With summer in full swing and the Fourth of July weekend just around the corner, it’s safe to assume that thousands will flock to national parks across the country. From Acadia to Yosemite, national parks are a popular summer destination, where visitors can hike through scenic views, kayak on pristine waters, and spend quiet afternoons amongst nature. In a few years, national park-goers can also learn more about and better connect with histories of the sites they visit, thanks to an expanding initiative by New York City-based Mellon Foundation and the National Park Foundation (NPF).
On June 29, the two organizations announced a $13.4 million program to expand the National Park Service Mellon Humanities Fellowship, a program that funds postdoctoral fellowships in the humanities in an effort to facilitate connections between the public and complex histories of the park sites. The National Park Service Mellon Humanities Fellowship program began in 2017 with four postdoctoral fellows, each serving for one to three years. The expanded program will fund thirty fellowships, which will be executed at national parks across the country. The significant expansion was done in an effort to study “the narratives learned and told at NPS (National Park Service) sites,” according to a joint press release by the Mellon Foundation and NPF. Fellows will “continue to realize each location’s rich potential to be a conduit for greater representation, preservation, and understanding.”
“The expanded Mellon Humanities Fellowship program has the potential to transform the stories told at many of the country’s national parks,” said 2018 Fellow Eleanor Mahoney. “Through research and original scholarship, the fellows will create new and dynamic programming that enriches the historical narratives shared with park visitors.”
Mahoney focused on labor and productivity during her time as a fellow and collaborated with colleagues to create “Monument Labor” a three-part virtual public event series and podcast that examines the memory of work and working people in National Park monuments and memorials, including the César E. Chávez National Monument, erected in honor of Chávez who organized the first labor union for agricultural workers.
Other projects that have been pursued in the past include an expanded reading list on the history of slaves and racism for the New York Martin Van Buren National historic sites.
The first cohort of fellows will be selected and notified next spring (2023). Fellows will serve for two years: In the first, fellows will participate in research in support of an NPS host site-specific project and in the second, fellows will have the flexibility to pursue research relevant to their postfellowship career goals.
“National parks reveal the ever-evolving story of who we are—our heritage and our history, our triumphs and our struggles,” said Will Shafroth, President of the National Park Foundation in a press release, “The Mellon Foundation’s generous support will help bring to life a fuller understanding of our nation’s history and heritage across national parks, and inspire where we will go next.”