“The best ships in the worst navy”—that’s how one NPS staffer responded when asked to describe history in the National Park Service.
Check out a new report by the Organization for American Historians, Imperiled Promise: The State of History in the National Park Service, to find out why this could be an apt metaphor to describe the state of history research and interpretation in the National Park Service.
As part of a long-standing partnership between the National Park Service and the Organization of American Historians, a team of OAH scholars conducted a comprehensive study of the practice of history in the national parks. The report of their work, including methodology, findings, and recommendations, is now available on the OAH website. The report highlights successful partnerships, innovative interpretation programs, and exciting new research approaches, but it also surfaces serious inadequacies and constraints that prevent the National Park Service from fulfilling its leadership role as “the nation’s largest outdoor history classroom.” Many of the report’s findings and recommendations reflect and elaborate on points made in NPCA’s work with the National Parks Second Century Commission, our report on The State of America’s National Parks, and most recently, at America’s Summit on National Parks. Though some readers might find the size and scope of this 145 -page report daunting, the vision, findings, and recommendations are worth delving into, to appreciate the scope and significance of the Park Service’s mission to serve as stewards for the history of an entire nation.
As one respondent to the study team’s survey said, “history in the NPS is a public promise waiting to be kept.” NPCA is committed to seeing that promise fulfilled. Members of NPCA’s Center for Park Research will be exploring a few of these goals in the coming weeks to shed light on some of the challenges and promising ideas in the report.