NEW YORK and WASHINGTON – The Mellon Foundation and the National Park Foundation (NPF) today announced the expansion of the National Park Service Mellon Humanities Fellowship—an initiative aimed at supporting humanists and their exploration of the national parks’ untold stories. A $13,431,000 grant from the Mellon Foundation will provide funding for thirty new humanities postdoctoral fellowships at national parks across the country and connect the public with interpretive and educational resources that consider the complex histories of the sites with which the fellows are affiliated.
The National Park Service Mellon Humanities Fellowship was established in 2017 with the overarching goal of telling a more comprehensive story of all Americans at the country’s parks, monuments, and historical sites. For the fellowship’s initial phase, four postdoctoral scholars were funded for one to three years of research on how the parks are impacted and/or informed by issues related to gender and sexuality equality, the legacy of the civil rights movement, and the history of labor and productivity.
From creating an expanded reading list on the history of slavery and racism for New York’s Martin Van Buren National Historic Site to partnering with the César E. Chávez National Monument in Kern County, California to develop an oral history plan for collecting Latina and Filipina immigrant women’s stories, the initial phase of the program demonstrated the power of translating research into audience-centered materials and bridging the gap between academia and public-facing agencies like the National Park Service (NPS). Reaching both staff and visitors at NPS sites, this pilot program demonstrated the potential of the humanities to surface more expansive histories and to bring those narratives to new audiences in an impactful way.
“Our national parks are treasured public spaces—not only where we go to bask in the beauty of nature and make lifelong memories with family and friends, but also where we can reflect on our collective past and learn more about the country we call home,” said Elizabeth Alexander, President of the Mellon Foundation. “With this expansion of the National Park Service Mellon Humanities Fellowship, we have the opportunity to hear new voices and understand new perspectives in our historic sites and public lands throughout the United States.”
With a significant number of Americans visiting NPS sites each year—in 2021, NPS sites received a total of 297 million visitors—the expansion of the fellowship will present opportunities for visitors across the country to share in a learning and honoring of the nation’s lesser-heard stories. By diving deeper into the narratives learnt and told at NPS sites, the program’s fellows will continue to realize each location’s rich potential to be a conduit for greater representation, preservation, and understanding.
Fellows in the pilot program developed new archival methods, educational tools, and opportunities for public engagement. For her focus on the legacy of the civil rights movement, Mia Carey created the aforementioned reading list for Martin Van Buren National Historic Park. Sylvea Hollis’ focus on gender and sexuality equality led her to support the Stonewall Oral History Project, while Eleanor Mahoney, in concentrating on the history of labor and productivity, developed a database documenting primary and secondary source materials on farm workers. Examining the history of commemoration and memorials, Emma Silverman designed various webinars unfurling the connections of national parks and monuments to broader histories. Recognizing the interconnected nature of the themes, the inaugural cohort also engaged collaboratively, including Mahoney and Hollis’ creation of a monthly book club for NPS staff to engage with gender and sexuality, labor, and disability histories.
“The expanded Mellon Humanities Fellowship program has the potential to transform the stories told at many of the country’s national parks,” said 2018 Fellow Eleanor Mahoney. “Through research and original scholarship, the fellows will create new and dynamic programming that enriches the historical narratives shared with park visitors.”
Inspired by nationwide Works Progress Administration-era programs like Federal One that engaged historians and scholars with public places and audiences, the expansion of the Mellon Humanities Fellowship will broaden the impact of the NPS’s work on a multiyear effort to commemorate the 250th anniversary of the founding of the United States. Welcoming thirty new fellows allows the project to significantly extend the public reach of humanities scholarship pertaining to myriad aspects of the nation’s history while giving visitors, through engagement with fellows’ work, a more complete and accurate understanding of how various populations have figured into the nation’s development over the last 250 years.
“The inaugural cohort’s research has further illustrated the power of the humanities to educate and inspire. The breadth and depth of this work—and the number of Americans it has the potential to impact—will empower NPS interpreters and educators to create a more meaningful and truthful experience for visitors,” said NPS Associate Director for Cultural Resources, Partnerships, and Science Joy Beasley.
“National parks reveal the ever-evolving story of who we are—our heritage and our history, our triumphs and our struggles,” said Will Shafroth, President of the National Park Foundation. “The Mellon Foundation’s generous support will help bring to life a fuller understanding of our nation’s history and heritage across national parks, and inspire where we will go next.”
Future fellows will serve for two years each, focusing in the first year on research in support of a project defined by the NPS host site, and in the second on an NPS project that they have helped design—both in support of the commemoration of the US semiquincentennial. Fellows will also have time throughout their two years to pursue research relevant to their post-fellowship career goals. The first cohort of fellows is set to be selected and notified in the spring of 2023, in collaboration with American Conservation Experience (ACE).
About the Mellon Foundation
The Mellon Foundation is the nation’s largest supporter of the arts and humanities. Since 1969, the Foundation has been guided by its core belief that the humanities and arts are essential to human understanding. The Foundation believes that the arts and humanities are where we express our complex humanity, and that everyone deserves the beauty, transcendence, and freedom that can be found there. Through our grants, we seek to build just communities enriched by meaning and empowered by critical thinking, where ideas and imagination can thrive. Learn more at mellon.org.
About the National Park Foundation
The National Park Foundation works to protect wildlife and park lands, preserve history and culture, educate and engage youth, and connect people everywhere to the wonder of parks. We do it in collaboration with the National Park Service, the park partner community, and with the generous support of donors, without whom our work would not be possible. Learn more at nationalparks.org.