Category Archives: January
January 3rd, 1959
Great, expansive Alaska lies on the extreme northwestern edge of North America, and accounts for about 20% of the United States’ land area. Central to the prehistoric groups that inhabited the continent, Alaska saw migrant tribes from Siberia cross a land bridge along the Bering Strait around 10,000 BC. Of those groups, tribes such as the Aleut still remain in Alaska and are central to its cultural identity. The state’s name derives from the Aleutian word alaxsxa, meaning “great land.” In the 18th century, Russian Tsar Peter I was determined to claim the mysterious land east of Siberia for his kingdom, and had Dutch explorer Vitus Bering “discover” its rugged landscapes. Soon, Russia established a successful commercial empire across northwestern America with the Russian-America Company. But as the sea otter population began to wane and Russia had to face bigger priorities at the turn of the 19th century, it agreed to sell its holdings to America for $7.2 million, a purchase ordered by Secretary of State William Seward. Americans were initially critical of the venture, critiquing “Seward’s Folly” as the acquisition of a vast frozen wasteland. But since Alaska’s growth and statehood, we have come to see it as a giant beauty, rife with varied environments and rich in natural resources. It is central to the Arctic Circle, and a geographical midpoint joining the chilly terrains of Russia and Canada.
Do you think William Seward was right to buy Alaska? Why or why not?
January 4th, 1896
The state of Utah, situated in the cradle of the West, is named after the Ute Native American tribe that initially inhabited it, one of many who had lived in the southwest for millennia. Utah’s settlement is unique to America’s history, providing religious sanctuary for Mormon pilgrims who found a promised land in the frontier. Led by Brigham Young, these pioneers arrived in Utah in 1847 and made an unprecedented life out of farming on an arid desert plateau. Although there was an initial political struggle between the federal government and that which the Mormons had established, Utah achieved statehood in 1896. By the 1940s, many US military bases and facilities were established in Utah and the state achieved more visibility to outsiders. And while its government shifted noticeably from theocracy to democracy, Mormonism is still a critical part of Utah’s identity. The state capital, Salt Lake City, is also the global headquarters for the Church of Latter-Day Saints, and an estimated 70% of Utah’s citizens subscribe to the Mormon religion. On a more secular level, Utah is also renowned for its physical beauty, as its land varies from the strange loveliness of the Colorado Plateau and Zion National Park to the flat, spotty Great Basin to the towering Rocky Mountains.
Why do you think the Mormons travelled all the way west to Utah to form their religious sanctuary?