Planning Memory and Heritage: National Heritage Areas and Public-Private Historical Collaboration

Friday, January 6, 2017: 4:10 PM
Centennial Ballroom A (Hyatt Regency Denver)
Aaron Shapiro, University of North Carolina at Charlotte
During the 2013 federal government shutdown, national parks, monuments, museums, and memorials assumed center stage. Octogenarian veterans demanded access to the National World War II Memorial in Washington DC, while state, local, and private officials floated proposals for keeping parks and sites open with varying success. National parks and monuments have long been contested sites where people battle over history and memory. Lost in concerns about park closures was the fact that 49 National Heritage Areas (NHA) remained open since partners operate them in cooperation with the National Park Service. The NHA program, whose roots date to the first Reagan administration, can be viewed as both effective public-private cooperation and part of a larger move toward privatizing parks and historical interpretation. The public struggles to differentiate National Monuments, National Parks, National Military Parks, National Seashores/Lakeshores, National Memorials and National Historical Parks—all of which are owned and managed by the National Park Service—and National Heritage Areas, where the federal government typically does not own or manage lands and has a more limited influence on interpretation. NHA sites may present “feel-good” history, encourage economic development, or interpret or avoid complex and controversial histories. By focusing on NHAs, from the blues culture and African American history presented in the Mississippi Delta NHA to the industrial and environmental history highlighted in New England’s Blackstone River Valley and beyond, this presentation explores the relationship between historical interpretation and place-based history in the nation’s public, semi-public and private spaces, highlighting the processes involved in presenting more inclusive histories on the landscape.
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