Dr. John W. Heaton chairs the History Department at the University of Alaska Fairbanks and is
the Arthur T. Fathauer Chair in History. A lifelong Northwesterner, he grew up in Portland,
Oregon and spent summers working on his father’s alfalfa farm near Bend, Oregon. In the
summer of 1991, he earned a BA in History at the rainy campus of Portland State University.
Then, he headed southeast to study the West and earned a MA at the high-altitude Utah State
University campus. Days after successfully defending his thesis, in the summer of 1993, he
trekked south to begin a PhD at the sizzling Arizona State University campus in Tempe. Upon
completion of his graduate exams in 1995, he journeyed back to the mountains to teach at USU,
work assistant editor of the Western Historical Quarterly, and write a dissertation. With a Ph.D.
granted by ASU in 1999, Heaton landed a job on the frozen far north campus of the University of
Alaska Fairbanks. He drove the Alaska Highway during the summer of 2000 in a U-Haul with
six barking dogs in the back of a pickup hitched behind. Upon his promotion to associate
professor in 2006, Heaton became the chair of the History Department and has served in that
post ever since. He also served as the executive director of the Western History Association from
2012-2017 and as an associate dean in the College of Liberal Arts.
After the publication of his book The Shoshone-Bannocks: Culture and Commerce at Fort Hall,
1870-1940 (U. Press of Kansas, 2005) Heaton began a NSF funded research project on
Athabascans of the Interior Alaska and has published articles on that topic. He teaches a variety
of courses, including Alaska History, and published a book titled Outlaw Tales of Alaska. He is
currently working on a research project about Al Jolson’s USO tour of Alaska in 1942 just after
the Japanese bombed Dutch Harbor, Alaska.
In 2020, after twenty years in Fairbanks, Dr. Heaton moved his family across the continent in the
middle of a pandemic to the more hospitable climate of Huntsville, Alabama. He continues to
chair the History Department with a telecommuting contract and now complains about the cold