Interpreting the Environment at Museums and Historic Sites is for anyone who wants to better understand the environment that surrounds us and sustains us, who wants to become a better steward of that environment, and who wants to share lessons learned with others. The process starts by focusing attention on the environment – the physical space that constitutes the largest three-dimensional object in museum collections. It involves conceptualizing spaces and places of human influence; spaces that contain layer upon layer documenting human struggles to survive and thrive. This evidence exists in natural environments as well as city centres. The process continues by adopting an environment-centric view of the spaces destined to be interpreted. This mindset forms the basis for devising research plans that document how humans have changed, destroyed, conserved and sustained spaces over time, and the ways that the environment reacts. Interpretation built on this evidence then becomes the basis for minds-on engagement with the places that humans inhabit and the spaces that they have changed and continue to manipulate.
Interpreting the Environment at Museums and Historic Sites provides a tool kit designed to help you research environmental history, document evidence of human influence on land and the environment over time, and tailor that knowledge to new public engagement. It proposes a multi-disciplinary approach that requires expertise in the humanities as well as the sciences and social sciences to best understand space and place over time. It incorporates case studies of the theory and method of environmental history to explore how human goals take lasting shape in the environment – creating working environments, getting water, generating and harnessing power, growing food, travelling and trading, building things, and preserving natural landscapes.
Features include the Interpreting the Environment Tool Kit to help you launch the good work of interpreting the environment:
- Raw Materials (the evidence): landscape, ecosystems, artefacts, and the built environment
- Preparation (methods): thinking like a naturalist/scientist; thinking like a historian; combining approaches
- Planning (envisioning the goal): proactive message, stewardship, sustainability
- Partnerships (sharing work): strength in numbers; allying across disciplinary divides; united in efforts to inform the public about their individual and collective effects on the landscape and the environment
- Potential: educating the public about people and places is part of a worldwide goal with the cumulative effect of saving the planet, one story at a time.
- A Timeline and Bibliographic essay round out the book's resources.
Foreword by John C.F. Luzader
Part 1: A Primer on the Environment, Cultural Heritage, and History Interpretation
Chapter 1: Exploring Environmental History
Chapter 2: Thinking Historically about the Environment
Chapter 3: Constructing Stories about Humans and the Environment
Part 2: Telling Stories about Humans and Their Environments: Topics and Practice
Chapter 4: Creating Working Environments
Chapter 5: Getting Water
Chapter 6: Generating and Harnessing Power
Chapter 7: Growing Food
Chapter 8: Traveling and Trading
Chapter 9: Building Things
Chapter 10: Preserving and Conserving Natural Landscapes
Timeline of Environmental Ideas, Policies, and Legislation
About the Authors
Debra A. Reid, PhD, is the curator of agriculture and the environment at The Henry Ford. She saw the landscape through new eyes after earning a minor in Historical Geography at Southeast Missouri State University, studying with Michael Roark. She completed a minor field in Geography, studying with Peter Hugill, and her PhD in History at Texas A&M University. She taught in the Department of History at Eastern Illinois University from 1999 through 2016 before joining The Henry Ford. She is a Fellow of the Agricultural History Society (and current president) and is a past president of the Association for Living History, Farm and Agricultural Museums (ALHFAM).
David D. Vail, PhD, has training in environmental history, agricultural history, and science and technology, earning a PhD at Kansas State University. He is an assistant professor in the Department of History at the University of Nebraska at Kearney. His book, Chemical Lands: Pesticides, Aerial Spraying, and Health in North America’s Grasslands since 1945 (University of Alabama Press, 2018) is part of the NEXUS Series: New Histories of Science, Technology, the Environment, Agriculture, and Medicine. He is a book review editor for The Public Historian (National Council on Public History), and a member of the editorial committee for Agricultural History.
"With this valuable contribution, Reid and Vail go beyond introducing environmental history or locating its intersection with public history. Interpreting the Environment at Museums and Historic Sites is certainly useful to students, but provides a practical guide for those already working in the field and it is a long awaited and overdue contribution to both environmental public history.
– The Public Historian
"Reid (The Henry Ford Museum) and Vail (Univ. of Nebraska) have coauthored another volume in the Interpreting History series from the American Association for State and Local History. Adopting a hybrid approach to interpreting the environment, they look for "more science in the history and more history in the science". The first three chapters introduce readers to thinking about the environment, summarizing differences in the ways scientists and humanists approach the natural world, and addressing issues of environmental literacy and public engagement with environmental topics. The second part of the book explores the ways in which people manipulate the environment and includes case studies that highlight examples in which history has become intertwined with environmental issues. Two additional resources included here are a bibliographic essay on the literature of environmental history and interpretation and a time line of environmental ideas, policies, and legislation [...] This challenging book will be most useful to experienced professionals and students in formal interpretation training programs. Summing Up: Recommended. Lower-division undergraduates through graduate students and professionals. Students enrolled in two-year technical programs. General readers."
"Interpreting the Environment at Museums and Historic Sites is a textbook and a call to action [...] Part of a series edited by the American Association for State and Local History, which contains some excellent texts, this book is steeped in the history, culture, and regulatory environment that pertains to these institutions [...] the fundamental message of the text is relevant everywhere. As the authors point out, with increasing attention paid to climate change and environmental sciences, the ground is fertile for improved attention to environments and environmentalism [...] the text is likely to be useful in prompting discussion and convincing others to place more value on interpreting environments and environmentalism, especially for its core audiences in North America."
– EXARC Journal: Experimental Archaeology
"The excellent work of Dr. Reid and Dr. Vail advocates for interpretive engagement resulting in stewardship. It relates conditions of the past to the world of today resulting from the creation of working environments. The book shows how arts and sciences may work together to provide a holistic approach to understanding our environment."
– Jim Lauderdale Lauderdale, Certified Interpretive Trainer, Museum Supervisor, Fort Nisqually Living History Museum
"Interpreting the Environment offers context, case studies, and an extensive bibliography that museums and historic sites can employ at this imperiled moment. Reid and Vail make a 'call to arms' to public history professionals to catalyze stories of human use and misuse of the environment – so that our visitors might confront one of the most pressing issues of our age."
– Julia Brock, History Department, University of Alabama
"The role of the environment as a critical actor and object in history is an important foundation for a more inclusive, engaging, and complex historical interpretation. Reid's and Vail's writings help readers make this shift by emphasizing interdisciplinary research and historical thinking. If you are new to interpreting the environment, then their tool-kit is a guide to planning research and collection development; if you are not new to this, then their field overview and bibliographic essay are a treasure trove of resources to broaden or deepen your story."
– Sarah Sutton, Principal, Sustainable Museums