Using Story Maps to Preserve, Steward and Interpret Cultural Resources in the National Park Service
James Stein, David Lowe, and Deidre McCarthy National Park Service, Cultural Resource GIS Facility
Within the National Park Service (NPS) locational information is critical in understanding cultural resources, how we steward them, and how we interpret them. The approach to using GIS in cultural resource management in the NPS is highly decentralized however, taking place in individual parks, at regional offices and at national programs, like the Cultural Resource GIS Facility (CRGIS). At the national level, our efforts are divided between individual projects undertaken with our partners and serving as a leader in the creation of GIS policies as well as the development of a single NPS-wide cultural resource enterprise GIS data set, designed to bring all of the disparate cultural programs together.
Through one of our projects combining both of these roles, CRGIS is working in coordination with the NPS Historic American Buildings Survey/Historic American Engineering Record/Historic American Landscapes Survey (HABS/HAER/HALS) program to locate all of the resources they have documented, contributing to our NPS enterprise GIS data set. However, with all of the natural disasters that have struck this year, primarily hurricanes Irma and Maria, we have taken the opportunity to use that enterprise data to create a story map illustrating the critical role HABS/HAER/HALS plays in the preservation of our cultural resources. By using the story map as an interpretive tool, we can explain to the general public how important it is to fully document our cultural resources in the event of something as devastating as a hurricane, graphically displaying how these significant resources face threats from many factors and how they can be dramatically impacted. Through the story map, we illustrate the paths of the hurricanes, the distribution of the resources documented in FL, PR and VI, as well as provide before/after examples of specific resources, linking to the official HABS/HAER/HALS drawings, photos and histories stored at the Library of Congress.
In other projects, such as our partnership with the American Battlefield Monuments Commission, outside the NPS, we use story maps to interpret resources more in depth, following the creation, deployment, contributions and ultimate success of the 370th infantry during WWI. One of the few all African-American units serving overseas during WWI, their involvement in many of the most critical actions in France led to ultimate victory for the Allies in the conflict. Their story, where they came from, where they trained, how they were deployed and their partnership with the French Army is a compelling account, which is augmented through the use of GIS and story maps as an interpretive vehicle, again explaining to the general public their crucial role in WWI, bringing this notable and sometimes overlooked history to the forefront.
These two examples of using GIS and interpretive tools such as story maps tell two different and equally important narratives. One illustrates the reason why HABS/HAER/HALS and our cultural resource documentation methodologies exist: to ultimately preserve these resources as a permanent record for future generations, despite what disasters may befall them as well as highlighting potential threats to them. The other demonstrates how maps, narrative history, photographs, historic maps and other original documents can emphasize an unfamiliar history, while underscoring the important contributions of a single unit in a conflict as large as WWI. These tools will ultimately and fundamentally change how the NPS interprets cultural resources, presenting it in more compelling ways, integrating our NPS programs, as well as our partners, in addition to using GIS more comprehensively in conventional operations.