CHIEF HISTORIANS OF THE NATIONAL PARK SERVICE


Dr. Turkiya L. LoweTurkiya L. Lowe (2017 - present) is the chief historian of the National Park Service (NPS). Dr. Lowe most recently served as Southeast Region Chief Historian and Chief for the Southeast Region’s (SER) Cultural Resource Research and Science Branch where she oversaw the region-wide History and Cultural Anthropology Programs for 67 (now 70) National Parks located within nine states, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. In addition, her portfolio included providing assistance to state and local governments, private organizations, and individual stewards to identify, protect and preserve important places through the National Historic Landmarks Program, the National Register of Historic Places, the Historic Surplus Property Program, and other NPS community partnership programs. She also recently had the privilege to steward park resources during a 120-day detail as Acting Superintendent of Cane River Creole National Historical Park in Natchitoches, LA in early 2016. Prior to serving as the SER Chief Historian, Dr. Lowe worked in SER’s Office of Interpretation and Education, where she was the Regional Program Manager for the National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom Program.

Dr. Lowe returns to Washington Support Office (WASO) after 5 years in the Southeast Regional Office. While previously in WASO, she was Program Manager for the Cultural Resources Diversity Internship Program and a Historian and reviewer for both the National Historic Landmarks and National Register of Historic Places Program. During her graduate school years, she worked as a Principle Investigator on historic preservation projects with the Pacific West Region’s (PWR) Seattle Support Office, investigating the history of civil rights in the Pacific Northwest and identifying associated historic properties for potential preservation and interpretation efforts.

Dr. Lowe received her BA from Howard University in Washington, DC, and her MA and PhD in History from the University of Washington in Seattle.

PAST CHIEF HISTORIANS

  • Verne E. Chatelain (1931-1937) was hired by Director Horace M. Albright the year after the NPS acquired its first eastern historical areas, Colonial and George Washington Birthplace national monuments. His role in guiding and overseeing NPS historical activities increased dramatically with the influx of historic properties transferred from other federal agencies in 1933 and the historic sites survey authorized by the 1935 Historic Sites Act. He prepared the first criteria for historical additions to the national park system and favored a thematic approach to the system's expansion, arguing that it should include all types of areas that are historically important in our national development. He later became a history professor at the University of Maryland and died in 1991.


  • Ronald F. Lee (1938-1951) came from the University of Minnesota to Shiloh National Military Park as a Civilian Conservation Corps historical foreman in 1933. As chief historian from 1938 to 1951 (excepting the war years), assistant director and chief of the Interpretation Division from 1951 to 1960, and regional director in Philadelphia from 1960 to 1966, he was notable for establishing connections and building relationships that extended the reach of the NPS beyond the parks. He was instrumental in the creation of the National Trust for Historic Preservation in 1947-49, and in 1959 he proposed the program of designating nationally significant properties outside the parks as national historic landmarks. In retirement he wrote histories of the Antiquities Act, the national military parks, and the national park system. He died in 1972.


  • Herbert E. Kahler (1951-1964) came from the University of Minnesota to Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park as a Civilian Conservation Corps historical foreman in 1933. From 1934 to 1940 he served as superintendent of Castillo de San Marcos National Monument and Morristown National Historical Park before coming to Washington as Lee's assistant. As chief historian from 1951 to 1964, he oversaw the service's expanded historical development and interpretation under Mission 66 and implementation of the national historic landmarks program. He was a founder of the Eastern National Park and Monument Association in 1947, its chairman from 1948 to 1964, and its executive secretary from his NPS retirement in 1964 until 1973. He died in 1993.


  • Robert M. Utley (1964-1972) began his NPS career in 1947 as a historical aide at Custer Battlefield National Monument during his college summers. After graduate schooling at Indiana University and military duty he returned to the NPS in 1957 as regional historian in Santa Fe. As chief historian from 1964 to 1972 and subsequently as director of the Office of Archeology and Historic Preservation and assistant director for park historic preservation, he played key roles in implementing the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966 and advancing NPS preservation policies. He left the NPS in 1977 to become deputy executive director of the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation. Since retiring from that position in 1980, he has devoted his full energies to the history of the American West, on which he has published more than a dozen books winning him a national reputation.


  • A. Russell Mortensen (1972-1973) was director of the Utah State Historical Society, director of the University of Utah Press, and a professor of history at the University of Utah before joining the NPS in 1970 as chief of the Branch of Park History under Utley. He served only briefly as chief historian in 1972ö73 before becoming assistant director in charge of the Office of Archeology and Historic Preservation, which was then confined to programs largely outside the national park system. As a founder and past president of the American Association for State and Local History, he had many connections that facilitated relationships with state and local preservation interests. He retired at the end of 1975 and died in 1995.


  • Harry W. Pfanz (1974-1980) left the Army's historical office in 1956 to become a historian at Gettysburg National Military Park. He completed his doctorate in history at Ohio State University while there and moved in 1966 to Jefferson National Expansion Memorial, where he rose to the superintendency. He came to Washington as chief of the Eastern Service Center's historical staff in 1971 and became chief of the Branch of Park History under Mortensen when the center moved to Denver in 1972. As chief historian from 1974 until his retirement in 1980, Pfanz was active in planning for the American Revolution Bicentennial and in refining NPS preservation policies and guidelines. In retirement he has become a preeminent Gettysburg scholar, publishing three acclaimed books on the battle. He died in 2015.


  • Edwin C. Bearss (1981-1994) left the Army's historical office in 1955 to become a historian at Vicksburg National Military Park. From 1958 to 1966 he remained at Vicksburg but reported to the Philadelphia regional office as regional research historian. He came to Washington as a research historian on Utley's staff in 1966 and remained duty-stationed there after being reassigned to the Eastern Service Center in 1970 and the Denver Service Center in 1972. He served as chief historian from 1981 to 1994 and as special assistant to the director for military sites for an additional year. Upon his retirement in 1995 he was given the unique title of National Park Service Historian Emeritus. A renowned authority on the Civil War, he has devoted much of his attention to battlefield preservation and interpretation. As chief historian he played a key role in launching major battlefield preservation initiatives, and he remains a nationally prominent battlefield tour leader.


  • Dwight T. Pitcaithley (1995-2005) began his NPS career in 1963 as a seasonal laborer at Carlsbad Caverns National Park. After receiving his doctorate in history from Texas Tech University in 1976, he became a historian for the Southwest Regional Office in Santa Fe followed by appointments as regional historian in Boston (1979-89) and chief of cultural resources in the National Capital Region (1989-95). As chief historian he focused on developing training programs for historians and interpreters, facilitating the incorporation of new scholarship into park interpretive programs, and creating partnerships between the NPS and other humanities-based institutions. Dwight Pitcaithley is now a college professor at New Mexico State University.


  • Robert K. Sutton (2007-2015) began his career as a park ranger with Fort Vancouver National Historic Site. Subsequent positions include museum curator with the Oregon Historical Society; historian with the Oregon State Parks; architectural historian with the NPS Southwest Regional Office in Albuquerque, New Mexico; historian with Independence National Historic Park; Assistant Professor in the History Department and Director of the Public History Program at Arizona State University; and Assistant Superintendent and historian at National Capital Parks-East. Since 1991, he has served as adjunct professor of history at George Mason University. In 2000, Dr. Sutton received the Department of the Interior’s Meritorious Service Award. Dr. Sutton served as the Superintendent of the Manassas National Battlefield Park since 1995 where he initiated a major symposium on the Civil War that attracted renowned scholars and developed an interpretive institute for Civil War park rangers on creating new ways to interpret the Civil War. He retired from NPS in 2015.