AHA Member Spotlight: Beth Boland

By Nike Nivar

AHA members are involved in all fields of history, with wide-ranging specializations, interests, and areas of employment. To recognize our talented and eclectic membership, AHA Today features a regular “AHA Member Spotlight” series. Members featured in the first few posts of this series were randomly selected and contacted by AHA staff, but future posts will be based on nominations. Would you like to nominate a colleague for the AHA Member Spotlight? Contact Nike Nivar for more information.

AHA Member Spotlight
Beth Boland is a historian for the National Park Service. She lives in Falls Church, Virginia, and has been an AHA member since 1999.

1. Alma mater/s: Mount Holyoke College and George Washington University

2. Fields of interest: I’ve been a public historian essentially my whole career, in the fields of historic preservation and K-12 history education. I worked for the National Park Service’s National Register of Historic Places for 30 years and it was there that I developed the Teaching with Historic Places (TwHP) education program, which I continue to manage in the NPS Heritage Education Services office. While I was especially interested in social and intellectual history in school, my work has forced me to be more of a generalist in terms of content. However, I am particularly interested in historiography, material culture, the use of historic sites as primary sources of evidence, and history education.

3. When did you first develop an interest in history? I can’t remember not being interested in history and culture. I grew up about an hour southeast of Washington, D.C., and my school classes would take annual field trips to the Smithsonian; I was that nerdy kid who always looked forward to those trips and actually paid attention to the exhibits. Also, my parents took me to historic sites, both locally and on trips. Among my favorite books as a child were V. M. Hillyer’s A Child’s History of the World and Edith Hamilton’s books on mythology. A lot of credit also goes to my 5th grade teacher, a local historian, who required us to study the county’s history and historic places.

4. What projects are you working on currently?

a) Working with authors on several TwHP lesson plans, including one on Bureau of Reclamation irrigation systems that transformed areas of the Southwest (and yes, these systems are listed in the National Register), one on Fredrick Douglass, and a couple of others. These are free lesson plans available on the TwHP website, http://www.nps.gov/history/nr/twhp.

b) A project to encourage and facilitate youth summits. In collaboration with a number of partners, the National Park Service has been planning two pilot youth summits for this year: one in Washington, D.C. (which has already taken place), and the other in Washington state modeled on very successful youth summits that have been going on in Colorado for several years. These youth summits give young people, ages 13–18, the opportunity to learn—outside the classroom—history, archaeology, and other subjects by becoming directly involved in public projects. Students visit historic sites, where they are introduced to, study, and then make recommendations about real-world issues and problems in historic interpretation, historic preservation, and heritage tourism. We also plan to post on the TwHP website a guide for planning and conducting such summits. Our hope is that communities, states, history and education organizations, and others will be inspired to work together to initiate additional youth summits throughout the country.

c) Two PowerPoint presentations to add to the “Teaching Teachers the Power of Place” professional development section of the TwHP website: “The Power of Place” about ways in which we can learn from historic places and “Service Learning” about using historic places for service learning projects.

5. What books or articles are you currently reading?

I am reading:
a) Midnight Rising by Tony Horwitz (about John Brown’s raid on Harpers Ferry)

b) “Imperiled Promise: The State of History in the National Park Service,” a report by the Organization of American Historians to the National Park Service (study led by Anne Mitchell Whisnant, Marla Miller, Gary Nash, and David Thelen)

c. Revealing Women’s History: Best Practices at Historic Sites, published by the National Collaborative for Women’s History Sites (edited by Heather Huyck and Peg Strobel)

6. What do you value most about the history profession?

Not surprisingly, I find history fascinating and love continuing to learn new things, whether through my own research or through reviewing, critiquing, and editing the work of others. What I especially value about public history is that it actively demonstrates the importance and relevance of history in society and helps a variety of audiences both understand and value history. I love sharing what’s interesting and important about the past—and in learning about the past—with others and watching for those “aha!” moments. And I believe that historic preservation (as well as other fields of public history) truly helps improve the quality of life in many ways. I also enjoy and value the collaborative and interdisciplinary nature of public history.

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