Publication Date

August 7, 2007


Public History

In 2016 the U.S. National Park Service will celebrate its 100th anniversary. In anticipation of that event, the George Wright Society, an organization dedicated to protecting the parks and promoting research on and interpretation of their cultural and natural resources, has launched a series of 27 online essays exploring the challenges facing the agency today.

In the introductory essay, former National Park Service (NPS) chief historian Dwight T. Pitcaithley discusses the future of the national parks. He argues that any plan for the future of the parks “should embrace the complexity of managing parks within an ever-increasing array of congressional mandates, with ever-changing national cultural demographics, with evolving scientific and scholarly studies that continuously refine our understanding of the world around us and our sense of who we are as a society.” In order to embrace that mission, Pitcaithley argues, NPS needs adequate funding, freedom from politicization, and opportunities and resources to provide professional development to keep staff abreast of developments in their fields. The park service needs the resources to keep its interpretation current and fulfill its educational mission. Pitcaithley argues that this goal might best be served by making NPS an independent agency like the National Archives and Records Administration.

Historians will be particularly interested in Pitcaithley’s statistics on the extent of NPS historical and cultural resources. According to the article, “60% of the 391 units of the national park system were set aside by Congress and presidents to preserve archeological and historic properties” and the park service maintains and interprets “115,000,000 objects, 67,000 archeological sites, and 26,000 historic structures.” Historians obviously have a tremendous stake in the success of the parks.

This fall, a series of essays on interpretive programs within the National Parks will appear in Perspectives. The series will be coordinated by Council and Professional Division member Art Gomez, National Park Service.

This post first appeared on AHA Today.

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