OAH Distinguished Lecturer Profile

Heather A. Huyck

Portrait of Heather A. Huyck

Heather A. Huyck's long career as a public historian bridges academically based history and place-based history, especially as found in the National Park Service system (she has visited 324 of the 419 national park sites). Trained in history and anthropology to focus on cultural resources, she worked on 81 enacted laws as a historian with the U.S. House of Representatives Subcommittee on National Parks and Public Lands from 1985 to 1994 and as a Park Ranger/Historian for the National Park Service for over twenty years. She taught American Studies, American History, and Africana Studies at the College of William and Mary from 2002 to 2013. While President of the National Collaborative for Women's History Sites (NCWHS), Huyck focused on bringing historians from all backgrounds together at OAH, AHA, AASLH, NCPH and The Berkshire Conference focusing on the research, preservation and interpretation of women's history. She is Co-Chair of the NCWHS Research & Interpretation Committee. Her ITALICS Doing Women's History in Public: A Handbook for Museums and Historic SitesITALICS provides research and preservation methodology for written, oral, visual and tangible resources which cumulate in the interpretation of the whole story of American women's history with the public. The former director of the Jamestown 400th Project, she received the American Historical Association's Herbert Feis Award for distinguished contributions in public history; edited Women's History: Sites and Resources (2008); and coedited, with Peg Strobel, of Revealing Women's History: Best Practices for Historic Sites (2011). In addition to working on various NCWHS projects, including webinars, a Toolkit, and numerous presentations. She was the project director for the Maggie Walker Community as they processed over 15,000 documents from the indefatigible Mrs. Maggie Lena Walker, an African American community organizer and entrepreneur (1864–1934) best known for founding a bank (1903), a newspaper, and an emporium, and for running an insurance company whose resistance to American apartheid should be much better known. Heather Huyck loves to canoe, camp and travel and proudly wore the NPS uniform doing French translations, researching Clara Barton, against unscrupulous contractors, and protecting Alan Alda from his overly enthusiastic fans.

Featured Lecture

OAH Lectures

Women’s history scholarship which initially researched letters and diaries now incorporates oral and visual sources, and increasingly includes the tangible resources of objects, landscapes and architecture found in museums, parks and historic houses. Drawing on her recent Doing Women’s History in Public: A Handbook for Interpretation at Museums and Historic Sites (2020), Dr. Huyck will provide examples and insights gained through her intensive study of these diverse research and interpretive resources that together better tell the American women’s history. It will provide basic analytical tools and additional ways to take advantage of all these sources to enliven our understanding, provide other venues for learning, and thwart hoary misunderstandings and stereotypes. There are numerous examples that center on all the women who built our nation. For example, careful study of the Narbonne House in Salem, Massachusetts, reveals a Cent Shop only yards away from where Nathaniel Hawthorne worked and which he referenced in The House of Seven Gables. Such shops provided tenuous income for impoverished women. Inspection of its altered doorway reveals a female commercial establishment. Close examination of baleen provides insights into the control and support that corsets once provided; lifting “sad irons” instills appreciation for the literally heavy work African American women washerwomen did. This lecture can be tailored for different regions and for a primarily faculty, mixed faculty-student or a mixed academic-public audience.
The public often thinks of national parks as Yellowstone and Yosemite, but 60% of NPS areas are predominantly cultural, historical and/or archeological. While many are battlefields and famous men's homes, the increasingly-diverse national park system reflects much social and economic history. This romp through our history and parks shares our History both obvious and subtle that is preserved and interpreted, from exquisite Navajo rugs to laundry "agitators," adobe ruins to a “cent shop” to schools, mills and mansions. This introduction to American parks emphasizes our shared heritage. Our national parks have unexpected opportunities to investigate and appreciate women’s history. Eleanor Roosevelt’s Val-Kill shows her blurred public and private life; Tumacácori mission shows indigenous women’s essential roles while Gettysburg Battlefield illustrates the war’s effects on free black and other small farming women’s lives. Every park unit—even Alcatraz!—has women’s history. This illustrated lecture, based on the 324 NPS units Dr. Huyck has visited, shows the power and promise of encountering our nation's heritage, focusing on American women.
Head of an African American beneficial order from 1899 to 1934 whose 100,000 members in 24 states in the 1920s, Mrs. Walker distinguished herself as a leader, Race Woman, banker, philanthropist, and activist. Her organization the Independent Order brought together black working class women to resist American Apartheid. This lecture analyzes their written records and architectural analysis of their national headquarters building to appreciate the alternative world these determined women created. This illustrated lecture which raises key issues still too relevant today can be presented to a predominantly academic audience or to a more diverse one.
The American public learns much of its history at museums, historic sites, and parks; polls show that the public trusts such public history. In contrast, the pubic does not hold academia in as high esteem and history majors are decreasing. Heather Huyck has spent her career working to bridge these two components of our discipline. We can become a stronger History when we intentionally develop the rationales and methods to recognize and encourage our complementarity. The OAH has had an agreement with the NPS for over 25 years can do more to bridge such as systematically incorporating study of our tangible heritage of landscapes, buildings and objects into history classes, teaching classes of both students and practitioners, and reaching out to parks and other historic locales. Parks need to appreciate more the riches of academia, to use their insights and engage with their scholars routinely. Organizations need to insist that both public and academic historians are fully represented on committees and at conferences. Dr. Huyck has taught in public and academic settings and long sought ways to facilitate bridge-building; she helped negotiate the 1994 OAH-NPS agreement.
Crowbars which remove non-historic floors that cover original ones can be important tools for historic research just as the US census, Sanford fire insurance maps, and inflation calculators are. Over the past thirty years the chasm between public and academic historians has decreased but still weakens the profession. This lecture considers the strengths of both crowbars and bluebooks in doing professional history and how we can strengthen History and the profession by using both.
Historians bring a distinct perspective to cataclysmic events such as the 2020 Covid pandemic. Aware of earlier crises from the Black Death to the 1918 influenza from Kansas (not Spain) to high infant mortality for centuries, historians react differently to such outbreaks now and can both challenge and reassure the American public during it. Bringing additional data points to analyze our situation can show key issues and the take upheavals more seriously yet reassure students and the public in the face of dire broadcast news predictions that humanity will indeed survive, if with much suffering. This lecture considers various crises in our history to share both comfort and warnings for today.