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Diversity and Change in the National Historic Landmarks Program

Panel Discussion

Abstract

This panel discussion focuses on current initiatives to identify and document National Historic Landmarks (NHLs) that represent the diversity of American society, culture, and history. Administered by the National Park Service (NPS), the NHL program recognizes places that possess exceptional national significance. Most of the first NHL designations in 1960 were associated with the accomplishments of white men and with military, political, and architectural history. In the sixty-four years since those first designations, the list of NHLs has become more inclusive and diverse in response to public dialogue, historical scholarship, and community interest in designation. However, much work remains to be done before NHLs fully convey the complexity and diversity of the American experience.

Historians from the NPS will discuss how the recently updated guidelines on preparing NHL nominations address some longstanding issues related to diversity and relevance in the NHL program, and provide information on historic context studies on themes and groups who are underrepresented among NHLs. The NPS Mellon Humanities Postdoctoral Fellow in Women’s History (to be selected in spring 2023) will present their preliminary findings related to increasing representation of women’s history among NHLs. Through the lens of the NHL program, panelists will consider the relationships between historic places and the histories they represent and explore strategies for documenting the stories of those whose contributions have been overshadowed by dominant historical narratives and groups.

Standards for physical preservation of historic buildings and landscapes have represented a barrier to NHL designations for places associated with people of color, women, and working- and lower-class Americans. Published in 2023, the updated guidelines for preparing NHL nominations include an expanded discussion of how to evaluate the physical qualities a place needs in order to be eligible for NHL designation and outline a more nuanced approach to applying these standards. Another issue affecting the relevance of the NHL program is that older nominations are based on outdated scholarship and often present narrow and exclusionary perspectives. The new guidelines provide more detailed information on the process for updating documentation for previously designated NHLs to reflect current scholarship and diverse perspectives.

NHL theme studies assist in identifying potential NHLs associated with groups and themes that are not well-represented among NHLs. In the last twenty years, the NPS has contracted with scholars to produce theme studies related to civil rights, labor, LGBTQ history, Latino heritage, and Asian American and Pacific Islanders, and current projects related to Indian boarding schools and racial discrimination in employment are underway. Starting in the fall of 2023, an NPS Mellon Humanities Postdoctoral Fellow will join the NHL program to develop research and outreach initiatives focused on increasing recognition of women’s history through NHL designations. In the question-and-answer portion of the panel, attendees are encouraged to propose and discuss other initiatives and studies needed to increase diversity and relevance in the study and interpretation of historic places.

National Park Service Public History and Memory Social and Cultural Survey

Session Participants

Dr. Lisa Davidson, NPS - National Historic Landmarks Programs

Chair

Bio for Lisa Pfueller Davidson
Lisa Pfueller Davidson is National Historic Landmarks Program Manager within the Cultural Resources Partnerships and Science directorate of the National Park Service in Washington, DC. Previously she was a historian with Historic American Buildings Survey (HABS). She holds a B.A. in Art History and American Studies from Rutgers University and a Ph.D. in American Studies from George Washington University. Lisa is a co-author of Buildings of Maryland published in 2022 by University of Virginia Press as part of the Society of Architectural Historian’s Buildings of the United States series and a former board member of the Vernacular Architecture Forum.

Dr. Lyn Causey, National Park Service

Panelist

Lyn Causey is a Historian with the National Historic Landmarks Program. She earned a Ph.D. in History and a graduate certificate in Museum Studies from the University of Delaware, then worked as a consultant specializing in National Register and National Historic Landmark (NHL) nominations. She authored six NHL nominations, including the nomination for Dudley Farm, which won the 2021 Buchanan Award from the Vernacular Architecture Forum. Prior to joining the NHL Program staff, Lyn was the National Register Coordinator for the Alabama Historical Commission. She is a former member and chair of the OAH Committee on the NPS Collaboration.

Astrid Liverman, National Park Service

Panelist

Astrid Liverman is a Historian with the National Historic Landmarks Program in the National Park Service’s Cultural Resources Partnerships and Science directorate. She holds a BA in Art History and French from Sweet Briar College and a Certificate in Connoisseurship-Decorative Arts from Christie’s. While earning her PhD in Architectural History from the University of Virginia, Astrid interned at the Musée d’Orsay. She subsequently served as Architecture Branch Chief with the Hawai'i State Historic Preservation Division, Preservation Planning Unit Director with History Colorado, and as the National Historic Landmarks program lead in the NPS legacy Intermountain region. She sits on the board of the Alliance for Historic Landscape Preservation.

Dr. Sarah Pawlicki, National Historic Landmarks Program

Panelist

Sarah Pawlicki (she/they) earned her PhD in History at the University of Minnesota, with subfields in Heritage Studies and Public History and American Indian Studies. Sarah’s research has appeared in Nursing Clio and Early American Studies, and she has collaborated on articles appearing in the Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians and The Bloomsbury Global Encyclopedia of Women in Architecture. Sarah is currently co-authoring, alongside Dr. Gail Dubrow, a book about the family lives and careers of architects of Japanese ancestry who practiced in the United States throughout the twentieth century. As a public historian, Sarah has worked on projects ranging from mapping and interpreting sites of disability history with REPAIR: Disability Heritage Collective to creating history-based Ethnic Studies lesson plans for high- and middle-school students in Minnesota.