Assignment 1, Part 1

Please complete the following assignment in time for class on Friday, January 14. Please be sure to share your thoughts in the comment section below and also be prepared to discuss these readings in class.

Thread 1: NPS History & Policy

Assignment: Read the following online documents and respond to the questions below.

Barry Mackintosh, The National Park Service: A Brief History

Barry Mackintosh, Interpretation in the National Park Service: A Historical Perspective, Chapters 1-3.

National Park Service, Holding the High Ground

Robert K. Sutton, Civil War to Civil Rights: The Civil War Sesquicentennial in the National Park Service

NPS Historian Barry Mackintosh’s two works represent the official in-house introduction to NPS history and interpretation, and the purpose of these readings is to provide additional background on how the NPS has grown as an agency. Chapter 2 of Interpretation in the National Park Service should be of particular interest for our work on this project, as many of the historic sites and interpretive programs we’ll be encountering trace their roots to this era.

As you read, do you see any connections or parallels between the evolution of the field of interpretation and the NPS as an agency? Be particularly attentive to the NPS’ addition of historic sites after 1933 and the growth of historical interpretation.

Dr. Robert K. Sutton, Chief Historian for the NPS (and, as he shared with us during the conference call today, a PSU graduate)  has been a leading force in expanding interpretation of the Civil War beyond an exclusive interpretation of military tactics and battles. After reading the third and fourth documents above, how do you see the NPS’ approach to the Civil War Sesquicentennial connecting to the agency’s history and the evolution of historic interpretation?


About Greg Shine

Adjunct faculty in the History Department at Portland State University, where I teach historic site interpretation. Former Chief Ranger & Historian at Fort Vancouver National Historic Site.
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12 Responses to Assignment 1, Part 1

  1. Laurie Pentz says:

    Prior to 1916, interpretation was left to the visitors to decide how best to utilize these sites: for education or pleasure. There was no official organization to oversee all of the parks and monuments and the Interior Department used a mix of military and civilian forces to superintend the parks. After the campaign by Mather and Albright to combine connservation and preservation, President Wilson formed the National Park Service in 1916. The Park Service was given the task to preserve and conserve the parks for posterity. The intention was that the parks could be utilized to promote the beneficial use of the parks by citizens and bring in money for the parks’ support.

    When the Park Service was established by Albright and Mather, the intention was clearly that the parks should be used for “educational, as well as … recreational” purposes (Mackintosh “Interpretation”). What Mather intended and what was accepted by Washington as the purpose for the Park Service were not the same, however. The idea of using the parks for educational purposes was not widely accepted in these early years and interpretive programs had to be funded by third parties. Yosemite and Yellowstone were the first parks to have comprehensive interpretive programs in 1920 (Mackintosh “Interpretation”). In 1921 the American Association of Museums formed a committee to improve museums in national parks, securing funding to improve Yellowstone’s museum.

    Focus on interpretation began to expand to the other parks in the system after 1921. A focus on training rangers to appropriately lecture and involve visitors on and educational level was established. In 1925, Mather proved his dedication to interpretation and education by making the Education Divison one of the three equal units that organized the Park Service (Mackintosh “Interpretation”). Also during 1925 the Yosemite School of Field Natural History was founded to better educate rangers and naturalists for park service. Though education of park rangers and interpretation of natural history gained respect during these years, the guidelines for interpretation were not universally established. Though interpretation was becoming more important during this period, the lack of historical sites in the NPS prior to 1933 forced that interpretation to be limited to natural sites. In 1933, Horace Albright convinced Roosevelt to add military parks that were under the control of the War Department to the control of the NPS. 1933, and the addition of these historic sites, was the foundation of the National Park Service’s involvement with historic preservation and interpretation. At this time the difference between interpretation of natural sites and historic sites was established. John R. White of Sequoia National Park stated that interpretors must “compress the event into a comprehensive whole” for the “average visitor” (White in Mackintosh “Interpretation”).

    Park historians in the 1930s sought to validate their professionalism in field interpretation by establishing sites as resource material. The climate of academia in this period, however, prevented this idea from gaining precedence. With a lack of respect placed on field interpretation many park historians focused their efforts in academia elsewhere in personal research. Interpretation of battlefields consisted mainly of markers stating factual information about a location. This produced arguments about how sites should be reconstructed and what should be reproduced or maintained. Interpretation of natural parks remained relatively easy compared to the quagmire that surrounded historic sites. Within the natural parks were waterfalls and present natural resources that could be observed and enjoyed. In historic sites, the interpretive focus was on the past and on ephemeral ideologies and notions that were not necessarily represented by the site’s current state. Factual information was also often skewed in favor of telling a good story and confusion about some sites, notably George Washington’s birthplace, was unavoidable. Unfortunately there was an inherent imbalance in the interpretation of historic sites and a great deal of philosophy and education was overlooked in favor of preserving and maintaining physical evidence (Mackintosh “Interpretation”).

    In 1951, Conrad L. Wirth became the director of the National Park Service. In order to accomodate the influx of postwar tourists, he implemented Mission 66. This plan was intended to “upgrade facilities, staffing, and resource management by the bureau’s fiftieth anniversary in 1966” (Mackintosh “Brief”). A major part of Wirth’s plan included creating visitor centers at the parks which included interpretive exhibits. There were 56 visitor centers by 1960 (Mackintosh “Brief”).

    As the 1960s came to a close and throughout the 1970s, interpretation in the park system grew to include costumed interpretors in “living history” exhibits. While the growth of the National Park system was incredible during these decades, by 1980 there was a desire to “reign in” the expansion of the park system and focus more resources on improving the current park system and management. Interpretation was important to William Penn Mott, Jr., who lead the NPS from 1985 to 1989. Mott sought to expand the social consciousness of historic sites through expanded interpretation, as did Roger G. Kennedy who took the position in 1993. Educational interpretation was expanded under Kennedy to include a new media: the Internet.

    Some problems with interpretation that Mackintosh mentions in “Interpretation in the National Park Service” were: depending too much on the site to tell a specific story and the public’s hesitation to accept a specific site as less important historically than previously thought.

    The NPS’s approach to the Civil War Sesquicentennial encompasses fully this history of interpretation in the park system. Robert K. Sutton acknowledges the importance of battlefield information, statistics, and officers. Sutton also, however, expands the importance of historical interpretation of these sites to the lesser known players in history: the civilians, minorities, women, and common soldiers who played important and intrinsic roles in how the Civil War played out. In the article “Civil War to Civil Rights” Sutton juxtaposes the stories of common soldiers against those of General William T. Sherman at Milledgefield to demonstrate how differently a single historic event could be viewed by participants. In order to better understand history, and in this particular the Civil War, it is evident that the stories of all participants are essential. More importantly, however, are the reasons why these men were fighting in this war. Though the causes of the war are varied and many, Sutton establishes three pervasive themes: economic, political, and social and suggests expanding on these themes to answer the complicated question “Why?”

    In “Holding the High Ground” the groundwork is laid out for an expansive Civil War program. Though military battlefields hold essential importance as physical representations of the Civil War, the National Park Service wants to expand beyond those basics of interpretation. Rather then use the sites as a single source for interpretation, which had been done previously by the NPS, the Sesquicentennial plan must “illuminate some of the larger themes of the war” (“Holding the High Ground,” 7). The plan utilizes thematic context tied to specific Civil War sites, sometimes many, and also to the different groups of people who participated in the Civil War. Each theme hopes to weave an intricate web of historical fact with resources and stories that tie specifically to universal, intangible meanings. This program expands interpretation from costumed participants or lecturing rangers to include a vast array of media, just as the NPS interpretive programs have expanded over the last few decades. This plan doesn’t seem like a final culmination of all the hard work of NPS rangers and historians over the years but is the establishment of a course of action based on their best intentions. Sutton articulates in his lecture that it is essential for the historical information presented by the NPS to be as accurate and up to date as possible. While tracing the war chronologically, the program will also establish and contribute to the definitions of pervasive themes tied to the war. Instead of stepping back and seeing the whole picture, the sesquicentennial program will view the pieces of the puzzle that created the whole.

  2. Dianna Woolsey says:

    My response is a bit belated, but as Greg says, better late than never.

    The NPS approach to the sesquicentennial, as described in High Ground, shows a clear parallel with recent developments in NPS and in interpretation, particularly increasing attention to and representation of a diversity of actors and experiences. It seems as though NPS has made deliberate moves toward including women and underrepresented ethnic groups as employees and interpreters at the same time as interpretation overall has made more effort to include the voices of those general groups. I do think one comment of Mackintosh’s is interesting: when talking about women in interpretation he goes out of his way to voice concern that representing women’s experience will lead to giving undue attention (there’s something mis-edited in that sentence and a few words seem to be missing) to “tangential female roles at the expense of park themes”. It seems that, even while lauding greater diversity and inclusion, he’s let slip some worry that if you give those ladies an inch they’ll take an unwarranted mile.

    Another parallel that occurs to me is in a certain confusion over the role of NPS and of interpretation, between the competing demands for protection and public use. Mackintosh mentions the 1910s and 20s clashes over development of park land, and also the NPS’ strange 1970s interpretive agenda in which minimizing impact and understanding park management outranked enhancing visitors’ understanding and appreciation of the parks. These both seem like ways for relatively insecure institutions (the parks in the first instance and the discipline of interpretation in the second) to try out positions from which to balance a difficult combination of responsibilities.

  3. Melissa Swank says:

    In Sutton’s article, he writes, “In the United States, we believe our national parks provide the best laboratories to understand our history.” This statement is self-imposingly difficult. The park service should be the best, but is it? After just writing about the ups and downs of the evolution of the park service and its interpretative changes, I hope that the commemoration of the Civil War 150 does not become a watered-down affair.

    I appreciate greatly how the emphasis Sutton places on the story of the common story as linked with the greater significance of the war! Yes! This seems to be the approach that needs to be made, rather than the the legend-ized tales that have been over-emphasized in the past. Not only politically, but social and economic factors are introduced by Sutton and the park service as a holistic approach of interpreting the Civil War to the public. Using the onion metaphor, Sutton describes how the causes of the Civil War has layers to it, with the core being slavery. Rightly, he notes, “we must make absolutely sure that a statement like that is based on the best, most up-to-date information.”

    After everything read, our project described, and the classes discussion posts, I feel that Sutton encapsulates our role int the Civil War commemoration fully in, “As the sesquicentennial of the Civil War approaches, the National Park Service will trace the progression of the nation from the beginning of the conflict… through the battles… to the end of the war… We will focus on the battles and tactics, military successes and failures, but we also will draw attention to the civilians who often were unwilling participants, the individual soldiers whose perceptions of the battles were quite different than those of their commanders, and the families of the soldiers who were left behind and often struggled to feed their families or were grief stricken when their husbands and sons did not return home.” Well said. “Holding the High Ground” expands on Sutton’s description of the NPS’s role in the coming commemoration in gives us the basis for what we need to proceed. Thorough, over-arching, current, academic, up-to-date and well-research themes will guide us as we prepare to give new meaning of the Civil War to each and every NPS visitor. Let’s get to work.

  4. Melissa Swank says:

    In the age of progress, the HPS was formed to preserve the wilderness, nature, and civilization of old. The obvious conflict of preserving the past while contributing advancing technology has been a theme that can be seen throughout park history, in not only the progress of the park, but also its means of interpretation.

    As a natural reserve, the park service did not necessarily need to employ (although I feel that interpretation is always useful) interpretation guides for its visitors, As noted in the “Interpretation” reading, visitors to the park were generally seeking adventure and inspiration, both of which could be initiated individually, merely through the appreciation of the parks nature aesthetic beauties.

    Before historical sites were added to the park in 1933, national parks consisted primarily of nature sites. The means of interpretation thus ranged from the visitors personal experience and interpretation to a data based, fact-sheet provided by the park service. Rather than giving a greater significance or context, this reminds me very much of high school history and biology classes: review the specimen/historical event, remember the facts, forget it later. This “biological approach” included the training of “naturalists” in programs such as the Yosemite School of Field Nature History.

    With the addition of historical areas and not just natural in 1933, the shift from not exclusively natural emphases to historical preservation led to new needs in the area of interpretation. As noted, natural sites could be enjoyed by patrons regardless of understanding geological or biological phenomena, whereas historical sites could not be appreciated as fully without some explanation. New methods were applied to thus make lasting impressions on visitors by providing accurate information in interesting ways that were unnecessary in parks primarily focused on nature. Life had to be incorporated into historic interpretation in order to bring significance to seemingly useless facts. Under local and political pressures, certain aspects of history were emphasized more than others, making the park system more equipped to tell certain components of America’s story more than others. For example, in the World War II-Era, the historic sites were interpreted to promote patriotism and national unity. Out of context, the role of certain sites in historic events could be over-emphasized in national and historical significance.

    Another shift in the park system and its means of interpretation occurred with a shift to ecological preservation. With all aspects of life being linked, it was necessary to show the interlinking of nature and history. Living histories were (although possibly overemphasized as well) introduced as a means of taking the visitors back in time. Media also was incorporated. Slides, film, and sound bites as technology has allowed them have been employed by the park system to bring meaning to its visitors. Rather than simply narrating the past by a park guide, these forms of interpretation helped to spark interest in the visitors in new ways, however arguably at the expense of interaction with other individuals.

    Over the last few decades, the park system saw a large boost in growth of sites during the American Revolution Bicentennial, which resulted in once again a more shallow, introductory interpretation of historic events; followed by a period of restoration and improvement of existing sites in which interpretation deepened in context and overall significance, rather than just merely vignettes or pin-pointed history.

    Today, we face the issue of insuring proper means of interpretation as the increase of electronic and media resources broadens the access to the public. User choice and presentation limit the interpreter as after the product is released, the visitor has the power to do with it what they may, without the personal interaction of a guide, to guide their way (no pun intended). The visitor to media sources on the internet picks and chooses where to visit and based on personal experience, these visits are generally superficial or self-serving. I feel that much of the quality of that which was intended by the park service is being diminished by its internet expansion. Interpreters lose the control of actual historical significance for a lesser product. The visitor thus becomes their own interpreter.

  5. Makenzie Moore says:

    In its beginning years the NPS seemed largely concerned with preserving and protecting land that was fast disappearing. However, this idealistic impulse has always contended with the practical realities of promoting tourism and economic ventures. The parks are about the land, but they are also about the people who want to visit these locations. The role of parks as educational tools began gathering steam in the 1910s and 20s, but it was in 1933 that education and interpretation took on a new importance as the NPS gained control of historic sites.

    People visit historic locations because there is some meaning to be gained from a visitation and they have a part in the public memory. There are people and events tied to these sites that people come to learn about and connect to, and that takes interpretation. Interpretation practices continued to evolve with the Parks Service as different policies and social pressures. Conflicts over money and purpose continued, but interpretation began looking at different stories and different ways of connecting people to the sites. Instead of focusing on a particular person, event, or class of people, parks began exploring ways to look at the connections and interaction of all these things. Living histories, tactile exhibits, and the adaptation of new technology allowed the service to help people connect to historic sites in new ways.

    I think the changes in interpretation are reflected in the NPS approach to the Civil War. Instead of focusing on one particular theme, there are 16, and among those themes a variety of people, places, and experiences are represented. Furthermore, these themes, and the parks are interconnected in a way that I think is important. They are not stand alone things to be checked off a list, but rather, each is part of a much bigger, complex, picture. Each story is unique, but each story also brushes up against and is helped shaped by others. This is a hard task, and in reality its transfer from paper to reality is probably going to be less than smooth. Hopefully this will be a project that not only informs but engages the public in learning, thinking about, and debating the causes, events, and legacy of the Civil War.

  6. Melissa Lang says:

    I think that one significant aspect to both ‘The National Park Service: A Brief History’ and ‘Interpretation in the National Park Service’ that is tied to this class, (and hasn’t already been mentioned) is the evolution of the various forms of media used to reach out to park visitors and potential park visitors. From unofficial guided tours by soldiers stationed at Yosemite, to handbooks and pamphlets and brochures to films and new media forms used today like the internet and our class focus, the podcast. I found it particularly interesting to follow this theme through both pieces as a way to understand our classes own goals as well as our place in story of the National Park Service. Not only are we creating a podcast for the Sesquicentennial of the Civil War, but we are also experimenting with the podcast as a tool to reach the masses for the future National Park programs.

    how do you see the NPS’ approach to the Civil War Sesquicentennial connecting to the agency’s history and the evolution of historic interpretation?

    In regards to Robert K. Sutton’s ‘Civil War to Civil Rights’ lecture and the NPS’s ‘Holding the High Ground’ plan it seems to me both pieces are perfect examples of the parks evolution towards its goal to expand as its role as an agent of history. The NPS’s initial purpose was simply to preserve wild places, yet now it has evolved into a larger role like framing how Americans interpret the Civil War. I never before thought of the NPS as such a significant agent of historical interpretation and while I am excited about being a part of that process I am a little skeptical about any federal agency taking upon itself such an impactful role. As students of history we are all aware of the ebbs and flows of historiography, and while I believe it is not necessary for a historian to be completely objective in his or hers interpretations, I’m not sure a federal agency should participate in rewriting history. I think is creating these podcasts we should be careful about our role. On the other hand the best way for the NPS to be as objective as possible is to broaden its scope on particular subjects, which is such the case outlined in both Holding the Higher Ground and Civil War to Civil Rights. By broadening the scope of people’s stories told the NPS, and soon to be us as a participant, are democratizing the historical perspective of the NPS in regards to the Civil War. The result of such democratization of the story of America stalls special interest groups from manipulating the story.

  7. Amy Platt says:

    At the center of the preservation of both the wilderness parks and the historical monument parks is “place.” We understand this concept better now, thanks to the work of mostly environmental historians like William Cronon, and so we can better apply the concept of “sense of place” to the various incarnations of the NPS. During the industrial period, the preservation of nature was important–not only for aesthetic reasons, but as a legacy of sorts. William Steel thought this way about Crater Lake: “An overmastering conviction came to me that this wonderful spot must be saved, wild and beautiful, just as it was, for all future generations, and that it was up to me to do something.”

    The idea that we could put boundaries around something and keep it from changing as the world around it changed so very rapidly is not an easy one to implement, mostly because there must be a very good reason to do so. The wilderness parks were first meant to fight back against the social degradation of industrialization, and so found support from people who were seeped in the psychology (which is the word they used) of natural man. If we remember that American Romanticism dominated the 19th century, that the relationship between man and machine, and man and nature made its way into literature, medicine, philosophy, and social policy, then the decision to cordon off America’s most remarkable wild places is understandable–even as people were headed west to make their fortunes off land resources. The world was much bigger then, as well! We could afford to put a few fences up.

    The complicated relationship between land use and conservation continues, of course, and it certainly came to a head at the turn of the century when rich people started buying cars and giving money to road projects. Crater Lake’s road development was hotly contested–would a road mar the beauty of the place? Yes. But would it encourage people to visit? Yes. Steel was mostly concerned about the “experience” of the park visitors and he wrestled with those conflicting ideas. You can see the national park system adjusting to the car, as well, as it struggled to grant access to places it was intent to preserve; to promote leisure at the same time it created limitations; to help people maintain a connection to a “place” that could recreated over and over again across time.

    The concept that we can identify ourselves as members of a community (“Americans”) and as individuals having personal experiences, through an unchanging geographical location (like Yellowstone or Crater Lake), and (perhaps most importantly) that we can DRIVE there, seems to fit well in the 1933 iteration of the NPS as a keeper of history. But, like the vanishing wilderness, it had to become clear that something was slipping away. That thing was, quite obviously, memory. The people who witnessed the Civil War were all gone and the places they remembered as significant were localized–which means for people who didn’t live in Virginia, a “place” like Piedmont was just a word on a map. Our ability to see the same place, through the same lens, the same building blocking our view, etc., everything the same for a hundred years, at the very least aligns our senses with those before and after us and positions us (physically) for shared understanding. It is a heady experience (we could learn a lot from Europe, frankly) and the NPS is wise to use our connection to “place” to create public memory of something as significant as the Civil War.

  8. Doug K-C says:

    “Public opinion surveys have consistently rated the National Park Service among the most popular federal agencies”

    The thing that keeps hitting me about the evolution of the Park Service is the consistent emphasis placed on public access – first, with the rail road, and second, with the wide spread use of the automobile that followed World War 2. The parks became not only a place of recreation, but indeed a destination. One of the by-products of preservation has become enjoyment of the location. But the level of commitment to interpretation has also risen in this time period.

    With this increased usage has come the need for proper interpretation. There was a need for connection to the site. Tangibles can provide ease of understanding to the intangible concepts,

    My concern is how the NPS is going to present the Civil War in such a way that we can access and portray the root causes and all the complexity involved. Is part of the popularity of the NPS due to the fact that feathers are not ruffled when a visitor comes and sees a living history reenactment at one of the battle sites? How can we dig past a trivial interpretation of the conflict without ruffling someone’s feathers? In order to get to the universal concepts inherent in a discussion of the War, it seems that someone will be offended, and I am not sure if that has been a policy that the NPS has wanted to encourage. In fact, to get to a real dialogue about this history, I think that offending park visitors, on one level or another, seems like a policy that the NPS is going to need to embrace.

    My opinion is that it is safer to have a few lines of garishly costumed reenactors perform a mock battle, muzzle-loaders and cannon without lead booming and smoking away, than to have a discussion of race, succession, and not-really-emancipation. To give these nuanced, intricate issues the time, attention, respect and debate that they deserve. So many years have past, and enough distance has been created that the Nation as a whole may be willing to examine these issues and see where we are today. The NPS could be such an agency to propel these discussions onto stage, front and center, in a way that encourages real dialogue, and the fundamentals of interpretation that the NPS has established would be a good, safe framework to present these discussions. The NPS knows this, for in the Higher Ground selection, the authors state that the parks and monuments “offer an unmatched venue for modern Americans to understand, contemplate, and debate” this great conflict, as well as the roots and outcomes (pg. 5) The question is how deep do we want to go and how “real” do we (and the NPS) want the issues to be?

  9. Andrew Carlson says:

    I just brought in Muir because I believe his advocacy about preserving key parts of the West set somewhat of a standard for future acknowledgments about the land. Through his stories, essays, and data collection, he helped the public become aware of a different type of environment in the U.S. that would, over time, gain more interest from the public and allow for more research. In turn, it seems to me that Muir set a bases, although perhaps vaguely, for historical interpretation through the years… without his writings and descriptions of nature, would these pieces of land be developed like many of the cities and towns in the east, losing that “wildness” aspect forever? Just a thought. It connects in my mind anyway. 🙂

  10. shawntdaley says:

    Jus t to respond to Andrew really quickly, I am unsure if I can give John Muir credit for the historic interpretation piece, as his generation didn’t seem to be as involved in the interpretation issues that developed after the absorption of the military parks into the NPS fold (he died in 1914, well before the NPS took over many of the purely historic sites). Maybe indirectly, as without that generation we wouldn’t see the need for an NPS that would go on to adopt it, but it seemed like Muir was more the naturalist than the one worried about how historical information was going to get to the larger public. I’m not a Muir expert though, by any means, so I’m interested in hearing other opinions.
    It seems that the occasion by which the battlefield parks were adopted marks a major shift for the NPS in terms of its precise mission, and as such, growing pains should have been expected (although it doesn’t seem they necessarily were, which I thought was evident from the enthusiasm by which the NPS sought additional parks). If I followed the reading correctly, the NPS was able to sidestep the interpretation issue when it only had parks like Yosemite, as it was not attracting people there to hear much of the prehistory of the site. As such, they were able to deliver the “enjoyment for all” that the NPS seems to have as a mantra. In adopting the military parks, however, their work became a bit more complicated.
    In this circumstance, the NPS had to figure out how to balance competing perspectives. On the one hand, the military parks were meticulously plotted by historians from the War Department, both for veterans and military history buffs. Were you someone who loved knowing how General Sickles foolishly advanced into the Peach Orchard at Gettysburg, this was great, but if you were a typical family on a tour of the site, you’d be “treated” to that minutiae as opposed to getting the overall gist. Seeing this split, the NPS had to reconcile that their mission to provide edification for all meant that they had to scale back the particulars at some of these sites in favor of a broader brush stroke. I enjoyed John White’s comment:

    “With due respect to historians all battlefields look much alike and there is monotony in lines of overgrown trenches or battery sites; as there is in museums with exhibits of arms, bullets, and records. Only a student or historian can pretend to be deeply interested in the details of each battle. For the average visitor it is necessary to compress the event into a comprehensive whole, and if possible to color and dramatize it to create interest and make lasting impressions.”

    This seems to have not come without a few quarrels however. The historians on staff at the NPS wanted to be taken seriously, but their friends in academia labeled them as “sub-professional” because they weren’t doing their work in armchairs from a distant tower. Instead of ignoring them, the NPS historians fought back by utilizing the sites to create serious research, but in doing so continued the trend to push connecting with the public off to the side to focus on esoteric particulars. The NPS director had to remind them of their commitment to the public, and if I followed correctly, centralized the research aspect of the NPS (so that it wasn’t extinguished, but regulated in order to force site historians to focus on their public work). In class on Friday Greg did note that all staff at Fort Vancouver have a public obligation attached to their work, and I think hearing this (we’d have to explore the practice to verify), signified that to present day staff, they are expected to fulfill a relationship with the general public.
    Which I think carries over to the plan for the Sesquicentennial of the Civil War. In reading the background, it seems to admit that the bulk of Civil War battlefield interpretation is still mired in the mode of military history. The game plan presented then in the High Ground reading is to move beyond this and to “urge a broader approach to interpreting the Civil War…to challenge people to not just understand the horrid expanse of the bloodshed, but the reasons for it, and the consequences of its aftermath.”
    And therein lay a major challenge for the NPS. When Bob Sutton used an onion to describe the various layers of the war’s cause, I don’t think he could have picked a more apt metaphor. Peeling an onion is not pleasant, and getting the nation to the core of this historic event, considering the NPS belief that the historical memory was left to veterans to determine, may be similarly unpleasant. The popularity of the Civil War in America, as evidenced by reenacting groups, the History Channel, etc., means that trying to open up the story of the Civil War to the wider variety of themes may be a substantive task, in trying to have people with fairly set notions of this conflict consider a more comprehensive perspective. They may thus view this as the worst type of revisionism, and respond negatively. Yet, the NPS seems dedicated to the notion that if they to serve the public to the benefit of “all,” then they have to risk discontent in order to widen the lens. This kind of work operates right in line with the “evolution” of the park service mentioned in the Mackintosh works.
    I am curious though, continuing a conversation trend from class, about the role that NPS plays in offering its analysis of historical events and historical record. As Amy noted in class, how broad should the NPS paint the picture of history? There is something to be said in allowing individuals to see and connect with a site, thinking on their own (as educators we want to create people who do not simply rely on others to “fill” their heads). At the same time, if NPS is too broad, and doesn’t rein some of the individual interpretation, does it run the risk of letting people leave sites with inaccurate or even “dangerous” notions of history? In the estimation of my peers, are the “themes” that NPS is using for the Sesquicentennial enough to offer as bookends, in the sense that they widen the scope of the war’s history, but they also are defined enough to not let minds wander too far?

  11. Andrew Carlson says:

    The parallels between the evolution of the field of interpretation and the National Park Service as an agency are important because of each one’s focus on engaging the public, both at different times and at the same time. Prior to 1933, most of the historical interpretation developments had been done by outside agencies, as noted, such as the Wylie Camping Company recruiting teachers to help answer questions that many visitors to the sites had. When the NPS was created in 1916, they seemed to take over that role (only briefly) until World War I and II occurred, during which many of the sites fell into decay and had become unimportant to many people that thought domestic issues should be the focus of any policy. The addition of many historic sites in 1933 seemed to re-energize the government and public for a short time until 1966 when “Mission 66” was implemented by the NPS in order to improve the visitor experience and provide centers for interpretation. Years later, it seemed as though parks and historic sites as a recreational entity would give way to an ecological focus, both of preservation and interpretation. In summary, I believe that without the National Park Service, the field of interpretation would be very limited because we would need to have those that are interested in preservation and historical analysis step forward in order to create programs for the public. However, this raises an important question: without interpretation (such as those relayed by John Muir and other “explorers” to these sites, would there be a National Park Service and the various historic sites that we have today? After all, Muir was instrumental in provided the public with vivid images of many locations that most of the world had never seen…this expansion of knowledge might have never occurred if it wasn’t for those who came before us to interpret the land and the culture.

    I believe the NPS’ approach to the Civil War Sesquicentennial is only adding to the important of the agency in implementing programs related to things that it believes people should be aware of, in turn increasing its reputation for being a place that helps connect a person’s personal emotions with historical analysis. The NPS has developed a plan in order to present this information to the public, but with a specific interpretation in mind. Once the public receives this info, it is up to them to figure out what it all means and make sense of it (to come up with their own interpretation of the information and data provided). In the past, the NPS has developed projects to enhance the visitor’s experience and provide a base for simple knowledge in a hope that the public will want to find out more. I believe that the NPS is doing and will do a great job, through the 150th anniversary of the Civil War in connecting its history and historic interpretation.

  12. Brandon Quintel says:

    After reading all the articles and readings that were posted, when it comes to the question of finding connections or parallels between the field of interpretation and the national park service as an agency, i came away with something really basic but it really stood out to me. When you look at how the field of interpretation has changed, it went from trying to make the sites as “accurate” as possible as how they would have looked in the time in which they were current, to a school of thought to make them as “accurate” as possible in the context in which they are formed. An example is when we read about George Washington’s birth house. There was a debate on whether or not to rebuild the house as a reconstruction but to place the the reconstruction on the actual footprint of the original house, now we have the argument on to reconstruct the site if we know almost without a doubt on how they looked, or to just leave them as they are found to preserve the “natural” state in which they are. By doing so, by leaving them in the “ruins” state, we can get a lot more of the interpretation because we dont know exactly how and what happened when, rather than having something built up to someone’s own thoughts and ideas on how it should have looked. We have the opportunity to build our own interpretations on what we are seeing, and that is a powerful thing, because it keeps everyone thinking about what could have been and keeps history alive.

    As far as that tying into the NPS as an agency, you can draw parallels in how they grew to how the interpretations have evolved as well. At first the NPS just grew and grew as fast as they could to try and snatch up anything that could be of historic or recreational value without a real over site into why and if people perceive it as such. Much as the interpretation field grew and matured, so did the NPS. Now we have the service being more judicious and thoughtful in which places we pick, if we can keep the funding to keep them around and to what significance to the public as a whole.

    In regards to the last question of the NPS’s approach to the the Civil War Sesquicentennial and how it connects to the agency’s history and the evolution of historic interpretation, it appears to me as a broading of the scope of history. Instead of focusing on one aspect, which may be viewed as the most important aspect, they begin to focus on a larger context as a whole on the event as a whole and the repercussions and possible igniter of the events. The connection is again a rebirth in my opinion on the thinking of the agency. This goes from the very beginning of of the agency as an idea of preserving national treasures for almost a single purpose to a more broad scope of the parks as a whole. Maybe instead of preserving a park for the sole idea of recreation, we come to find out that it also has other qualities that were before overlooked or unforeseen that now becomes a major benefit of the park being apart of the service.

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