National Park ServiceI have a number of friends who work for the National Park Service. They protect this nation’s most important cultural, environmental, and historical treasures. As a group they are some of the most passionate and knowledgeable public servants that you will find and they are worth every cent of our tax dollars. I am absolutely disgusted at the unwarranted accusations being hurled in their direction during this federal shutdown. Here is one lone voice in response to some of the nonsense that is being spread about the closure of NPS sites across the country.

No one misses the parks more than those who work in them, Kevin. When we were furloughed, a part of the shutdown included closure of park buildings, parks roads and avenues, and memorials for security reasons for protection of the resource itself and visitors. I’ve seen posts and caught some of the “the parks are owned by the American public and we’re taking them back” crowd but as yet have not seen a line of these same persons volunteering to clean the toilets, patrol the roads, provide assistance at information stations or in back country park areas, or sweep the floors after a thousand or more visitors have tramped through leaving behind candy wrappers, et al. FOX news reported that NPS rangers were told to make the closure “as painful as possible”, which is total nonsense. Tea Party reps like Michele Bachman and Randy Neugebauer have used the closure of the WW2 Memorial to grandstand for themselves and gone as far as to dress down an NPS employee simply doing her job – unpaid at the moment- by controlling access to a closed site. Rand Paul has referred to Park Police as “goons” sent to close the memorials from the American public. [click to continue…]

Nature's Civil WarStephen V. Ash, A Massacre in Memphis: The Race Riot That Shook the Nation One Year After the Civil War.

Erskine Clark, By the Rivers of Water: A Nineteenth-Century Atlantic Odyssey.

Sarah Greenough and Nancy K. Anderson, Tell It With Pride: The 54th Massachusetts Regiment and Augustus Saint-Gaudens’ Shaw Memorial (National Gallery of Art & Yale University Press, 2013).

Neil Kagan and Stephen G. Hyslop, Smithsonian Civil War: Inside the National Collection.

Kathryn Shively Meier, Nature’s Civil War: Common Soldiers and the Environment in 1862 Virginia.

Elizabeth Varon, Appomattox: Victory, Defeat, and Freedom at the End of the Civil War.

Update: There are a number of reports that the Obama administration is playing politics with the NPS closures by pushing administrators to make it as difficult as possible for the general public to access certain sites. This piece by The Washington Times is typical. One unknown source is cited, but that’s about it. This interview with Jon Jarvis, director of the NPS is very clear about why these drastic steps are necessary.

There are employees that pick up the trash. There are employees that clean the restrooms. There’s employees that provide protection against vandalism. Some of these sites are potential targets for vandalism or terrorism. And so, I’ve had to furlough most of those employees. I furloughed, as a result of no appropriation, 21,000 employees of the National Park Service. And so we are down to just a – essentially a skeleton crew of enforcement officers that provide just the very basics of security. I can’t leave them open and accept that kind of impact. That’s – that violates my responsibilities to the American people as the steward of these places.

Like many of you, my blood pressure went through the roof after watching this video. At first I was convinced that it was a piece from The Onion. I viewed it twice all the while trying to comprehend how Texas Republican Congressman, Randy Neugebauer, could justify berating a National Park Service employee for having to manage a very difficult situation that his own party created. Is it possible that this jackass didn’t understand that the  shutdown of the federal government includes the NPS?

I have nothing but the utmost respect for the work that the National Park Service does across this country and it breaks my heart that they (along with many others) have to suffer for absolutely no reason. Thanks to this dedicated NPS employee for standing her ground in the face of this silly man.

I apologize for the lack of substantive posts of late. The school year is now in full swing and I have very little time to think about anything other than my classes. I did find time to read a bit in Erskine Clarke’s new book, By the Rivers of Water: A Nineteenth-Century Atlantic Odyssey. Thanks to Basic Books for sending along a review copy. It’s a fascinating story, but rather than try to explain it, I recommend reading the website’s description. Clarke has a really nice description that beautifully sums up what it is that we do as historians and what many of us try to impress upon our students.

To be sure, any persuasive reconstruction of the past must demonstrate careful research and faithful attention to details.  But the historian’s task is not primarily to present a catalog of discovered “facts.” Rather, the historian attempts to enter as deeply as possible into the lives and into the social and cultural contexts of those lives in order to interpret and re-create for the present a past world. The study of history is, finally, an exploration of mysteries, the continuing exploration of–and arguments about–the lives of particular people, and about the dynamics and forces that influence the course of human life. The writing of history is plunging into other times and other places and into the story and stories of other people and then emerging with the historian’s account of what has been seen and heard even in the empty places and silences of the past.

I may have my students think about this description as they begin to synthesize a selection of primary and secondary sources related to the establishment and development of the Massachusetts Bay Colony.