The National Park Service has a long and storied history. Starting with the establishment of Yellowstone National Park in 1872, NPS has taken seriously its mission of preserving and protecting America’s natural resources and historical places for the benefit of current and future generations. Over the years, the agency has collected more than four million artifacts, photographs, documents, uniforms, and other memorabilia that document the stories of our nation’s culture and history. Most of those items are carefully stored and preserved at the NPS Harper’s Ferry Center in West Virginia, where few of us will ever be privileged to see them.
But now there’s good news for NPS history buffs – the agency’s history collection can be accessed virtually through a new behind the scenes experience. You can follow the guided tour or choose your own path to discover objects, art, photographs, and uniforms that span over 100 years of NPS history.
Another fascinating resource is the NPS online museum collection, a searchable online database that provides access to thousands of images and records from numerous parks’ individual museum collections. You can simply browse the online database or search the themed collection highlights that group together the parks’ artifacts by particular themes, types of objects, or locations. Each week, NPS features a Collection Highlight of the Week that can range from historic clothing to model ships to prehistoric artifacts. (Warning – you can quickly get absorbed by these fascinating items and lose all track of time!)
Finally, teachers will want to check out the NPS online resource Teaching with Museum Collections. The site provides lesson plans by theme and park as well as guides on How to Read an Object and How to Read a Photo.