farm workers
Farm workers at the Delta Cooperative; (photo/Kheel Center)

$13M Grant Seeks ‘Untold Stories’ of Cultural Diversity in America’s National Parks

A new grant will help fill gaps in the histories of America’s national parks with a collection of online stories.

From Cesar Chavez to the Stonewall riots to the struggle for racial equality — the National Park Foundation (NPF) wants to diversify its historical offerings.

National parks saw 297 million visits in 2021. And a recently announced $13 million grant from the Mellon Foundation seeks new history projects that educate the public about the parks’ complex histories.

The money will pay for 30 postdoctoral fellowships in the humanities, providing opportunities for public engagement at parks across the country. It’s an expansion of a 2017 pilot program called the National Park Service (NPS) Mellon Humanities Fellowship.

The initiative aims for “further exploration of the national parks’ untold stories,” according to a news release from the Mellon Foundation.

Like the recent decision to co-manage Bears Ears National Monument with Native Americans, the grant is meant to improve diversity in the park system.

A Successful Pilot Program

The initial 2017 program resulted in several history projects already available on park websites. Examples include:

  • For the César E. Chávez National Monument, Dr. Eleanor Mahoney created a series of articles on labor history. She also made a story map titled “Marching for Justice in the Fields.”
  • Dr. Mia Carey hosted a service-wide program, “A Candid Conversation with Black Women in the NPS,” in June 2020. Dr. Carey also wrote a series of nine articles to highlight Black women’s distinctive standpoint from which to understand the intersection of race and gender: “Black Women and the Struggle for Equality.”
  • Dr. Eleanor Mahoney and Dr. Sylvea Hollis conducted research and interviews, planned, and hosted five episodes of the podcast “Ballot Blocked – Labor History.”

‘Eager to Learn’

The success of those projects led to the expansion of the program.

“The inaugural fellows demonstrated the potential for the humanities to tell a fuller story of all Americans at the country’s parks, monuments, and historical sites,” said Phil Harper, program director for Higher Learning at the Mellon Foundation.

“With the growth of the fellowship, we look forward to building on that success, and we are excited to see what our next class of fellows will bring to NPS staff and park visitors alike.”

Both visitors to park websites and NPS staff have engaged with those online history projects and are “eager to learn” from these new histories, Harper added.

“Accessible to the public, this research illuminates new perspectives, ultimately offering anybody who comes across it a greater understanding of who we are as a country and where we have been,” Harper said.

Incoming fellows will be selected and notified in the spring of 2023. Those fellows will each serve for 2 years, focusing in the first year on research in support of a project defined by the NPS host site. In the second, their attention will shift to an NPS project that they have helped design. Both projects will be in support of the commemoration of the U.S. semi-quincentennial.

Check out the NPF blog to learn more about the National Park Service Mellon Humanities Fellowships.

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Andrew McLemore

An award-winning journalist and photographer, Andrew McLemore brings more than 14 years of experience to his position as Associate News Editor for Lola Digital Media. Andrew is a musician, climber and traveler who currently lives in Cuenca, Ecuador, which he uses as a home base for adventures throughout the Americas. When he's not writing, playing gigs or exploring the outdoors, he's hanging out with his dog Campana.