Crater Lake National Park
Writing Environmental and Park Histories
Crater Lake National Park
This article first appeared in the book titled "Heritage
Management in Australia and New Zealand: The Human Dimension", 2nd
edition, edited by C. Michael Hall and Simon McArthur, Oxford University
History is storytelling, in that stories are inherently
teleological. A historical narrative tries to find meaning in a
sometimes chaotic chronological reality. As a result, the scholar makes
value judgments in the story to give it unity The aim is clarification
of a past that would otherwise lack order and meaning (Cronan
Historians have traditionally found their sources in archival
records. Over the past thirty years, however, social history's methods
have significantly widened the scope of historical narrative. In aiming
at a wider audience, social history has utilised non-traditional sources
like oral history, aerial and historic photographs, archaeology,
material culture, census data and weather records. These sources have
helped to build a forum for the 'inarticulate', a term for subjects who
have traditionally been left outside the realm of commemorative
Widening the scope of historical narrative has frequently
resulted in more complex interpretation of the past and should point the
way toward greater understanding of the past in heritage management
(Rickard & Spearritt 1991). Parks continue to be a major focus of
heritage management but have been a relatively quiet backwater in
traditional historical narrative. The relatively new field of
environmental history, however, can place them within the larger context
of interaction between nature and culture (see Griffiths 1991). Since
nature cannot speak, environmental historians have tackled a wide range
of subjects, eager to embrace social history's techniques of assembling
Environmental history is a field concerned with the role and
place of nature in human life. The first part of this chapter identifies
sources potentially useful in reconstructing historic environments. It
is followed by an overview of methodological problems related to the
question of change in nature. Cultural landscape reports and
administrative history are then outlined, because they have specific
application to park settings and can draw from the sources identified
for environmental history.
Reconstructing Past Environments
Since historians have generally limited their study of the
past to the period associated with a written record, prehistory has been
left to other disciplines like archeology, geology, paleontology and
physical geography. Where historians involved themselves with prehistory
it was usually to trace the development of scientific theory through
Travel accounts written during the period of initial European
settlement have been utilised by scholars interested in historic
environments. They hope to establish a presettlement landscape as a
baseline from which to assess subsequent changes. One difficulty with
using travel accounts, however, is that they are written in places where
the journalist is not actually travelling; instead the diarist is
summarising past events at a convenient place. Another problem is how to
tie the usually limited detail (little of which could be utilised
quantitatively) to specific localities. The paucity of locality
information often occurs in even the best accounts, such as those left
by collectors of natural history specimens.
The only site-specific records available in many areas about
presettlement landscapes are land survey notes. These have been helpful
in establishing a historic condition of some forests, riparian habitats
and grasslands. Their reliability varies, however, because there can be
limitations such as insufficient description, bias in recording data,
contract fraud and land use prior to survey (Galatowitsch
Another way to document landscape change is repeat
photography. Where available, photographs of conspicuous natural
features through time represent ways to develop a theme in an
accompanying narrative (Rogers et al. 1984). An investigator can locate
previous photo points and replicate them, sometimes in a
Cross-dating techniques are useful in assessing historic
disturbances by fire or other agents. Fire histories are usually based
on comparisons of fire scars with tree ages obtained from increment
cores or wedges. Similarly soils can be used to date historic
disturbances from logging, grazing or human occupation. Through soils
referencing, the disturbed site is compared with the profile of adjacent
control areas. This method may help date removals of forest cover, the
introduction of exotic flora or occupation sequences at a historic
Despite the array of potential sources and techniques,
scholars still debate the validity of environmental history's method.
Cronan (1990) asserted that good work in environmental history
incorporates three levels of analysis. These are the dynamics of natural
ecosystems in time (ecology), the political economies that people erect
within these systems (economy), and the cognitive lenses through which
people perceive those systems (the history of ideas). One major problem
is that ecology is a very fractured discipline, where there is no
consensus on a definition of nature. The ecosystem model, with its
emphasis on biodiversity and complexity, is not universally accepted
because some ecologists argue there are no systems in nature.
Ecology has turned out to be a swamp for environmental
historians rather than a firm foundation. Its fractured condition has
led critics to ask if past conditions are so difficult to quantify or
assess, how can historians identify change in nature? This is a crucial
question, because environmental historians generally depend upon change
producing social and economic effects to proceed with a discourse on
Cultural landscape documentation is somewhat narrower in scope
than environmental history because the question of nature's character is
not so central. Nevertheless, it emphasises change over time and
represents a way to integrate nature with culture. Adaptable to a park
setting, its emphasis is design, material, change, function and use. One
of its main effects on heritage management has been to broaden the focus
of historic preservation beyond buildings to the associated
Broadly defined, a cultural landscape is any geographical area
that has been affected by human activity. Since the term can be applied
to heritage areas, managers and staff should note values associated with
cultural landscapes in their planning and maintenance activities
(Birnbaum & Wagner 1994). Generally regarded as a landscape having
historic value, it is classified as at least one of four
Historic sites are associated with what has traditionally been
understood as important events, activities or people. Existing features
and conditions are interpreted primarily in terms of what happened there
at significant times in the past. Managers of these areas would most
likely aim to preserve a specific appearance because uncontrolled change
might damage the landscape's commemorative value or integrity, the
latter being an ability to communicate significance.
Historic designed landscapes are deliberate artistic creations
traceable to recognised styles. They are valued because of their
aesthetic qualities and are associated with significant people, trends
or events in landscape architecture. Management involves identifying the
types and degrees of change that can occur without harming
character-defining features. Examples of these types of landscapes range
from formal gardens to naturalistic design (where the features are
sublimated to the surroundings) in larger park areas.
Historic vernacular landscapes illustrate values and attitudes
toward the land and reflect settlement patterns. Associated with a
nation's demographic, social and economic development, vernacular
landscapes have more often been associated with rural areas. Physical
change may be essential to the continuation of uses that made the
landscape significant enough to implement some form of landscape
Ethnographic landscapes are used by aboriginal and/or ethnic
groups for traditional activities that range from subsistence hunting
and gathering to religious ceremonies. These are landscapes seen through
the eyes of one or several cultures. An understanding of an ethnic
culture's folklore, as well as thorough linguistic and ethnographic
research, are essential for an appropriate management response,
especially in sensitive areas.
A cultural landscape report (CLR) is an approach developed in
the late 1980s for the documentation and evaluation of a landscape's
character-defining features, materials and qualities. Usually
interdisciplinary in scope and character, it incorporates documentary
materials familiar to the historian, an interpretation of the
archeological record for the site and a thorough physical investigation
of the extant landscape. The intent is to minimise the loss of
character-defining features and materials, so its key components are a
physical history and site analysis upon which treatment and development
alternatives are based.
A CLR narrative should provide historical context, key
developments, design intent, primary design principles, patterns,
features and significant events or individuals associated with the
landscape. Research into the archival record (such as manuscripts,
diaries, correspondence and newspaper articles) has been the traditional
basis for this type of writing and generally should precede fieldwork.
Documentation of the historic periods, however, would not be complete if
oral history, maps and photography (aerial, infrared and historic) are
ignored (Gilbert 1991).
The primary purposes of fieldwork are to identify resources,
define their exact locations, determine their integrity and condition
and evaluate their significance. In documenting cultural landscapes,
this may entail sampling, excavation, examination of architectural
fabric or ethnographic study. An inventory of character-defining
features, along with documentation of existing conditions and related
site information at the appropriate scales, follow the narrative history
As an example, a site-specific typology might be developed for designed
landscapes located in a park setting. On a site characterised by
naturalistic plantings and rustic structures, the typology could
encompass circulation (roads, parking, walkways, trails), vegetation
(planting concepts and materials), structures (buildings and rock
walls), small-scale features (signs, fountains, curbing, benches) and
include stonework, planting and paving as construction technologies
(Gilbert & Luxenberg 1990).
Recommendations in the cultural landscape report should be
aimed at how to best perpetuate the integrity of character-defining
features. If organised by topical areas, the recommendations can include
a set of historic design principles based on precedents cited in the
narrative history. These principles can be generalised, but will furnish
direction for any new development in park settings; the aim is to ensure
continuity between new and historic design, both in function and
material. Planners, managers and staff should benefit from a park
history, especially if the account successfully synthesises the
available source material into coherent themes behind ongoing and
If the author of a park history is a former or present
employee, their knowledge of the bureaucratic terrain that shaped past
administrative actions should be evident. Researchers sponsored by the
park authority usually have an advantage in doing this type of work
because of ready access to records, but they may not be able to analyse
some problems critically enough due to their sensitivity to the agency.
'Outsiders' such as Runte (1990), Twight (1983) and Hall (1992) have
succeeded in providing useful accounts about park concessions,
interagency conflict and wilderness preservation respectively
topics that could stifle the house historian. On the other hand, what
could have been a solid contribution to park history can be undone by an
author simplifying the institutional context of parks in favour of a
sweeping thesis of questionable validity
In addition to serving purely scholarly purposes, park
histories may provide a basis for developing interpretive and visitor
management programs. One way to do this is by highlighting competing
cultural, religious or economic values in the narrative (Linenthal
1994). To meld expressions of these values into coherent themes at a
site, it may be necessary to go beyond the extant documentary record and
find other sources.
Oral history can play an important role in illuminating points
of view not readily apparent in administratively generated records and
may lead the researcher to additional documentary material.
Agency-sponsored oral histories have also been used as a public
relations tool by park authorities, especially where the interviews are
conducted with local residents as part of an ongoing program.
Reliability is a great concern in oral history however, and can depend
on the relationship between the interviewer and the narrator (Lang &
Mercier 1991). Even so, oral history has the potential of contributing
to a multicentric approach to history where different interpretations of
the site or associated events demonstrate to heritage managers how
history is constructed.
A park administrative history has been described as an
explanation of the unit's conception and establishment, as well as its
management to the present (Mackintosh 1991). As a guide to more informed
decision-making, its main audience consists of park staff. The more
valuable administrative histories resist the temptation to indulge in an
exhaustive account of a park area's early history relating only what new
managers need to know as they assume their duties.
An administrative history usually includes five types of
information. The first is a brief descriptive statement about the park,
for initial context. It should incorporate the park's location, purpose,
significance and primary resources. Following the introductory statement
is an account of area use and management prior to its acquisition by the
present park authority. Important aspects should be further developed
where they have bearing on current administration. A national park or
reserve, for instance, might once have been managed by a local
association, administered under another government department or
purchased from private holdings. An account of the movement to establish
a park is a vital part of an administrative history because it can
provide critical insight about legislative intent. Emphasis in this
section should he the motivations of key organisations and people
promoting (as well as opposing) the park's establishment. Special care
should be taken to note the positions taken by legislators and
government agencies (including the park authority) on the
Once the conditions behind the park's establishment have been
delineated, the bulk of an administrative history should be a synthesis
of the major events and activities subsequently affecting the area's
management. Broad topics such as land acquisition, facility development,
planning and resource management should be addressed separately as
chapters or sections. The work's scope should be comprehensive, but
there is no need to think of it as 'finished' once a volume is printed.
Chapters can be added periodically to keep the administrative history
updated, or when topics not covered in previous work need to be
addressed (Mark 1991).
Appendices containing copies of important legislation,
agreements and studies will increase an administrative history's value
as a management reference. An index is important where readers might
have to do some cross-referencing, as in a chapter on scientific
research. Many commonly used wordprocessing programs make the task of
indexing relatively simple.
Administrative histories can draw from a variety of sources,
but the most basic are legislative documents (available in libraries)
and the park authority's files. The latter may be in the park, central
office or state or national archives. Collection of the government
records or papers pertaining to important individuals or organisations
can be a long and sometimes expensive process. Once assembled, however,
the material can be an enormous asset to park management by forming the
basis of a working archives or database.
A good history is a structured narrative supported by
verifiable sources told in a manner which communicates the significance
of past events. To professionals receptive to historical narrative, it
is an analytical system for understanding time and space. That system is
dependent upon chronology for its organisation, something which has had
limited appeal among the general public.
If historians want to impart concepts and analysis to the
public, they must understand that citizens' interest in the past is
largely that of social utility A real or imagined association, whether
through family genealogy or the conversion of historic structures to new
uses, is how most people locate themselves or their community in time
and space. This reference point to history can be separate from that of
professionals' (Leffler & Brent 1990: 89). For a bridge to be built
from environmental and park history to public interpretation requires
that people become an organising device in historical narrative. There
can be more than an abstract character, as public uses of oral history
or so-called 'living history' have at times demonstrated. If the message
is clear and tailored to its audience, it should become easier to mass
support for heritage programs.
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