• Congress Voting Independence


    National Historical Park Pennsylvania

History Branch

Photo of INHP Historian doing research, circa 1950s.  Second Bank of the U.S.

A park historian doing research circa 1950 at the Second Bank of the U.S.

NPS Photo

Historical and Compliance Programs of the CRM Division

"The past becomes a thing made palpable in the monuments, buildings, historical sites, museums, attics, old trunks, relics of a hundred kinds."
(Wallace Stegner, Wolf Willow, 1962)

Along with Archeology and the Museum Collection, the History Branch is one of three branches within the Cultural Resources Management (CRM) division concerned with the preservation of park resources. The History Branch research program differs from those other CRM programs in that it is completely contextual and does not focus on objects, landscapes, nor buildings. History is both the conceptual and detailed background that makes the park's physical matrix come alive.

The history program at INDE is a mission-related, public history program in which the Park's institutional goals determine the research that is undertaken. Scholarly understanding of the past is constantly changing and Park historical investigations keep abreast of the field. There are as many histories as there are authors, speakers, ethnic groups, and sub-disciplines, e.g., intellectual, political, and cultural history (cf. Molho and Wood 1998). Public history reflects that fact - each group creates and owns its own history. Special skills are needed to reach the popular audiences in creative, non-traditional ways.

The Park's public history program is carried out through contracted research, volunteers, and interns from area colleges. Contracted research is used to gather information for the Park's four major interpretive themes: 1) What was "revolutionary" about the American Revolution?; 2) Liberty: the Promises and the Paradoxes; 3) e plurus unum: Out of Many, One; and 4) Benjamin Franklin: the Relevant Revolutionary. Interns and volunteers are used to research smaller topics of limited scale, such as General Forbes' 1758 campaign to Fort DuQuesne during the French and Indian War. The Chief Historian also conducts research and produces many "white-paper" reports on limited topics of current interest. Such research is done at local repositories such as the American Philosophical Society, the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, the Library Company of Philadelphia, and local universities. The reports produced are frequently distributed to those institutions as a means of sharing information within the Philadelphia cultural-historical community. History Branch staff participate in annual meetings and committees of national professional organizations.

Part of the History Branch, the Library and Archives program preserves the Park's documents and intellectual heritage (see "Library and Archives" quick link on the Park's home page).

The History Branch also includes part of the Park preservation program involving compliance with the amended National Historic Preservation Act of 1966 and the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969. The duties include monitoring the "Assessment of Actions Having an Effect on Cultural Resources" review process through the Section 106 technical advisors and Superintendent's office. Externally, the duties also include maintaining relationships with colleagues in the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, the Pennsylvania State Historic Preservation Office, and the NPS' Northeast Regional offices. In summary, the methods and knowledge of academic scholarship and historic preservation are a means to attaining the public history goals of the Park's History Branch.

References Cited:
Molho, Anthony, and Gordon S. Wood (editors)1998. Imagined Histories: American Historians Interpret the Past. Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJ.

Stegner, Wallace
Wolf Willow: A History, A Story, and A Memory of the Last Plains Frontier. Penguin Books, Viking, New York.

Did You Know?

Photo of Angora cat

Did you know Benjamin Franklin had a pet angora cat? When it died, he asked artist and natural historian Charles Willson Peale to preserve it through a taxidermy process.