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Lesson Plan A Russian Settlement in Alaska: A Community at the Meeting of Frontiers


In the early 19th century, most of the land that is now Alaska was claimed by the Russian empire, and its most significant community was Novo-Arkhangel’sk, which today is called Sitka. From 1808 until the sale of Alaska to the United States in 1867, Sitka was the administrative center of Russian possessions in America. The town was carved out of the forested lowlands of SE Alaska and housed a small but diverse population, with Russians, U.S. citizens, Europeans, and Native Alaskans co-existing.

In this lesson, students use illustrations from a book commissioned by the Russian emperor to explore what Sitka might have been like during this period of transition, and how it might have looked if presented from a different point of view.


Students will:

  • Analyze images;
  • Form hypotheses about audience and creator purpose;
  • Depict a place from a point of view other than that of the original image.

Time Required

Two classes

Lesson Prepartion


The following materials will be used in this lesson.


Lesson Procedure

  1. Have student groups brainstorm on what one would expect to find in an administrative center for a large colonial area. Ask students what they think an "administrative center" is and what it looks like in today's world; you might have them think about their hometown or their state capital. Groups should make lists of key facilities. Follow this with a general group discussion and a listing of the most important facilities they would expect to find.
  2. Distribute or display Vue Prise Dans La Colonie Russe De Novo-Arkhangelsk. Ask students to look at it for 30 seconds. Distribute the primary source analysis tool and ask students to record what they see in the column labeled “Observe.” Students may form pairs and share their observations or report to the whole class. If necessary, discuss what should be recorded in the remaining 2 columns of the analysis tool. Continue analyzing the primary source and recording students’ thoughts. Before beginning, choose questions from the Teacher’s Guide: Analyzing Photographs and Prints to focus student analysis and discussion. One strategy to help students focus on details is to look at and analyze each quadrant of the picture.
  3. Working in groups, students should examine the lithographic images on the Student page and record their thinking about each image on a primary source analysis tool. Before beginning, select questions from the Teacher’s Guide: Analyzing Photographs and Prints to focus student analysis and discussion.
  4. Ask students to consider what can be learned about the settlement from studying the images. Possible questions to guide discussion might include:
    • What details do you notice about the physical environment of Novo-Arkangel’sk?
    • What evidence is there that this is, or is not, a “frontier” community?
    • What elements of an administrative center can one see in the images?
    • Who seems to inhabit this community?
  5. These images were all originally published in the book: Voyage autour du Monde fait par ordre de Sa Majesté l'Empereur Nicolas Ier. Students should look at the item record and browse the book (maps and images begin on page 40) for clues about why the book was published and what purpose it was intended to serve. In small groups or as a whole class, hypothesize why it was created and for what audience. What evidence do students find to support their hypotheses?
  6. Ask students to draw or describe the settlement from another point of view, such as the point of view of someone shown in one of the images. This may be done in class or completed as homework.

Lesson Evaluation

Students should be assessed on their participation in the groups, including the completed primary source analysis tools, class discussions, and the drawing or description of the settlement from another point of view.


Adapted from a lesson by Roger Pearson