Making Connections, Bridging Gaps: Linking the Practice of History in the National Park Service to New Partners and New Scholarship

Endorsed by the OAH Committee on National Park Service Collaboration and the Society for History in the Federal Government

Saturday, April 4, 2020, 8:00 AM - 9:30 AM

Type: Roundtable Discussion

Tags: National Park Service; Public History and Memory


This roundtable will offer an opportunity to learn about the evolving practice of history in the National Park Service (NPS), including the creation of a new postdoctoral initiative. It presents an opportunity to reflect on the recommendations of the 2011 OAH report Imperiled Promise: The State of History in the National Park Service and to hear about legislative advocacy efforts currently underway that affect history in the NPS. Based on experiences working within and with the agency, roundtable participants will discuss ways to connect the NPS with the broader history profession and diverse publics.

Session Participants

Chair: Barbara Little, National Park Service
Dr. Barbara Little is an archaeologist whose research and writing interests broadly include why heritage matters and how we use it, public archaeology, public outreach and involvement, official designations and public memory. She is currently the Program Manager at the National Park Service's Cultural Resources Office of Interpretation and Education and serves as Project Director of the NPS Mellon Humanities Fellows. Previously she has worked in the Park Service in a variety of departments and on the Archaeology in Annapolis project. She has taught at George Mason University and the University of Maryland. Barbara is widely published and has authored and co-authored several books including Historical Archaeology: Why the Past Matters (2007) and Archaeology as a Tool of Public Engagement (with Paul Shackel)(2007).

Panelist: Mia Carey, National Park Service
Mia Carey earned a PhD in Anthropology with a concentration in Historical Archaeology from the University of Florida in Spring 2017. Her research focuses on the ways in which white privilege silences the narratives and experiences of African and African American Muslims, and using archaeology as a medium to break the cycle of silence. Before starting at the National Park Service in 2016, Mia earned a M.A. in Anthropology with a concentration in Historical Archaeology and an Interdisciplinary Certificate and Concentration in Historic Preservation from the University of Florida in 2014. In January 2017, she became the Acting Civil War to Civil Rights National Coordinator, and has since engaged a national digital community of practice in weekly discussions on a variety of topics under the name “Let’s Talk About It”.

Panelist: Sylvea Hollis, National Park Service

Sylvea Hollis is a social historian of the nineteenth and twentieth-century U.S. with particular research interests in race, gender, sexuality, and social welfare. She earned a Ph.D. in U.S. History, with concentration in African American History and a graduate certificate in Gender, Women’s and Sexuality Studies from the University of Iowa. Sylvea also has over fifteen years’ experience working on publicly-engaged projects with universities, archives, museums, and professional associations—including the American Alliance of Museums, National Museum of American History, Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, and the St. Eustatius Historical Foundation (Dutch Caribbean). She has a M.A. in History Museum Studies from the Cooperstown Graduate Program at SUNY-Oneonta and a B.S. in History from the University of Montevallo. Sylvea currently is the NPS Mellon Postdoc in Gender and Sexuality Equality.

Panelist: Eleanor Mahoney, National Park Service
Eleanor Mahoney is the Mellon Humanities Post-Doctoral Fellow in the History of Labor and Productivity at the National Park Service. In this position, she develops both service-wide and park unit specific programming and training centered on the history of work of and working people.

Eleanor completed her PhD at the University of Washington in 2018, with concentrations in labor and environmental history. Her research examines connections between economic change and conservation practice in the United States after World War II. Eleanor also holds an M.A. in Public History from Loyola University Chicago and is active in public and digital humanities, with fifteen years experience in the public and nonprofit sectors. She serves as associate editor of the Living Landscape Observer, a website and newsletter focused on landscape-scale conservation, and has been an associate editor of the Pacific Northwest Labor and Civil Rights History Project.

Panelist: Alan Spears, National Parks Conservation Association
Alan Spears joined NPCA in 1999 and is currently the Director of Cultural Resources in the Government Affairs department. He serves as NPCA's resident historian and cultural resources expert.

Alan worked for NPCA’s Enhancing Cultural Diversity program managing the National Parks Community Partners program from 1999 to 2003. This initiative was designed to connect national parks in Boston, Washington, DC, Atlanta, Miami, Los Angeles, and San Francisco more closely to racially and ethnically diverse constituents. The Community Partners created a ground-breaking youth employment program, a guide to understanding the National Park Service hiring process, and launched a volunteer service initiative in northeast Washington, DC, which ultimately grew into a highly successful friends group.

After joining the Government Affairs department Alan gained introduction and passage of the National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom Funding Re-authorization Act of 2008. More recently, as a part of the Government Affairs department, Alan has led, co-led, or supported five successful national monument campaigns including Fort Monroe, Harriet Tubman, Charles Young, and Pullman. Alan is a graduate of Howard University in Washington, DC, and his writing has appeared in the Civil War Times Illustrated and National Parks magazine.

Panelist: Anne Mitchell Whisnant, Primary Source History Services
Anne Mitchell Whisnant is a professional historian whose teaching, research, speaking, consulting, and writing focus on public history, digital and geospatial history, and the history of the U.S. National Parks. As of 2018, she is a public historian in private practice, working with her husband David Whisnant as co-principal of the public history consulting firm Primary Source History Services, based in Chapel Hill, NC. She was previously employed as a faculty member and administrator at East Carolina University and UNC-Chapel Hill.

Dr. Whisnant received her Ph.D. in history from UNC-Chapel Hill in 1997 and in 2006 published Super-Scenic Motorway: A Blue Ridge Parkway History. She is scholarly adviser for Driving Through Time: The Digital Blue Ridge Parkway, an online history collection developed collaboratively with the Park Service and the UNC Libraries. For ten years, she has taught UNC’s Introduction to Public History course, in which her students have developed a number of digital exhibits related to Blue Ridge Parkway and university history.

As a consultant, Dr. Whisnant has been the co-principal historian on several National Park Service projects, with two more presently underway. From 2008-12, she chaired a task force commissioned by the Organization of American Historians and the National Park Service to study historical practice within the Park Service. The resulting report, Imperiled Promise: The State of History in the National Park Service, won the 2013 Excellence in Consulting Award from the National Council on Public History and is helping set a vision for future NPS historical work.