Historical Research Intern (DHA-RA)

John Muir National Historic Site
December 8, 2020
Job Type


This internship will provide needed research for the John Muir National Historic Site that has been identified as a park priority since the Park Foundation Document was prepared in 2015. The 2015 Foundation Document, approved by the Regional Director, identifies the Park Purpose, Significance Statements, Fundamental Resources and Values, and Interpretive Themes of the park. Significance statements express why a park’s resources and values are important enough to merit designation as a unit of the national park system. There were six significant statements prepared for JOMU, one of which is key to understanding the need for this internship, “Given John Muir’s pivotal role in the founding of the national park system, John Muir National Historic Site is uniquely positioned to explore how societal biases were woven into the system from its very origins in Muir’s time and why they continue today.”

Fundamental resources and values were also identified in the foundation document, one of which is also key in demonstrating the need for this internship, “John Muir’s Legacy: John Muir National Historic Site provides many opportunities for the public to connect with and critically examine Muir’s life, stories, and evolving legacy firsthand. John Muir played a pivotal role in the establishment of the national park system, and as a historic conservationist continues to inspire environmental stewardship and civic engagement today. Along with other founding figures of the National Park Service, Muir belonged to an exclusive echelon of society that benefited from the same social divisions and inequities that have historically shaped the development of the National Park Service. The site’s resources and stories enrich our understanding of this multifaceted legacy.”

Finally, the Foundation Document included Interpretive Themes, based on the significance statements and fundamental resources and values. There are five interpretive themes for JOMU, one of which is key to understanding the need for this internship. “National Park System Inclusion: Inequities of race, class, gender, and ethnicity from Muir’s time influenced the composition of the modern conservation movement as well as the development of the national park system; understanding this history and its ramifications is critical in helping the National Park Service to chart a just and egalitarian direction for the future.”

As further background for this internship, this past summer, during a time of national discussions centering around race and privilege, the Sierra Club’s Executive Director, Michael Brune publicly acknowledged and apologized for the Sierra Club’s racist history. Brune stated, “[it is] time to take down some of our own monuments.” … “[John Muir] made derogatory comments about Black people and Indigenous peoples that drew on deeply harmful racist stereotypes, though his views evolved later in his life …As the most iconic figure in Sierra Club history, Muir’s words and actions carry an especially heavyweight. They continue to hurt and alienate Indigenous people and people of color.” Although the Sierra Club’s public acknowledgment of, and apology for Muir’s words was met with considerable backlash from die-hard Muir fans and long-term members of the conservation community; and diminished by others who attributed Brune’s words as an example of “cancel-culture,” the John Muir National Historic Site is seizing the opportunity to research, discuss, and bear to light these more troubling components of Muir’s work and legacy in order to have a fuller understanding of the entirety of Muir’s impact and legacy. The Sierra Club offered us the opportunity and impetus to begin research on these elements of the Foundation Document that were identified five years ago. John Muir NHS is dedicated to researching, interpreting, and sharing all aspects of Muir’s life and career—his family life here in Martinez, California which afforded him wealth and access, the breadth and magnitude of his conservation work all over the world, as well as his negative views on people of color, and how those views may have influenced the American conservation movement.


·       This internship will center around conducting primary and secondary research on Muir’s writings and manuscripts to help shed light on Muir’s racist past.

·       The intern will work with park interpretation and cultural resource staff to develop a research plan, which will likely include research at the University of the Pacific (where the largest collection of Muir’s private manuscripts are housed) and Yosemite as well as here at John Muir NHS historic archives. The research plan will be developed the first week of the internship.

·       The following weeks will include focused research at the John Muir NHS, UOP, Yosemite, and with the Sierra Club library.

·       The final weeks will require synthesis of the research into a final report and a final presentation to park staff (the two required deliverables).

HOW RESEARCH WILL BE USED: This research will help the park fill an important gap in its research: research that is fundamental to our significance (per the Foundation Document). The research will be used by interpretive staff in interpreting a more complete account of Muir’s life, work, and ongoing legacy. Specifically, the results of this research will be used by our interpretation rangers in their daily programs to visitors. Additionally, the research will be used by interpretive rangers in other National Parks with deep ties to John Muir, such as Yosemite National Park—discussions with Yosemite have already begun and this internship will be a part of discussions with Yosemite and other parks that we are planning for next summer. As the park and the NPS continue to prioritize Relevancy, Diversity, and Inclusion, this research will positively impact our ability to tell a more complete history of Muir, and to thereby directly connect our RDI priorities with park research.

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