AMST 13184-1: Exploring America's National Parks

Instructor: Annie Gilbert Coleman

History University Seminar

Most popularly associated with iconic landscapes such as Yosemite and Yellowstone, today the National Park System oversees 417 national parks, monuments, battlefields, military parks, historical parks, historic sites, lakeshores, seashores, recreation areas, scenic rivers and trails, and the White House. Western historian and novelist Wallace Stegner wrote, “National parks are the best idea we ever had. Absolutely American, absolutely democratic, they reflect us at our best rather than our worst.” Today, however, Americans are simultaneously loving them to death and refusing to support them politically; parks suffer from a significant lack of funding despite overcrowding and a crumbling infrastructure, and from controversy over issues including wildlife management, the conservation of public land, and climate change. What happened to our best idea? How have national parks, and the National Park Service that manages them, changed over time? How do managers understand park environments differently than visitors and neighboring residents? What can we learn about American society, politics, culture, and public land from an historical examination of national parks?

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