Most professional disciplines dealing with cultural resources focus on
particular resource types. Historical architects and landscape
architects exist to understand and treat historic structures and
cultural landscapes. Curators acquire and manage museum objects and
collections. Archeologists derive meaning from sites containing
remnants of structures, objects, and other traces of human activity.
Ethnographers are concerned with places and features significant to
groups traditionally associated with them.
These discipline-related resource types organize the cultural
resource management chapter of the National Park Service's Management
Policies and the Service's Cultural Resource Management Guideline
(NPS-28), which contain sections or chapters for archeological
resources, cultural landscapes, historic structures, museum objects,
and ethnographic resources. During the preparation of the last
release of NPS-28, some NPS historians complained that they were being
slighted. If the archeologists, architects, curators, etc., were
getting chapters, why weren't they?
The chapters were not for the disciplines, they were told, but
for the management of the particular resources that fall within the
disciplines' purview. There is no discrete class of resources for
historians because history is not a resource-based discipline.
Historians generally lack specialized expertise in performing research
with, treating, and maintaining sites, structures, and objects.
Although they sometimes use them in their research, their primary
milieu is the written record.
While the historical architect is examining the fabric of an old
house for evidence of past modifications, and while the archeologist
is excavating the presumed site of a vanished outbuilding to determine
its location, dimensions, and other attributes, the historian will
likely be using whatever archival documents he or she can find
containing information about the property's ownership, improvement,
occupancy, and use. Such documents may include photographs, maps, and
other graphic depictions as well as written records: deeds, wills,
inventories, letters, published and unpublished first-hand accounts,
and so on. These primary sources pertaining to sites, structures, and
objects are to historians what these resources themselves are to the
A schoolchild assigned to do a paper on a historical topic is
seldom expected to come up with new information or conclusions on that
topic. It is sufficient for him or her to read a few secondary
sources-books, encyclopedia articles, or other accounts written by
others who may or may not themselves have done primary research on the
topic-and summarize or synthesize their contents. Historians also use
secondary sources to discover what others have learned and concluded
about historical topics, but normally as a starting point for their
use of primary sources to uncover new information enabling them to
reevaluate prior conclusions and possibly reach different ones. This
archival research is what fundamentally distinguishes the professional
historian from both the young student and the popular historical
It follows, then, that historians have a vested interest in the
proper management and use of archives, or primary source collections.
Like the archivists charged with their management, they should be
concerned that the documents are carefully preserved and handled; that
they are maintained in their original order, which may shed additional
light on the thinking behind their creation; and that access to them
is facilitated by inventories or other finding aids. (Excellent
guidance on handling archival documents and manuscripts is provided in
Conserve O Gram Number 19/17, issued by the NPS Museum Management
Program.) Unlike an archeological site, which once excavated no
longer exists for future archeologists seeking new information with
more sophisticated techniques, a properly maintained archival
collection can be researched repeatedly by historians asking new
questions about the topics it covers.
The official records of public and private institutions and
collections of personal papers are found in many repositories,
including governmental archives, university libraries, and historical
societies. The repository probably used most often by NPS historians
is the National Archives, comprising the original building in
Washington, D.C., the new Archives II facility in College Park,
Maryland, 13 regional archives around the country, and presidential
libraries for most presidents since Herbert Hoover. The National
Archives, which holds the retired records of the federal government,
is vital to NPS historians because so many national park system areas
commemorate and interpret the activities of federal officials and
agencies, from presidents to the military services to the Bureau of
Among the federal agency records housed in the National Archives
are those of the National Park Service. The NPS records, designated
Record Group 79, are centered at Archives II, with smaller holdings in
the regional archives in or near San Francisco, Philadelphia, Los
Angeles, Kansas City, Fort Worth, Atlanta, Seattle, Boston, and
Chicago. In addition to correspondence and other textual records,
they include still and motion pictures, maps, plans, charts, and other
graphic materials. Many official records pertaining to Yellowstone
National Park are retained in an "affiliated archive" there under an
agreement with the National Archives and Records Administration
NARA's web site, at , contains essential information on the National
Archives and its holdings, including the online version of NARA's
Guide to Federal Records in the National Archives of the United
States. For direct access to the Record Group 79 portion of this
guide, enter . Archivists familiar with Record Group 79 can be reached
Administrative and environmental historians addressing the NPS, its
parks, and its activities can seldom avoid research visits to one or
more National Archives facilities. They will also do well to visit
the NPS History Collection in Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, and the
NPS Historic Photo Collection in nearby Charles Town, West Virginia,
both archival components of the Service's Harpers Ferry Center.
The keepers of the NPS History Collection collect, inventory,
and maintain many kinds of material, beyond official records subject
to NARA disposition requirements, that document and illustrate the
history of the NPS and its parks and may not be saved systematically
elsewhere. Themes represented include development of the national
park concept, the history of historic preservation, the history of
interpretation, women in the NPS, park-related tourism, the Civilian
Conservation Corps, park forestry, the American Revolution
Bicentennial, and NPS uniforms and insignia. Among the collection's
contents are duplicates of selected official records, legislation, and
executive orders; annual reports of secretaries of the interior, NPS
directors, and park superintendents; reports of official conferences
and staff meetings; master plans and interpretive prospectuses;
interpretive and informational publications; personal papers of,
biographical data on, and transcripts of interviews with NPS officials
and park supporters; and NPS uniforms, badges, and other artifacts.
Further information about the collection can be obtained by calling
The NPS Historic Photo Collection encompasses about 100,000
images dating from 1890 to the present, including those by official
NPS photographers from 1929 to 1980. Illustrating many of the topics
covered in the NPS History Collection, they are also valuable primary
sources for park historians. More information about this collection
is available on 304/535-6707.
It would be impossible to list all the archival repositories
useful to NPS historians because their research interests are so
wide-ranging. At the risk of slighting many equally relevant ones,
only a few more will be mentioned here.
Papers of ten NPS directors, sometimes limited to the desk files
they kept during their directorships, are in four university libraries
in addition to Archives II. The University of California at Berkeley
holds papers of Stephen T. Mather. The University of California at
Los Angeles holds papers of Horace M. Albright. Clemson University
holds papers of Russell E. Dickenson, George B. Hartzog, Jr., William
Penn Mott, Jr., and Ronald H. Walker. The University of Wyoming holds
papers of Arthur E. Demaray and Conrad L. Wirth. Archives II holds
papers of Arno B. Cammerer and Newton B. Drury and other papers of
Albright and Wirth within Record Group 79.
The Denver Public Library's Conservation Library has numerous
collections on its topic, including papers of the Nature Conservancy
and the Wilderness Society.
The Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission in Harrisburg
holds the papers of J.Horace McFarland, a leading proponent of the
National Park Service as president of the American Civic Association
in the first decades of the 20th century.
of Maryland's McKeldin Library contains the National Trust for
Historic Preservation Library, which houses records of the National
Trust and a major collection on preservation including the papers of
Frederick L. Rath, Jr., and interviews by preservation historian
Charles B. Hosmer, Jr.
Frederick Law Olmsted National Historic Site preserves the
extensive records of the landscape architecture firm founded by
Olmsted and continued by his sons. Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr.,
participated in the creation of the National Park Service and shaped
many park landscapes.
The Library of Congress holds the papers of many early presidents
beginning with George Washington, Booker T. Washington, Harold L.
Ickes, and numerous other noted figures. It is also the repository
for the documentation produced by the Service's Historic American
Buildings Survey and Historic American Engineering Record.
A personal experience exemplifies the value of archives to NPS
historians reexamining accepted interpretations of the past. George
Washington Carver, whom the NPS is charged with interpreting at George
Washington Carver National Monument and Tuskegee Institute National
Historic Site (where he taught under Booker T. Washington), has been
widely credited with creating hundreds of new products from peanuts,
thereby stimulating their production and freeing southern agriculture
from dependence on cotton. Research in the Carver papers at Tuskegee,
the Booker T. Washington papers in the Library of Congress, and
contemporary agricultural publications and production records at the
National Agricultural Library revealed that few of Carver's
"discoveries" were new or commercially viable, and that peanut
production peaked before he became popularly associated with the crop.
The NPS could legitimately present Carver as a noted teacher and
humanitarian, but not as a scientific discover who transformed the
South's economy. Of course, appealing historical myths die hard: a
new poster in the Service's history office in Washington featuring
noted African Americans pictures Carver with the caption
"Revolutionized agriculture in the South"!
Barry Mackintosh is NPS bureau historian in the National
Register, History, and Education Program.