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Juneau-Douglas Museum wins second Leadership in History Merit Award

Middle-school project includes living history to tell Alaska's and Juneau's tales

Posted: July 9, 2011 - 10:06pm
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A display called Digital Stories at the Juneau-Douglas City Museum has won the museum national recognition with much of the work completed by Juneau middle school students.   Michael Penn / Juneau Empire
Michael Penn / Juneau Empire
A display called Digital Stories at the Juneau-Douglas City Museum has won the museum national recognition with much of the work completed by Juneau middle school students.

If you take a stroll through the Juneau-Douglas Museum and head into the Politics, Personality and Power exhibit you will find a room filled with memories of Juneau history.

You’ll also see and hear digital stories, told by then-middle school students, of Juneau’s history as the capital city and four sub-categories. That project, which began in 2005 and its last pieces were put together this past fall, garnered the museum its second American Association for State and Local History Leadership in History Award.

The project was lead by Alysia Jones, curator of public programs, who worked with 92 middle-schoolers in the 2007-08 school year from Dzantik’i Heeni and Floyd Dryden.

There are two computer kiosks in the exhibit. Click on one of four categories: Juneau as Alaska’s Capital, Cultures of Juneau, The Quest for Statehood or Elizabeth Peratrovich and Civil Rights in Alaska, and you can watch 3-5 minute presentations on 20 topics. Student voices introduce a notable part of their presentation and many feature interviews with their sources.

In one story, called “An In-Depth Look at Alaska’s Model Constitution,” Sen. Dennis Egan talks about the forming of the constitution and who was involved.

“It was written by grocers, of which my dad was one, it was written by miners, by fishermen, it was written by folks that were on subsistence,” Egan said in the presentation. “It was written by a broad scope of individuals instead of attorneys, instead of special interest groups. It’s short, its concise, its easy to ready and that’s why its so great.”

The story further talks about the 55 delegates involved in writing the document and why it was written in Fairbanks in the middle of winter.

Egan explained that in the height of winter it gets to be 60-70 degrees below zero. He said no lobbyist from California or other lower-48 states in his right mind would come to Fairbanks in that weather.

“(The delegates) didn’t want these folks to have control over what was going to be in the state constitution,” Egan said, adding that instead, they wanted Alaska citizens to have the control.

Kathy Ruddy also is featured in the story, telling about how Gov. William Egan — Dennis Egan’s father — handled a sticking point in the drafting.

“Tempers were getting short and people were not having a calm discussion,” she said. “Governor Egan took his gavel and he went ‘bam’. And he said go out and start your cars.”
The delegates did so and by the time they came back cooler heads prevailed and whatever issue caused the anger was resolved.

“I think it was a really unique experience for these kids,” Jones said. “Dennis Egan was telling all these stories about growing up in the governor’s mansion.”

Jones said Egan told the students stories, including one where while this was going on, he just wanted to go to a t-ball tournament, instead of being interested in this big event.

Jones said this project is unique for many reasons.

“Because our state history is so young, there are people still around that worked on our constitution,” Jones said. Students also were able to talk to Tlingit elders who experienced discrimination in the days before the anti-discrimination laws were passed, those who had experienced the battle for those laws when the Peratrovich’s helped fight for change, and shared their experience with discrimination today.

Jones said sources who participated in interviews were impressed with the research and kinds of questions students asked, along with respect shown.

She said this is a project they could have given to a professional, however they wanted to get more students involved with the museum and wanted visitors to have a sense of familiarity when experiencing the exhibit.

After looking through the school curriculum they felt middle school students would be a good fit.

Roughly two classes worth of students participated in the Digital Stories Project, along with an English class at Floyd Dryden that wrote poetry on Juneau’s statehood and on the fight against discrimination. A total of 92 students were involved.

Other topics the digital presentations talk about are the different cultures in Juneau — Tlingit, Haida, Filipino, Polynesian and Anglo-European, which use Census data and other primary research sources to tell how many people of those cultures are around now and how they came to be here — becoming a state (the process and featuring key people involved), Juneau as Alaska’s capital (which includes early history when Russia owned the territory, gold mining and government), and Elizabeth Peratrovich and civil rights (which tells the story of the Peratrovich’s battle against discrimination and the Alaska Native Brotherhood and Alaska Native Sisterhood).

Jones enjoys the interviews in the stories, like in the Peratrovich pieces where the students interviewed Roy Peratrovich, Jr. She found it interesting to hear that the couple worked as a pair and would spend hours at the kitchen table discussion the issues.

This is the second exhibit the museum has received the award for. The Montana Creek Fish Trap and Replica exhibit earned the award in 2008, along with the Association’s WOW award.

The museum sent a detailed application for the award. Jane Lindsey, museum director, said the Association considers it the most prestigious competition for recognition of achievement in state and local history, and she agrees.

Sixty groups nationally won the award and all eight applicants in the Northeast won (Idaho, Oregon, Washington and Alaska).

“It means that we’re recognized nationally as being a leader in historic interpretation,” Lindsey said.

The museum will be presented with the award at a national conference in Richmond, Virginia, in September.

To hear the poetry students created go to: http://bit.ly/rk1v3W.

Printed scripts for both the poetry and digital stories are available for museum-goers at the front desk.

For more information on the American Association for State and Local History, see www.aaslh.org.

• Contact reporter Sarah Day at 523-2279 or at sarah.day@juneauempire.com.

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