This research examines how employees at national historic sites curate and interpret women and their roles in American heritage. The goal of this work is to shed light on how national historic sites can make their site relevant to visitors, especially those from diverse demographics, and to understand the significance and the impact that the National Park Service (NPS) has on the representation of national and cultural heritage and narratives of women. To conduct this research, I completed six in-depth interviews with national park employees and their partner nonprofit staff: three at the First Ladies National Historic Site (FILA) and three at the National First Ladies Library (NFLL). I paired my interviews with an in-depth observation of the Education Center to analyze what stories the park is sharing and who is being represented and why. I utilized Laurajane Smith’s (2006) work on authorized heritage discourse to show how institutions frame heritage in contexts of national identity, relevance to people, and purpose in history. Using Susan Crane’s (2006) theory on social and collective memory and Hilde Hein’s (2010) theory of feminist perspectives in museum studies, I found that these sites largely curate and interpret history in a way that is catered to an audience that expects a traditional historical narrative about women. These perspectives are reinforced by traditional gender roles and impact how women are viewed and discussed in exhibitions. However, the institution has increasingly centered curation and interpretation of women in a way that incorporates marginalized lives and perspectives, thereby offering a more holistic perspective of national and cultural heritage. I conclude that national historic sites are limited to an extent with narrow interpretive themes designated by the NPS, but they also are taking advantage of rich opportunities to include comprehensive interpretation and to engage the local community to ensure relevance to diverse audiences.


Thomas, Zareen


Sociology and Anthropology


Social and Cultural Anthropology


National Parks, Heritage, Gender, Representation, Diversity, National Park Service, National Historic Sites, United States, American, Cultural Heritage, National Heritage, Anthropology, Ethnographic Research

Publication Date


Degree Granted

Bachelor of Arts

Document Type

Senior Independent Study Thesis



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