The article “National Parks for New Audiences” paints a picture of a slowly changing landscape of NPS properties that maintains and preserves aspects of American history and identity. It also attempts to educate visitors, therefore their interpretive programs require change to be more inclusive of all their “contributors and constituents.” While these NPS units are typically “overshadowed by the nation’s increasingly popular flagship wilderness parks,” these venues offer a more comprehensive interpretive techniques to promote historical thinking.
How well, if at all, do Coslett and Chalana incorporate ideas we’ve discussed in our work on teaching historical thinking in their essay?
Coslett and Chalana discuss two NPPS sites by tracing their origin, historical background, and development over the years. They explore ways to rewrite the one-sided, predominantly white perspective of the Whitman Mission National Historic Site and the San Juan Island National Historical Park. They point out several challenges for each site to broaden their historical perspectives, such as diversity in staffing to engage historically marginalized groups. Both parks draw disproportionately white audiences/visitors even though the complete history at those sites came to exist because of a conflict between whites and Natives. They also voice that the NPS is “committed to both diversity and equity, and to better conveying to all visitors the full richness of American cultural history.” However, as they examine the sites, at each turn, and from every angle, thees goals seem to fall short. Coslett and Chalana raise important questions that challenge authenticity and interpretation. They attempt to bring a new kind of historical thinking to light when they reflect on both online and on site of the WM-NHS as it tries to update and modernize its presentation of the past, but “occasionally still suffers from inconsistent and sometimes even contradictory interpretation.” Further examining the website, Chalana and Coslett, also point out that it both redeems and criticizes, “explicitly tether[s] the site’s past to the lived present” by pointing out that in the Cayuse attack, the federal government found ‘‘an excuse to set up reservations and restrict the movement of Native Americans.’’ The NPS not only attempts to acknowledge the problematic nature of the site’s history and interpretation, but features the larger ramifications of events. Moreover, Chalana and Coslett approves the site’s interpretation of Native American voices as they, unlike the physical site partnered with the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation. In the end, they conclude that ‘‘regardless of the changing judgments and interpretation of westward expansion, the Whitman story continues to be one of courage, commitment, and sacrifice for an ideal.’’ Thus, by laying out several other examples of controversy and conflicting viewpoints, Chalana and Coslett incorporate ideas we’ve discussed in our work on teaching historical thinking in their essay. One that weaves the specific examples together is the controversy of historical thinking or representation. Although, by the end of the article they cite one NPS historian who has suggested that “the agency staff should ‘step back from the position of authority and become provokers, facilitators and encourage the public to engage with … [historical] material, consider multiple perspectives, and make their own choices.’’’ In their essay, Coslett and Chalana question perspectives, raise awareness of interpretation, and examine a variety aspects of the historical function NPS carries in representing the nation’s history. Although, they include the words of Marie Sanchez of the Northern Cheyenne regarding the infamous Sand Creek massacre, which resonate at WM-NHS and other NPS units with difficult pasts, in it she says that she knows ‘‘it won’t alleviate alcoholism and drug abuse and crimes of passion or suicides, but it would help our children understand what happened to us as a people.” Thus, the perspective of the Native is still largely lacking, the research from Native American Scholars, their view on the NPS as opposed to what NPS plans to change to better represent them as part of the complete history.
Given what you’ve learned thus far, what advice would you give the National Park Service on how best to use their historic sites to teach to a more diverse audience?
First and foremost, it is crucial that both perspectives of history are represented. When a historical site is presented from the perspective of the winners or the details their heroism, sacrifice, and commitment, it diminishes other views and makes those cultures less significant or valued as past of the existing society. The National Park Service must make it its own mission to facilitate by investing in research to equalize its representation of both perspectives. Then the sites will challenge or even provoke visitors to think critically and analyze the past by reflecting on it from the present perspective they hold. I believe that digital tools hold an important role in fostering this way thinking and interaction as they invite comments to further expand views.
Coslett, Daniel E., and Manish Chalana. “National Parks for New Audiences. Diversifying Interpretation for Enhanced Contemporary Relevance.” The Public Historian 38, no. 4: 101-128. November 2016