The state of Alaska is 50 years young, yet holds a diverse and unique history. As the 49th state goes into its next half-century, it is a great time to look back at all that has shaped us as a state and as Alaskans. In the just-released book, Alaska at 50: The Past, Present, and Next Fifty Years of Statehood, Ron Spatz suggests that “the rich diversity of Alaska’s people” sets us apart from others.

Alaska at 50, edited and with a forward by Dr. Greg Kimura, is a collection of essays by Alaskan artists, politicians, activists, newsmakers and observers. The book was developed through the Alaska Statehood Experience (ASE), a project of Rasmuson Foundation and Alaska Humanities Forum (AKHF) with support from the National Endowment for the Humanities. Through ASE, 24 projects were provided support to commemorate and explore the process of becoming a state. These projects include performances, dialogues, historical research and publication, art, and radio. All aim to preserve pieces of Alaska’s history. Some projects and performances are geared towards children or destined to become a part of classroom curriculum to provide students with a fun and engaging way to learn Alaska’s history.

A full list of ASE projects is available here. Upcoming and current events funded through ASE include:

“The Courtship of Zack and Ada” just concluded its run at Cyrano’s Theatre Company on Sunday. The play by Shane Mitchell captured “the quest for statehood with a romantic twist.” It remembered the romance between historical figures Zack Loussac and Ada Nova Harper and included characters who both supported and opposed statehood. It also featured actual footage from the period provided by Alaska Moving Image Preservation Association.

The “Life in Alaska Leading to Statehood” exhibit will be on display at Anchorage Museum at Rasmuson Center until January 3, 2010. It recreates the period through photographs and objects such as Anchorage High School yearbooks, statehood ballots, household goods, toys and advertisements. Included is a photo of John F. Kennedy at the 1960 Alaska State Fair in Palmer.

“Alaska Statehood from an Alaska Native Perspective,” a four-part radio program produced by KNBA 90.3 FM in Anchorage, will begin its weekly broadcast October 29 at 5:30 p.m. It will examine statehood’s impact on important aspects of Alaska Native life including leadership, education, economics and health. Alaska Native leaders Byron Mallot, Willie Hensley, Janie Leask, Paul Onungutuk and others will be guests. Subsequent broadcasts will take place on Thursday, Nov. 5, Nov. 12, and Nov. 19, all at 5:30 p.m.

For Alaskans born long after 1959 (including myself), it is difficult to believe some opposed statehood, making the November broadcast on Homer’s KBBI 890 AM of “Not Yet! Alaska Voices Opposed to Statehood” a worthwhile undertaking. It captures the voices of concerned local groups and organizations that believed statehood was coming too soon and would be detrimental to Alaskans.

In 1945, territorial Governor Ernest Gruening, signed the Anti-Discrimination Act. Less than 15 years later, Alaska became a state and life for Alaska Natives has been in near constant transformation. A panel discussion based on the book “Growing up Native in Alaska,” will be broadcast by KNBA on November 17 starting at 6:30 p.m. Featuring some of the Alaskans profiled in the 2001 publication by The CIRI Foundation, the discussion will explore the experiences of the group in the larger context of Alaska’s 50th Anniversary of Statehood. The panel will be moderated by the book’s author, Alexandra J. McClanahan and historian, Aaron Leggett.

Many ASE events and projects have taken place and are still in the works. All commemorate what Dr. Kimura calls, “the Alaska difference: what makes Alaska, Alaska.”

Do you have an Alaska Statehood Experience? Please share it here.