in the US. It contains over 3 million lakes, as well as Denali, North America’s highest peak. about 500 miles separates Alaska from Washington state, its nearest neighbour within the US, and it has a strong connection with Russia, which used to occupy and control the territory. Exploring Alaska for you are Luke Kelly @thelukejkelly, Mark Boyle @markboyle86 and Joe Byrne @anbeirneach in Hong Kong, the UK and Switzerland, respectively. (Theme music by Thomas O’Boyle)
Things you might want to read more about:
- Alaska is the point of mainland America where it is generally considered humans first arrived in waves from Asia, including the ancestors of most indigenous South American peoples (25000-15000 years ago), the ancestors of many native Alaskan people and the Navajo and Apache Native American tribes (14000-9000 years ago), the ancestors of Aleut and Eskimo people (9000-6000 years ago). This makes the area valuable for archaeologists trying to understand how people came to the Americas. Alaska’s indigenous people (including Tlingit, Athabaskan, Innupiak, Aleut and others) and much of their culture still persists to the present day, although they were, of course, greatly affected by the intervening centuries of colonisation.
- Potlach – a “competitive altruism” practice among some native communities, such as Athabaskans
- Music this week is all from aboriginal North American people and can be found here and here
- Semyon Dezhnynov‘s expedition in the Bering Strait, which may have brought the first Russians to Alaska, although there are mixed opinions about this
- The first Europeans to arrive in Alaska were the Russians, who – in the course of charting the Pacific coast of Russia – crossed the strait which is now named after Vitus Bering, a Danish navigator who led a voyage across to what is now Alaska. There were violent clashes with native Aleuts and Tlingit people and disease had devastating consequences on the indigenous population. Bering himself was marooned on an island on the way back to Russia and died.
- Fur-trapping, particularly of sea-otters, became the major economic interest of the Russians in “Russian America” and a monopoly was given to the Shelikhov-Golikov Company (later, the Russian-American Company), which set up headquarters at Sitka. This early settlement was attacked in the Battle of Sitka by the Kiks.ádi Tlingit clan.
- Rather than lose their hard-to-defend province to the British in a war, the Tsar decided that the best course of action was to sell Alaska to the USA for $7.2m in 1867
- We mentioned the instance of a Pope drawing a line on a map, which gave the Spanish a right to colonise some newly-discovered territories and the Portuguese others – this is dealt with in the Wikipedia article on the Treaty of Tordesillas
- St Herman (the hermit) and St (Bishop) Innocent are two Russian Orthodox saints who were missionaries in the areas
- The Klondike Gold Rush brought tens of thousands of people north to the parts of Alaska bordering Yukon as gold was discovered in the rivers of this region. Many were ill-prepared and most unsuccessful in staking claims. Con man “Soapy” Smith was an interesting character in this period, depriving treasure seekers of their money through tricks, games and crime, until his eventual death at a famous shootout on Juneau Wharf
- During World War 2, there was a lot of action in the Aleutian Islands, while US forces attempted to dislodge a Japanese force which had occupied; American propaganda during WW2 was remarkably racial in nature, describing Alaska as a “Death Trap for the Jap
- Building the Alaska Highway was a great feat of engineering and speed; Mega Structure (National Geographic) have a 45 minute documentary on this
- The Great Alaska Earthquake, Good Friday 1964 was the second most powerful earth; this geologically active area also features the near-perfect volcanic cone of Shishaldin (photo below by Naql on Flickr, CC license)
- Discovery of oil dramatically changed Alaska’s economy. It prompted the Native Claims Settlement Act between the US Government and native Alaskans, allowing the construction of the Trans-Alaska pipeline. An article in the Alaska Journal of Commerce by Neal Fried describes this and contains the illustrative quote from historian Terrance Cole:
The wealth generated by Prudhoe Bay and the other fields on the North Slope since 1977 is worth more than all the fish ever caught, all the furs ever trapped, all the trees chopped down; throw in all the copper, whalebone, natural gas, tin, silver, platinum, and anything else ever extracted from Alaska too. The balance sheet of Alaskan history is simple: One Prudhoe Bay is worth more in real dollars than everything that has been dug out, cut down, caught or killed in Alaska since the beginning of time
- Here is a link to Sarah Palin’s endorsement of Donald Trump’s Presidential candidacy: see has an unusual use of language