New Perspectives on National Park History
This session will take place at the 2020 OAH Annual Meeting | Conference on American History in Washington, D.C. Read the full abstract and speaker information here.
While the American national park system is oft-hailed as “America’s Best Idea,” conjuring up romantic notions of multi-hued sunsets, pristine wilderness, and family camping trips, a deeper look into the history of national parks shows that these spaces are sites of deep contestation. Who are the National Parks for? Who gets to visit these spaces, and who is erased from them? How have people resisted state incursions vis-a-vis national park expansion? The papers on this panel highlight the marginalized stories of peoples and places often pushed to the periphery of park histories. By integrating these perspectives, the panelists will bring these stories to the forefront of national park histories and spark future conversations about the costs and stakes of the national park system.
Mattea Sanders’ paper focuses on the establishment of Southwestern National Monument, and explains how the Dine developed their own interpretations of both the American Antiquities Act of 1905 and also cultural resources preservation in the early twentieth century. Ashanti Shih’s paper examines how the National Park Service deployed science and preservation as justifications for massive NPS land expansions in Hawai’i in the 1930s and 1940s. Shih will also examine how Native Hawaiian resistance to these land expansions offer alternative knowledges and approaches to preservation. Sherri Sheu’s paper examines the professionalization of law enforcement in the NPS in the 1970s, which occurred as part of Richard Nixon’s broader law and order policies. Finally, Helis Sikk interrogates the National Park Service 2014 LGBTQ Heritage Initiative as a homonationalist attempt to catch up with the post-1960s turn to cultural history and a way to foster inclusion.
As the National Park Service moves into its second century, the scholars on this panel will use the opportunity to build a more inclusive vision of national park history and suggests alternative ways of including diverse, oftentimes contrarian voices. Building on work by scholars such as Karl Jacoby, Ari Kelman, and Mark David Spence, this panel proposes that we situate the long history of the National Park Service as part of both the nation-state and American (settler) colonialism. Ultimately, the panelists hope that a deeper knowledge and understanding of the historical relationship between National Parks and marginalized peoples can lead to new policy approaches across the National Park Service. The panel welcomes audience members to join us for a spirited panel discussion in Washington, D.C.