Although they are the most recent states, having been admitted to the Union in 1959, the association of Hawaii and Alaska with the United States goes back to the mid-nineteenth century. Hawaii became a republic in 1893 when a number of descendants of the early Protestant missionaries overthrew the monarchy and asked for Hawaii’s annexation, which was granted in 1898. This event, presented in a historical context, is the topic of Sarah Vowell’s book Unfamiliar Fishes. John Culliney, in a revised edition of Islands in a Far Sea: The Fate of Nature in Hawai’i, examines the natural history of the state, working into that examination the role that humans have played in modifying nature.
In contrast, Secretary of State William H. Seward oversaw U.S. purchase of Alaska from Russia in 1867 for $7.2 million. It became a full-fledged territory in 1912 and a state in January 1959. Alaska has been called our “last frontier,” and Roxanne Willis covers this aspect in Alaska’s Place in the West: From the Last Frontier to the Last Great Wilderness.