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Museums, Monuments, and National Parks

Museums, Monuments, and National Parks: Toward a New Genealogy of Public History

Denise D. Meringolo
Copyright Date: 2012
Pages: 256
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  • Book Info
    Museums, Monuments, and National Parks
    Book Description:

    The rapid expansion of the field of public history since the 1970s has led many to believe that it is a relatively new profession. In this book, Denise D. Meringolo shows that the roots of public history actually reach back to the nineteenth century, when the federal government entered into the work of collecting and preserving the nation’s natural and cultural resources. Scientists conducting research and gathering specimens became key figures in a broader effort to protect and interpret the nation’s landscape. Their collaboration with entrepreneurs, academics, curators, and bureaucrats alike helped pave the way for other governmental initiatives, from the Smithsonian Institution to the parks and monuments today managed by the National Park Service. All of these developments included interpretive activities that shaped public understanding of the past. Yet it was not until the emergence of the educationoriented National Park Service history program in the 1920s and 1930s that public history found an institutional home that grounded professional practice simultaneously in the values of the emerging discipline and in government service. Even thereafter, tensions between administrators in Washington and practitioners on the ground at National Parks, monuments, and museums continued to define and redefine the scope and substance of the field. The process of definition persists to this day, according to Meringolo, as public historians establish a growing presence in major universities throughout the United States and abroad.

    eISBN: 978-1-61376-211-0
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. PROLOGUE A New Kind of Technician In Search of the Culture of Public History
    (pp. xiii-xxxiv)

    When Verne Chatelain, the first chief historian of the National Park Service, recounted his efforts to create a “new kind of technician” during the 1930s, he implicitly understood that the historians he brought into his division were the inheritors of a distinct professional genealogy.¹ Before 1930 not a single historian had worked for the National Park Service. By the end of the decade, however, a small but growing number would be employed in the bureau’s Washington, D.C., administrative offices, in each of the regional offices, and at many of its historic sites.² New Deal programs and initiatives expanded Park Service...

  5. Part 1 Science and Government: Defining the Landscape

    • CHAPTER 1 A Matter of National Dignity Education and Federal Authority
      (pp. 3-25)

      During most of the nineteenth century both the study of nature and the study of history were perceived by many as a diversion for the leisured class. By the middle of the 1830s, however, some began to argue that research was more than a private intellectual pursuit. Men such as Joel Roberts Poinsett and John Quincy Adams became early supporters of the controversial notion that the federal government should engage in scientific investigations, gathering and examining natural resources for the benefit of agriculture, commerce, the arts, and industry.¹ They argued that exploration of the continent’s rich landscape was essential to...

    • CHAPTER 2 Managing the Landscape National Parks, National Monuments, and the Use of Public Land
      (pp. 26-56)

      The Civil War accelerated changes already taking shape in the nation’s economy, politics, and social life. Nonetheless, for many Americans the dissolution of the union and the end of slavery created a sense of sudden disruption. In the remaining decades of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the new one, a cult of novelty emerged as Americans sought to move beyond sectional hostilities and the war. The era was shaped by new immigrants, the New Woman, and the “New Negro.”¹ Henry W. Grady, editor of theAtlanta Constitution, described a “New South,” and boosters touted its emergence. Grady took...

  6. Part 2 Turning Nature into History: The National Park Service and the Culture of Public History

    • CHAPTER 3 Losing Their Identity National Park Service Museums and Federal Collections
      (pp. 59-83)

      In 1910 twenty-three-year-old Jesse Logan Nusbaum spent ten weeks scrambling on ancient, crumbling walls carved into the sheer face of a cliff. Barely a year into his job as Edgar Lee Hewett’s field assistant, Nusbaum was at work, repairing the cliff dwelling on behalf of the School of American Archaeology. Working with a small team of laborers, he anchored each wall to the back of the cliff, using irons and turn buckles. It seemed his fate to be there. As a child growing up in Greeley, Colorado, Nusbaum had loved working outdoors and building structures. The son of a construction...

    • CHAPTER 4 Ignorant and Local-Minded Influences Historic Sites and the Expansion of the National Park Service
      (pp. 84-108)

      At one point, exhausted from yet another prolonged debate over the Hetch Hetchy dam proposal, Senator James Reed of Missouri complained, “The Senate of the United States has devoted a full week of time to discussing the disposition of about two square miles of land located at a point remote from civilization in the very heart of the Sierra Mountains and possessing an intrinsic value of probably not to exceed four or five hundred dollars.”¹ Reed’s pointed frustration was symbolic of a larger problem for the National Park Service. By 1925, nearly a decade after its establishment and a half...

    • CHAPTER 5 Real Park Service Men On the Ground and in the Books
      (pp. 109-128)

      Horace Albright took over as director of the National Park Service in January 1929, on the eve of the Great Depression. As the economy worsened, Albright found himself in a familiar position. As acting director during World War I, he had worked on a shoestring. After he left Washington to serve as superintendent of Yellowstone, he remained Mather’s close confidante, and he played an important role in preparing and defending the agency’s budget. Throughout the 1920s he was often called to Washington to testify in defense of Park Service spending. By the time he took over as director, however, “Money...

    • Illustrations
      (pp. None)
  7. Part 3 Whom Do We Serve?: Public History and the Question of Authority

    • CHAPTER 6 Park Service Diggers Public Historians and the Problem of Status
      (pp. 131-152)

      Park Service holdings, staff, and attendance had expanded exponentially by the end of the 1930s. In 1931 the average number of personnel employed by the Park Service each month was 2,044. In 1935 it was 17,047. During the same period, the number of park museums nearly doubled from twenty-seven in 1933 to fifty-three in 1936. Similarly, the number of historic sites held by the National Park Service increased dramatically. By 1941, in addition to the fifty-seven battlefields and monuments transferred from the War Department, the Park Service operated thirty-five historic house museums—eight west of the Mississippi and twenty-seven east...

  8. CONCLUSION Toward a New Genealogy of Public History
    (pp. 153-168)

    By the 1930s the National Park Service had become a standard bearer for historical planning and interpretation. Under the leadership of Harold Albright, a small but significant group of men crafted new strategies for the expansion of park holdings and the education of tourists, introducing history into the National Park Service management structure. Together, forward-looking and ambitious administrators such as Albright, archaeologists such as Jesse Nusbaum, and historians such as Verne Chatelain and Ronald Lee crafted a new profession. Between 1916 and 1936 their actions helped to establish history as a function of government service, as they struggled to find...

  9. A Note on Sources
    (pp. 169-170)
  10. Notes
    (pp. 171-198)
  11. Index
    (pp. 199-208)
  12. Back Matter
    (pp. 209-212)