“The National Park Service preserves unimpaired the natural and cultural resources and values of the national park system for the enjoyment, education, and inspiration of this and future generations.” This is the renowned mission statement for the National Park Service. A very important part of it is the word unimpaired. Keeping the historical resources and artifacts in a good and stable condition is the main goal of the cultural resource management division. With this method we can ensure that visitors can enjoy the resource for generations to come.
Collection management is so important and not to mention so fun! Before being able to work with the old artifacts, I thought history was a bore. I didn’t care what happened in the past, I was only focused on the here and now. But history is a story! (I just realized the word “story” is in “history”) It tells us where we came from, what we learned, and ultimately who we are today! It can’t be erased and it can’t be forgotten. Cultural resource management is the main guardian between the past and the present. It is the voice for the old and the protector for the new. In this department you can see, smell, hear, and touch another era entirely. The history of Hot Springs National Park came alive before my very eyes and I was able to feel it inside me as well.
In the early 1900s several elaborate bathhouses were built around the springs so people could visit to be cured and healed by the special powers of the water. They were sent for medicinal purposes from specified requests by doctors. My first day working in collections, I was tasked to take inventory of the prescriptions that medical professionals issued for the bathhouses. It was amazing to hold in my hands actual pieces of paper that told patients to drink the water, bathe in the water, and swim in the water that was considered sacred. But apart from physical wellness they also promoted spiritual wellness.
Prescriptions also included hiking on trails, socializing with others, and reconnecting with nature. Part of me wishes that today’s doctors would recommend similar things instead of the stifling medications and pills that drown us out. Nature truly is the best drug, and it is accessible and free! But the point of Hot Springs, Arkansas was to rejuvenate and revitalize both internally and externally. By highlighting this way of thinking, we can improve our mind, body, and spirit.
This is one of the many reasons why managing our cultural resources is so critical. If we didn’t preserve and protect, we might not be able to reassess our values and ethics. The past can be an amazing teacher and a great guide for what we should or should not do in the future. Working in the collection gave me some valuable skills to add to my list of personal abilities. By focusing on the little things and making sure everything is perfectly in place, I was able to be more detailed oriented. Although looking at the big picture is also imperative, the small things can make all the difference. It’s good to have a balance between the two.
While many of what the cultural team does is behind closed doors and out of the public eye, they are equally as important as the interpreters in giving the people the meaning and context of what is being protected. They can provide the historical setting, the background, and most importantly the facts.
I am very grateful for being able to shadow the amazing team that is the cultural resource management division! I laughed and learned the whole day and was even able to lead a portion of the behind the scenes tour of the park’s collection! I really look forward to working and absorbing more about this area. Hot Springs is truly a unique space and I am so grateful to live and work here!