Some Thoughts on History and the National Park Service

Studying history in college opened my eyes to the possibilities of bringing about a much-needed change to the ways in which history is studied and shared with people. Before this internship, my idea of the National Park Service was not very positive and not based on any extensive experience with NPS. To me, NPS was a workforce that was dominated by old, white men who interpreted the past for an increasingly diverse society and was therefore disconnected from the public. My initial assumptions of NPS haven’t been proven to be completely wrong but I do feel as if NPS is addressing this perception.

Recently, I went to two events that gave me the impression NPS is placing an emphasis on reaching out to wider audiences through improving interpretation and encouraging the growth of the young workforce that joined NPS this summer. With a group of fellow C&O Canal employees, I went on a best practices site visit to the Flight 93 National Memorial. We spent the day as observant visitors, paying close attention to the site’s interpretative panels, structure, design, and layout. The trip was meant as an opportunity to learn from a site that is successfully serving and engaging with visitors. At another event, the 2017 NPS Youth Summit, youth programs from the area gathered for a day of different events and activities. Many of the activities, like birding, showed us some ways to be more active in parks. Other activities, like meeting Park Police and their horses, allowed us to see the different ways one can have a career with NPS. By the end of these last two weeks, I was glad to feel my opinion of NPS was shifting.

I used to think of NPS as a storyteller that was frozen in time and not adapting to the ever-changing ways in which people understand history and the ways they relate to it. History matters because it tells us why things are the way they are today. People who interact with history (this includes more than historians) are responsible for making it truthful and accessible to everyone. I still carry hope that changes will come to the fields of history and public history but now, halfway through this internship, I’m hopeful that changes will also come to NPS.

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