07 Aug The Rooftop Lunches with My Fellow D.C. L-HIPsters are coming to an End
Being confined to a cubicle for my summer research project is not what I had in mind when I applied for an internship with the National Park Service (NPS). This is my first time in an office setting. Prior to this project, my workspaces have consisted of construction and archeological sites or a library desk. My cubicle at the WASO office has two large windows, and on a daily basis, I see people strolling outside and enjoying the sunshine—at times I envy them, but then a typical D.C. summer storm hits y se me pasa. It is difficult to believe that this internship is coming to an end—where did the time go? While I am excited to return to Austin, Tejas to spend quality time with my partner in our new little casita, it saddens me to know that I will be leaving the WASO building and that the rooftop lunches with my fellow D.C. LHIPsters will come to an end. It is odd that the things I dreaded (the cubicle and the federal bureaucracy) are the things I will miss the most.
As a social-cultural anthropology graduate student, being in this federal office is a rare opportunity to see how bureaucracy operates in the field of historic preservation. On the one hand, the National Register and the National Historic Landmarks program have been completely demystified from what I had previously imagined. I had imagined the National Register and the National Landmarks Program to be a historian’s utopia of some sort, but it is just a struggling federal office with cluttered cubicles on the 8th floor of a D.C. building. On the other hand, I been exposed to the inter-workings of the Department of the Interior (DOI), particularly, the NPS diversity initiatives. I been able to talk to people, including Secretary Jewell and Director Jarvis, on how ideas become programs, such as LHIP, or get thrown to the wayside due to funding or bureaucratic barriers.
Thanks to LHIP, I have attended many NPS and DOI events. It has been overwhelming at times because the events and meetings happen so frequently that they constantly interfere with my internship project. Even writing these blogs and participating in the LHIP webinars have eaten into time spent on my NPS internship project. Yet, attending the NPS and DOI events, meeting with public officials, and participating in the LHIP webinars are the elements that make a NPS D.C. internship unique—we get a first hand account on how the brain of a powerful and colossal beast operates. In my case, it has been insightful, on many levels, to see how built environments (properties, objects, and structures) are negotiated for inclusion into the broader U.S. historic preservation efforts. My project is similar to writing a short MA thesis or a report. It was possible to have spent my time researching and writing at coffee shops, at (my temporary D.C.) home, or in a library. While I did work at all of the aforementioned places, I found it imperative to physically be at the WASO building. It would have been foolish to not be in the office where the intersection of policy and historic preservation is materialized. The process on how the NPS negotiates the properties or sites that are deemed eligible for preservation merits a critical analysis, as every action undertaken by National Register staff and the National Historic Landmarks Program is heavily politically or economically triggered. An ethnographic study of the NPS’ cultural resource department will advance our understanding on the politics of representation, particularly, at a time when the NPS is implementing projects with the aim of preserving and protecting properties and landmarks which are threaten by climate change (i.e.: Ellis Island), and launching national campaigns to “diversify” its parks, programs (see: http://nuestrosparques.com/), and employees. As my last week in D.C. approaches, I am filled with regret at not having eaten more Peruvian ceviche (Rodrigo looking in your direction!), Ethiopian food, or half-smokes from Ben’s Chili Bowl, but I am grateful for the opportunity to not only be in D.C. (and enjoy all the amazing food I cannot get in Austin, Tejas) but to observe how everyday life is negotiated at the NPS’ cultural resource office. Every moment in D.C. has been an opportunity to learn and develop new ideas for potential research projects.