The US National Parks system as a political pawn causing untold damage

The current Government shutdown in the USA caused by the political dispute over President Trump’s demand for funding for a wall along the US border with Mexico is having significant negative effects on the historic environment and nature conservation of the ‘treasured’ National Parks system, as well as related agencies falling within the realm of the Department of the Interior.

During this shutdown 80% of the employees of the NPS have been furloughed, leaving only skeleton staff mainly for policing and security.

It has been reported that the National Parks Service is losing $400,000 per day by not collecting admissions revenue where parks and heritage sites charge, quite apart from wider revenue lost from concessions, campgrounds, retail and hospitality. There have been widespread reports of significant human health, pollution and threats to nature and ecosystems, with sanitation sites overflowing and litter not being collected. Questions have also been asked on why sites have been left accessible, rather than simply closing the various NPS units/sites altogether.

Maintenance backlogs and acute maintenance/management issues are building due to the impact of weather at this time of the year also. It is not a pretty picture – foremost for the dedicated NPS staff who are not being paid, many of which are trying to keep things going on a voluntary basis, secondly for the long-term damage being done to the natural and cultural resources of the Park System which has been heralded as “America’s Best Idea”, and thirdly for the unfortunate political circumstances whereby the environment (in its broadest form) comes low down in the pecking order when Government faces a crisis.

Academic journals: International Journal of Cultural Policy

Journal summary: The International Journal of Cultural Policy is a peer reviewed journal that provides an outlet for an interdisciplinary and international exploration of the meaning, function and impact of cultural policies. Cultural policy is understood as the promotion or prohibition of cultural practices and values by governments, corporations, other institutions and individuals.

Such policies may be explicit, in that their objectives are openly described as cultural, or implicit, in that their cultural objectives are concealed or described in other terms. The historical range is not limited to any given period, but the Journal is primarily concerned with material that is relevant to the contemporary world and which contributes to a fruitful international exchange of ideas.

The Journal acknowledges the multiplicity of meanings around the idea of culture and the inter-relationship of these meanings. However, whilst it takes a broad view of culture, encompassing a wide range of signifying practices that include the products of the media, the arts and various forms of government or religious display, the Journal will attempt to maintain a focus on policies relating to culture as symbolic communication rather than to culture in the anthropological sense as ‘a whole way of life’.

Publisher: Routledge

Website: https://www.tandfonline.com/toc/gcul20/current

Access: Subscription; some open access

Journal type: Academic peer-reviewed

Management of heritage sites by the state – researching administrative histories in Scotland

Piecing together the administrative history of heritage properties in care (as an organisational function rather than as decisions relating to individual sites) inevitably requires documentary analysis from a number of sources. Investigating organisations in Scotland which oversaw the national historic sites portfolio, is complicated further by the relationship and stages of devolution of responsibilities between Ministries in London and the former Scottish Office (now Scottish Government). The National Records of Scotland provides a useful research guide for Scottish Government records in the period post-1707 (post Union).

Whilst many responsibilities were transferred to the Scottish Office in the post-War period, responsibility for the Historic Buildings Council for Scotland (which advised on conservation issues) was only transferred from the Ministry of Public Buildings and Works to the Scottish Secretary of State Edinburgh in 1966 (and put under the auspices of the Development Department) .  Formal responsibilities for ancient monuments, royal parks and palaces was not transferred to the Development Department until 1969.  Some aspects of Scottish heritage management are covered in research mentioned before as part of the Men from the Ministry project led by Simon Thurley at the then English Heritage, and records for the Ministry of Public Buildings and Works (and its successors – the Department of the Environment, and Property Services Agency) are held at the National Archives in Kew.

The Scottish-based records are catalogued as: Ministry of Works/Department of Environment/Property Services Agency (MW)
Ancient monuments, 1794-1975 (MW1); royal palaces, parks and gardens, 1816-1968 (MW2-3); public buildings, 1808-1979 (MW5).

As the Historic Buildings & Monuments section within the Scottish Development Department gradually coalesced under the Historic Scotland banner (prior to its formal creation as an Executive Agency), records are also held and catalogued as follows:

Historic Scotland – see Scottish Office Development Department
Ancient monuments case files, from 1859 (DD27) and historic buildings, from 1952 (DD32).

The Scottish Office Central Services (SOE) files have a catalogue relating to Manpower and Organization (SOE1) which contains information on the way in which the Development Department functions were organised, so these are a further line of enquiry for administrative histories of heritage.

There are also inter-relationships with other sites and functions of Government which now may be considered as part of the wider heritage or cultural landscape and therefore other organisations with heritage-related responsibilities (property and land management) are worth considering – this includes Railways and Canals (Ministry of Transport); Forestry (Forestry Commission); countryside recreation and nature protection (Countryside Commission); and Museums and Galleries (formally under the Scottish Office Education Department).

For detailed consideration of individual buildings / monuments, the research guides to Buildings, Canal Records, Lighthouses and Railway Records provide signposts. Additionally, Historic Scotland commissioned Morag Cross to produce a Bibliography of monuments in the care of the Secretary of State for Scotland in 1994, produced as an Occasional Paper by the University of Glasgow’s Archaeology Department, which is a key source of information, as (of course) are organisational records currently held within Historic Scotland (now Historic Environment Scotland) rather than those ‘archived’.