Last week’s celebration of Seward’s Day – the state’s annual observation of the 1867 purchase of Alaska by the United States from Russia – ought to be a reminder of the significant connection the 49th state still has with its former keeper.
So believes Katie Ringsmuth, a local resident and president of the Alaska Historical Society as well as an adjutant Alaska history professor at the University of Alaska and founder of Tundra Vision, an educational consulting firm that helps school teachers with resources for teaching Alaska history in public and private schools.
“Contrary to how the media – especially reality television – portrays Alaska as backwards and goofy, this state does not exist in a vacuum but is instead connected to the rest of the world, especially the Pacific Rim in profound ways,” Ringsmuth said. “And of course, there is Tina Fey’s portrayal of Sarah Palin.”
Ringsmuth is a leading promoter of the Knik Lecture Series that is sponsoring a Thurs., April 13 presentation at Chugiak High School, “Melting the Ice Curtain: Alaska-Russia Relations” by David S. Ramseur, a visiting scholar with the UAA Institute of Social and Economic Research. The Knik Lecture Series is part of UAA’s, “2017: The Alaska Year of History and Heritage,” aimed at renewing interest in the state’s history and how that guides its position in the world today and celebrating the 150th anniversary of the Alaska purchase on a statewide basis.
Ramseur is currently writing a book on the relationship between Russia and the United States during his time at UAA. His past professional experience includes being an aide to Alaska Governors Steve Cowper (1986 to 1990) and Tony Knowles (1994 to 2002) as well as chief of staff for U.S. Sen. Mark Begich. During this time, Ramseur was on the front lines of guiding and watching Alaska’s emergence from the Cold War era.
“David is an engaging speaker who shows how his topic is relevant to what is happening in the world today,” Ringsmuth said. “The information he presents will help Alaskans stay informed to make good decisions. A strong knowledge of the past is the key to building a strong future.”
Ringsmuth, who teaches at the Alaska Middle College at the Chugiak-Eagle River UAA campus, encourages her Alaska studies students to attend the lecture series. For students that attend the series, she is waiving their writing of one research paper for her class.
“Attending these lectures and hearing and meeting the people who made history and are now guiding the future of this state is 100 percent more valuable,” Ringsmuth said.
She is passionate about Alaska history and its role in the state’s future. Her goal is to increase knowledge of the state’s past in order to encourage today’s students – many of whom go Outside for higher education and jobs – to remain in state and develop Alaska’s economic future.
“To some extent, the meme that still frames Alaska is still that Cold War mentality and that Alaska is somehow on the fringe or at the end of the world, but in my classes, I am trying to convey that Alaska actually not only has always been at the center of the world starting with the land bridge that brought indigenous peoples from Russia to Alaska and populated the New World and remains today on the forefront being in the center of the Pacific world. Seward’s purchase of Alaska was not just about the resources – fish, forest, furs – but was actually one of his big ideas to make the United States a world power,” Ringsmuth said. “Today, Alaska is perfectly positioned to do so.”
Editor’s Note: The Knik Series Lecture is presented at 6:30 p.m. in the Steve Primis Auditorium at Chugiak High School. There is no cost to attend. Russian dancing is scheduled to begin the evening’s presentation. Light refreshments will be served.
Learn more about Katie Ringsmuth’s Tundra Vision consulting service designed to help teachers with necessary resources to teach Alaska studies online at www.facebook.com/TundraVision.