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Carol Shull: Pushing to Preserve History, One Landmark at a Time

Carol Shull
Carol Shull (Photo Courtesy of Sam Kittner/Kittner.com)

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From the Partnership for Public Service
Sunday, April 19, 2009; 11:00 PM

There is an old saying that all politics are local. As chief of Heritage Education Services for the National Park Service, Carol Shull might tweak that and say: All history is local.

Shull works to keep history alive nationwide by helping to preserve historic places and incorporate their signficance into local school lesson plans.

The Teaching with Historic Places (THP) program, created by Shull, uses sites listed in the National Register of Historic Places to enhance traditional classroom instruction of history, social studies, geography and other core subjects.

The heart of the THP program, according to Shull, is a series of 135 online classroom-ready lesson plans based on the National Register list.

"It's aimed at helping young people understand our heritage, so that they will be more informed citizens and better stewards of historic places," said Shull.

Charles White, a professor of education at Boston University, said Shull's work has expanded the reach of the National Register and helped bring history to life for tens of thousands of school children.

"A nation's cultural heritage is lost if it is not preserved and passed on," said White. "Carol and her colleagues had the vision to use the resources of the National Register as the basis for teaching and learning history."

For teachers in the Washington area, the THP lesson plans include "The Mary McLeod Bethune Council House: African American Women Unite for Change" and "The Washington Monument: Tribute in Stone."

Shull also founded the National Park Service's "Discover Our Shared Heritage Travel Itinerary Series," created in partnership with the National Conference of State Historic Preservation Officers, government agencies and private organizations nationwide.

The 47 online travel itineraries in the ongoing series feature more than 2,000 historic places in 49 states, the District of Columbia and some U.S. territories. According to Shull, people worldwide use the series to learn about places included in the National Register of Historic Places of the United States.

"Learning from historic places can be powerful and transformative," said Shull. "People of all ages can enjoy and learn from authentic historic properties that embody and illustrate our history and give our communities their unique character and identity."

Among her most valued listings is the Robert Russa Moton High School in Farmville, Va., where in 1951, the student body walked out in protest of unequal educational facilities. The resulting school desegregation lawsuit was part of the 1954 U.S. Supreme Court Brown v. Board of Education decision, which concluded that "in the field of public education the doctrine of 'separate but equal' has no place."

Thanks to Shull's tireless efforts, the school has transformed into the Robert Russa Moton Museum, a Center for the Study of Civil Rights in Education.

Shull began working for the National Park Service in 1972 as an historian with the National Register and spent most of her career managing the listing.

Jerry Rogers, a former Park Service employee, met Shull when she interviewed with him for a job more than 30 years ago.

"Carol has been a steady champion of education and historic preservation," he said. "She's a quiet innovator and we are all richer in our heritage because of her work."

When asked what it means to be a public servant, Shull cites the preamble of our National Historical Preservations Act: "The historical and cultural foundations of the Nation should be preserved as a living part of our community life and development in order to give a sense of orientation to the American people," she said.

"I believe every word and feel like I have been very privileged to devote my career to working toward something that is so worthwhile."

This article was jointly prepared by the Partnership for Public Service, a group seeking to enhance the performance of the federal government, and washingtonpost.com. Visit www.ourpublicservice.org for more about the organization's work to recognize the men and women who serve our nation.


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