Writing a National Historic Landmark nomination

Labor History


DR. RACHEL DONALDSON: So with writing a nomination, you have to make a very specific argument not only that a site is part of-- the history is nationally significant, but this particular place outstandingly illustrates this event. So the two that I've worked on are connected to events of criterion one. So yeah, so you have to, again, really read the story in place. But that opens up a tremendous amount of opportunity. So one of the things that I particularly like about NHL nominations is that their works of scholarship that are publicly available and are not behind a paywall. So anyone can access them as opposed to, say, a scholarly article. So they will elevate the public understanding and support perhaps of a particular site.

So it generates kind of community interest but it also, as works of scholarship, has the opportunity to really advance the historiography. So I worked on the historical context for the Jefferson County Courthouse and co-wrote the nomination as a whole. And so for that the mind wars, well documented. It's a topic in labor history that is well known. But if you look at the historiography, none of them talk about the trials, they basically the mind wars end with the laying down of arms in Blair mountain that's it.

But the trials represented are really an important chapter. So for researching it, I got into researching the media coverage. And this was front page news, the New York Times had somebody stationed in Charlestown and that these were syndicated across the country. So as far as the extent of my knowledge, the nomination itself has the strongest history of these trials and their historical significance. So that's the thing that I really like about them, that it's contributing to the scholarship of and advancing our historical understanding through a particular place.

KATHRYN SMITH: We welcome the input of scholars in these particular fields. And in fact, there are ways to be involved even if you're not writing a designation. Working with us on theme studies is one way or being a peer reviewer on set as Eleanor was for two-- for my-- the one that Rachel and I put together that is. It's really critical that we hear from the field, and I will say I will-- I include the State Historic Preservation offices as part of my bouncing off point and part of my peer review for NHL's, because they know the resources on the ground and the stories in their state better than the National Park Service does-- as the scholars do know more about the intricacies of some of these topics than I do as a more generalist historian. So there are ways to be involved even if you're not designating a new site.


In this video, Dr. Rachel Donaldson, a scholar from the College of Charleston, and Kathryn Smith, a historian with the National Park Service, discuss tips for labor historians drafting NHL nominations.


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