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Temple history course focuses on national parks

A professor is teaching students to be advocates for the National Park Service.

Although Seth Bruggeman is officially employed as a history professor, he thinks of his job as “training culture warriors.”

The “culture warriors” Bruggeman refers to are the 27 students enrolled in his new course, Imperiled Promise: An Introduction to Heritage Interpretation in the National Park Service.

Every Wednesday night, the class meets in Anderson Hall to learn how the National Park Service and historians educate millions of visitors about the significance of landmarks like the National Mall. This practice, known as heritage interpretation, can take the form of educational tours, reenactments, literature and signs.

“We need interpretation,” Bruggeman said. “By explaining the significance of the things that the National Park Service protects, not only do we educate the public, but we make clear to them why those assets need to remain safe and protected.”

The class is designed to serve Temple’s ProRanger Program, a 15-credit certificate program that prepares undergraduate students for careers in the park service through courses related to the National Parks and two summer internships in U.S. parks.

Bruggeman said the course is not exclusively for students in the ProRanger Program, and its lessons about presentation and public engagement can be applied to a variety of professional settings.

As of this semester, Temple is now the second college in the United States to offer this program, along with Texas A&M University.

“I think this course does a good job of kind of getting down to the crux of what it means to be a citizen of this country, and how the parks connect us to that,” said Blake McGready, a student in the class.

McGready, a second-year master’s of public history student at Villanova University, said he applied to take the new course at Temple because it combines his two passions: U.S. history and national parks, which he believes can bring Americans together even in the most divisive times.

Recent actions by President Donald Trump have concerned Bruggeman, like his harvest of fossil fuels on federal lands, his censorship of the National Park Service’s social media accounts and his decision to halt the hiring of federal employees, including non-seasonal national park rangers.

“It couldn’t be a better moment to run this course,” Bruggeman said. “The politics of our moment are creating a real challenge for the National Parks. How we respond to it and how we seek to protect our parks reveals a great deal about how we value our freedoms.”

Jay Lockenour, chair of the history department, supported the creation of the course because he believes the National Parks can help provide an understanding of controversial issues like environmental policy.

“People build up myths about the past that can support ways of looking at the world or even support particular policies,” Lockenour said. “It makes for a more informed citizenry if you understand the past.”

Stephanie Hudson is a junior criminal justice major enrolled in Bruggeman’s new course as a student in Temple’s ProRanger Program. She hopes to work as a park ranger after she graduates.

“[For National Park Employees], it’s important to know how to connect and how to best get the purpose of not only the National Park Service itself, but your park over to a visitor,” Hudson said.

“Hopefully this class leads to the next step, which is encouraging the people there to take their friends, their family members out to Independence Hall, out to Valley Forge,” McGready said. “At the end of the day, it takes all of us to stand up and get outside and get into the parks to make connections.”

Carr Henry can be reached at carr.henry@temple.edu.

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