The National Park Service (NPS) has announced the selection of Robert K. Sutton as Chief Historian of the National Park Service. The chief historian provides guidance and direction to the national parks on interpreting the significance of America’s historic places. The position provides national leadership in setting and implementing NPS standards and guidelines relating to the documentation of historically significant properties. Sutton will begin his new position on October 1, 2007.
Since 1995, Sutton has been superintendent of the Manassas National Battlefield Park, which has an annual visitation of 800,000.
In 2016 the U.S. National Park Service will celebrate its 100th anniversary. In anticipation of that event, the George Wright Society, an organization dedicated to protecting the parks and promoting research on and interpretation of their cultural and natural resources, has launched a series of 27 online essays exploring the challenges facing the agency today.
In the introductory essay, former National Park Service (NPS) chief historian Dwight T. Pitcaithley discusses the future of the national parks. He argues that any plan for the future of the parks “should embrace the complexity of managing parks within an ever-increasing array of congressional mandates, with ever-changing national cultural demographics, with evolving scientific and scholarly studies that continuously refine our understanding of the world around us and our sense of who we are as a society.” In order to embrace that mission, Pitcaithley argues, NPS needs adequate funding, freedom from politicization, and opportunities and resources to provide professional development to keep staff abreast of developments in their fields.
Parks and the Shaping of Historical Memory
In a Perspectives article from January 2000, historians Laura Feller and Page Putnam Miller described the 220 cultural sites sponsored by the National Park Service (NPS) as “sources of educational experiences, vessels of historical memory, and sometimes places that loom large in questions about personal and national identity.” Feller and Miller remind us of the NPS’s role in preserving and disseminating history, but they also contend that NPS experiences actually shape how people understand the past and their relation to the past.