Established in 1916, the National Park Service (NPS) celebrates its 100th birthday this year. Charged with stewardship of our natural and cultural heritage, the Park Service is perhaps best known for the flagship natural parks of the West such as Yellowstone, Yosemite, and Grand Canyon. But it also oversees the many smaller historical parks, sites, memorials, and monuments, many of them here in the mid-Atlantic region, from Independence National Historical Park (NHP), Valley Forge, and Gettysburg, to Hopewell Furnace National Historic Site, Thomas Edison NHP, Patterson Great Fall NHP, Flight 93 National Memorial, the Stonewall Inn National Monument, the Statue of Liberty, and many, many more.
The centennial has prompted the issuance of commemorative coins and stamps and inspired exhibits, books, and conferences. It is a time for both looking back and looking forward. And the November 2016 issue of The Public Historian, the journal of the National Council on Public History (NCPH), with editorial offices at both UC Santa Barbara and at MARCH, does just that.
The special issue is guest edited by John H. Sprinkle Jr., bureau historian at the NPS’s Park History Program and NCPH board member. It contains twelve articles, two review essays, and several exhibit, digital, and book reviews, all related to the history of the National Park Service. Six of the essays focus on the origins of various units within the park service, several examining the relationship between local understandings of the land and its resources and the broad congressional mandates to preserve what were frequently contested landscapes. Six of the essays examine contemporary issues facing the Park Service, from interpretation of Confederate Civil War sites to grappling with the Park Service’s own history, new demographics, and training new park rangers. The final essay, by Anne Mitchell Whisnant and Marla Miller, two of the authors of the 2011 study commissioned by the Organization of American Historians, Imperiled Promise: The State of History in the National Park Service, assesses changes in the past five years and offers some thoughts for the future.
To continue the conversation, The Public Historian has commissioned a series of blog posts on one contemporary issue of importance to the parks, climate change. These posts, which will be published on History@Work in the coming weeks, will discuss how a handful of the parks are dealing with the threat of climate change to our cultural as well as natural resources and are bridging the divide between interpretation of natural and cultural history through the issue of climate change, highlighting how the decisions and actions of people in the past, and today, impact these special places.
The Public Historian is available online to members of the NCPH. Individual copies of this special issue are also available for purchase.