Reflection on public history in two National Historic Sites

Respond to the following questions in a blog post:
• How well, if at all, do Cosset and Chalana incorporate ideas we’ve discussed in our work on teaching historical thinking in their essay?
• Given what you’ve learned thus far, what advice would you give the National Park Service on how best to use their historic sites to teach to a more diverse audience?

Cosset and Chalana acknowledge the contested nature of history, especially when discussing the Whitman Mission National Historic Site. For example, the Cayuse Nation had been included when re-crafting park signage. That said, much of the discussion of the parks does not invite viewers to draw their own conclusions based on the evidence. Rather, the authors (and perhaps the park service) are attempting a “balanced” approach that speaks to the values of today and the past. This approach does not necessarily help visitors engage in historical thinking, as it does demonstrate that the park service and the authors are engaging is historical thinking.

For example the authors write:

Providing an even more balanced interpretation, an orientation film produced in 2012 presents the larger historical context and particulars regarding the Whitmans’ arrival and establishment of the mission through live-action reenactments. In it, Native actors depict Native Americans in re-created scenes, and both white and Native scholars contribute documentary-style commentary. The film goes to great lengths in presenting different opinions without struggling to fully resolve them.

Here, the park board tried to achieve balance in their presentation of historical facts, without actually presenting evidence in a way that might encourage visitors to draw their own conclusions. The phrase “without struggling to fully resolve them” points to Parks employees that dedicated to accurate and complex history. Nonetheless, there is no invitation to make history out of the park. Cosset and Chalana are trying to find the “right” way to tell a story, not necessarily how to help visitors make their own history.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *