In 1980 a decision was made that promises to have farreaching ramifications for the National Park Service's history program. Involved was establishment of a bureau historian's position in the Washington office. The need for a talented and innovative person to manage and expedite the Service's administrative history program had become increasingly apparent during the expansion years of the late 1970s and the fluctuating policies resulting from changes in direction mandated by Congress and on the cabinet level.
The importance of having an institutional history program has long been recognized by many of our sister agencies and bureaus in the Federal Government and corporate America. Without such a program, they had found it increasingly difficult, if not impossible, to meet the complex challenges of management.
Some 30 years ago, in 1951, the National Park Service at the behest of Arthur Demaray embarked on an administrative history program. Loose guidelines were prepared and all areas (there were then only 170odd parks) were encouraged to prepare and submit administrative histories. As oversight was minimal and the review process haphazard and illdefined, the results were predictable. Several outstanding histories appeared, along with the usual quota of journeyman studies, and the disasters.
To encourage parks that hesitated to undertake a history, Region I circulated Charles E. Shedd's "A History of Shiloh National Military Park," and Region V made Walter Hugins' "Statue of Liberty National Monument:Its Origins, Development, and Administration" available to its areas. These excellent reports failed to galvanize the anticipated response, because the administrative history program had been overtaken by the need of park and regional staffs to concentrate attention and resources on MISSION 66 planning.
My introduction to the administrative history program came in September 1955, when I entered on duty at Vicksburg National Military Park and reviewed a copy of the park's administrative history, prepared by the superintendent. A 20page document, it was of no use to either a manager or an interpreter and left me with little enthusiasm or appreciation for the program. The distribution of Shedd's Shiloh report caused a reappraisal, and by the mid1960s, I had seen the light and was convinced that an updated administrative history, as a management tool, should enjoy the highest priority in the park's research program.
In 1972, in George B. Hartzog's final year as Director, he revived the administrative history program on the Washington level. Two historians culled the files and amassed information on 16 key and innovative programs instituted during the exciting Hartzog years. Before the data could be assessed or reports written, Hartzog was ousted. Under Ron Walker, the program was phased out and the two historians were reassigned.
In the late 1970s, several key managers, long cognizant of the need to revitalize the administrative history program, took action. Involved were Jim Tobin, then Associate Director, Management and Operations; Denver Service Center Manager Denis P. Galvin; and F. Ross Holland, then Assistant Director, Cultural Resources Management. Jim Tobin articulated the need before he left Washington to become regional director in Seattle; Denis Galvin made available a position to be designated bureau historian; and Ross Holland, in his perceptive and dynamic manner, followed through and implemented the program. Finally, Director Russell Dickenson endorsed the program and gave it high visibility.
Coincidentally, there was a revival of interest in the administrative history program at the park level. A number of histories were prepared. As in the mid1950s the quality, because of the absence of guidelines and standards, varied from excellent to unsatisfactory. To improve the quality, to provide guidance, and to demonstrate that an administrative history must as its first priority be useful to management, it was determined to have Bureau Historian Barry Mackintosh research and draft a "model" history satisfying these criteria.
"Assateague Island National Seashore: An Administrative History" is the result. I believe you will agree that besides being an outstanding management tool, the story of Assateague, because of Barry's writing skills, makes an interesting and intriguing essay.
We hope that the Assateague administrative history will serve as a guide and incentive for the preparation of updated park histories for all units in the National Park System. Perhaps many superintendents have on their staffs persons eager to take up this challenge. If so we hope that they will be encouraged because these histories are living, timely, and valuable documents.
Edwin C. Bearss
Last Updated: 27-Oct-2003