Park Break at Independence

2015 Park Break Cultural Session Team. Left to Right: Chris Binder, Kevin Kim, Mary Furlong Minkoff, myself, Mikaela Maria, Joana Arruda, Marilee Atkinson, and Jim Kopaczewski
2015 Park Break Cultural Session Team. Left to Right: Chris Binder, Kevin Kim, Mary Furlong Minkoff, myself, Mikaela Maria, Joana Arruda, Marilee Atkinson, and Jim Kopaczewski

NPS PHOTO

INDE is proud to share a story submitted to the park by Jimi Hightower, a participant in the Park Break program this year. Park Break is a week-long seminar designed for students interested in careers in park and land management. All of the park staff who met and worked with these students were impressed by their dedication, enthusiasm, knowledge and skill. Thank you to the George Wright Society and to the participants for all their hard work!

A Reflection on a Career with the NPS

On my birthday, I found out that I was accepted to participate in 2015's Park Break fellowship. It was quite the birthday present considering what a valuable and prestigious opportunity the program presents. Park Break is an all-expenses-paid, park-based seminar available to graduate students who are interested in careers in park management, park-related research, and education. It is organized by the National Park Service (NPS) and the George Wright Society (GWS). The GWS is the professional association for researchers, resource managers, administrators, and educators who work in or on behalf of parks, protected areas, and cultural sites. I have been working with the NPS for the past year at Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park (KLSE) on a program called "In My Backyard" (IMBY). The mission of IMBY is to connect youth with community, cultural, and natural resources. Although I've been working with the NPS, this opportunity was valuable because it allowed me to gain experience in another national park and learn more about the agency. I heard about this fellowship opportunity from the Operations Manager of my Master's program and was further encouraged to apply by Ranger Kelsey Johnson at KLSE.

I was accepted to the cultural resources session that was hosted by Independence National Historical Park (INDE) in Philadelphia. I was one of eight graduate students accepted nationally to participate. It was an intensive five day fellowship in which we designed an exhibit that incorporated the archaeology of the site. Our exhibit was designed to answer the following research questions:

1.What information do archeological investigations at New Hall yield about the U.S. War Department?

2.How can we incorporate the collections into our exhibitions there?

In addition to designing the exhibit, we met with park employees to learn more about their involvement and history with the NPS. We also went on tours to learn about New Hall and how similar sites have been interpreted throughout the park.
 
Masking tape rendition of the stratigraphic layers in the privy with artifacts (blue tape) found in their respective periods.
Masking tape rendition of the stratigraphic layers in the privy with artifacts (blue tape) found in their respective periods.
Chief of Cultural Resources, Doris Fanelli, was our supervisor for the week and holder of all knowledge regarding INDE. Our team consisted of eight graduate students with various backgrounds, including public history, archaeology, landscape design, history, and museology. Upon arrival at INDE, we had a basic understanding of the archeology of the site because we were given resources a week prior, enabling us to start brain storming potential exhibit concepts on the first day. Chief Curator, Karie Diethorn, showed us the exhibit space and the objects available for our project. She was very helpful and assisted us during the week in clearing up discrepancies, locating objects, and providing us with various resources. Jed Levin, Chief Historian and Park Archeologist, took us to Franklin Court and the President's House because they are interpreted archaeology sites. After visiting these sites, we realized that there was little interpretation in regard to the process of archaeology. Because of this gap, our team decided a major component of our exhibit should be about archaeology itself. We wanted to showcase how, we as a culture, "know what we know."

The purpose of our exhibit is to utilize the archaeology, architectural changes, and historical personalities to interpret New Hall in the context of the development of the US military as well as the city of Philadelphia. The exhibit combines archeological artifacts, historic photographs, and text panels to tell the story of New Hall. The main feature of the exhibit is a stratigraphic timeline that highlights significant periods throughout the history of New Hall. Our team chose to use this type of timeline to tell the greater story of the War Department, the history of the building, and events taking place in Philadelphia. To create this component, a mural of the excavation profile of the Carpenters' Court privy will be placed on the center of the wall. This component was chosen because a majority of the artifacts used in this exhibit were found during the excavation of the Carpenter's Court Privy.
 
Jimi Hightower and Chris Binder working on the mock-up of the exhibit wall.
Jimi Hightower and Chris Binder working on the mock-up of the exhibit wall.
Stratigraphic layers associated with the periods will be indicated through various paint colors that reflect changes in the soil. Small wall-mount display cases containing artifacts recovered from the privy will be placed on the profile in the appropriate layers showing the stratigraphic deposition of these items over time. Corresponding text and image panels will be arranged around the profile near their associated display cases and stratigraphic layers. The storyline revolves around the stratigraphic timeline because it highlights events happening in and around New Hall.

To be more efficient, we divided into teams based on our strengths. This all happened quite organically and worked very well. Mikaela Maria and Joana Arruda researched the building and its occupants, wrote the text panels, and effectively created our storyline. Kevin Kim and Jim Kopaczewski searched for specific objects and found photographs for the exhibit while writing and designing a panel adjacent to our exhibit space that elaborated the story of New Hall as a military industrial complex. Chris Binder, Merilee Atkinson, and I chose specific objects to integrate the storyline and focused on the design of our exhibit space. Some objects included were cannon balls to portray the military history of New Hall as the War Department and a shaving cream pot to highlight the variety of businesses that utilized the space. Mary Furlong Minkoff taught us all about archaeology, compiled the exhibit plan document, and maintained continuity among the groups to ensure a cohesive exhibit.
 
Half-scale tape rendition of entire exhibit wall with objects and photographs clumped together in their respective periods along the side (not all are pictured)
Half-scale tape rendition of entire exhibit wall with objects and photographs clumped together in their respective periods along the side (not all are pictured)
We were able to compile an exhibit plan that consisted of all the interpretive text, a list of objects, desired display cases, mock-ups of text panels and privy profile, and suggestions for interactive components and the online exhibit. We were able to do this in 23 working hours, for a total of 184 man hours – whew! Our team was diplomatic, efficient, and compatible and we experienced no conflict. Park Break was a great learning experience because it stretched my idea of "the possible" in regard to exhibit design and allowed me to see how other national parks operate. Additionally, it was great working with people from all different backgrounds in order to create a cohesive storyline. This experience has encouraged me to continue working with the NPS by highlighting the various roles and opportunities available. Additionally, this fellowship helped me acquire a position at KLSE as Centennial Ambassador through the Student Conservation Association and the NPS. I am grateful for having been a part of Park Break and encourage those interested in a career with the NPS to apply.

I would like to thank all the people at the GWS and INDE that made this year's session possible. In addition to the ones mentioned in this reflection, many thanks go to Lucas Westcott, Chris Higgins, Renee Albertoli, Bethanne Wilson, Nicole Altmann, and everyone else that took the time to meet with us throughout the week. Thank you!

Last updated: September 30, 2015

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