Cal Williams Hero 2

Documenting and sharing Anchorage’s diverse communities

By Julie Varee, Community Outreach Archivist, Anchorage Museum

The stories that make up Alaska's diverse communities are as compelling as everything else about our region, and the museum is working to tell more of them through a collaboration between museum archivists, community members and organizations.

In April 2021, the museum will open a new exhibition about Black history and culture in Alaska. Informed by conversations with community advisors, including activist and community archivist Cal Williams, and through the research of UAA's Ian Hartman, the exhibition will include photographs and documents from the Anchorage Museum archives that help tell the stories of the lives and experiences of members of Alaska's Black community. There will be more in this blog about the exhibition and public programs connected with it as they take shape.

Presenting more than history

Many people think of archives as collecting materials about the past -- and not always from multiple perspectives. The Anchorage Museum is engaging with partners to help its archives document and make accessible stories of the past and the present, especially around the lives and experiences of individuals in Alaska who are Black, Indigenous, people of color, the refugee and immigrant communities and members of the LGBTQ+ community.

One new and exciting partnership is with The HistoryMakers, a national project which has created a database of video and oral histories of African Americans in all 50 United States. The 15 Alaskans included in The HistoryMakers include African Americans who still are living, leading and shaping the stories of their community. Working with The HistoryMakers, local historian Cal Williams, and associate professor of history at University of Alaska Anchorage Ian Hartman, the museum is collecting materials like photographs and documents from Alaska's HistoryMakers for the museum's archives. These photographs, awards, announcements and other documents will help tell the personal stories of HistoryMakers interviewees. The project has received funding support from the Anchorage Chapter of the NAACP.

Juliana Richardson, founder and president of The HistoryMakers says the project will be beyond transformative, and we completely agree. It will, she believes, be a template for other parts of the United States to follow.

Poet and social activist Muriel Rukeyser wrote of the universe: “It is made of stories, not of atoms." The same may be said of communities, where diverse stories make our shared history.

Look for more on the community outreach work done through the Anchorage Museum Archives in future blog posts.

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