The National Parks in American History: Vistas of Democracy

Richard Newman – Rochester Institute of Technology

The National Parks are environmental treasures. But they also embody the spirit of democracy, inspiring constant debate about the meaning of American nature, culture, identity, and history.  From the ravages of industrialization in the 19th century to the meaning of racial justice in our time, the National Parks have offered Americans a powerful stage to reflect on, and address, some of society’s most pressing issues. Our National Parks are not simply America’s best idea – they exemplify democracy in motion.

In this class, Professor Newman will focus on several National Parks that offer particularly compelling vistas on American democracy. While Yellowstone (in Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming) and Yosemite (in Northern California) offer iconic natural landscapes that have left generations of visitors in awe, they also have raised critical questions about land use, environmental sustainability, and the displacement of indigenous people in American history. On the other side of the country, Seneca Falls Women’s Rights National Historical Park (in New York State) and Martin Luther King, Jr., National Historical Park (in Atlanta, Georgia) illuminate the many links between American landscapes and the struggle for equal rights in the United States. Like the 422 other units in the National Park System, each of these places tells a powerful story about American democracy.