Out West student blog

Yellowstone: A Dynamic Cultural Landscape

Seth Chambers in front of the Yellowstone Cultural Resources building.
Enjoying a brisk morning in front of the Yellowstone YCR (Yellowstone Cultural Resources) building in Mammoth Hot Springs, one of the developed areas within the park itself. This building served as the Second Troop Barracks within Fort Yellowstone until 1918. It was rehabilitated as an office building in the late 1900s.

 By Seth Chambers
B.A., Ancient History, 2019
Archaeology Intern at Yellowstone National Park

At the beginning of this summer, I assumed that I would be out in the field digging up artifacts most days. In a twist of fate, I ended up researching for and editing reports depicting the history of man-made structures in Yellowstone.

Truthfully, I’m grateful that my summer diverged from my expectations, because I learned a great deal more than I had imagined. Working within the bureaucracy of the National Government within the national park made me realize that the mechanics of the U.S. Government are more complex than I imagined. There are more programs, more guidelines, and more forms than one could believe existed. These programs cover far more than healthcare or U.S. elections; they cover construction, land ownership, and even tourist treatment. Many of the reports I edited this summer were nomination sheets for the National Register of Historic Places; they described historic buildings and explained why they were important to past historic events and people as well as why they are important today. The rules surrounding these reports are suffocating, but they are necessary. I did not realize until I began working with government laws and regulations that the U.S. bureaucracy is so large because it has to be. Every inhabitant of the U.S. has a different history and different beliefs and interprets statutes differently. Thus, the government has to create laws that are complex enough to limit interpretations while also providing at least reasonably fair treatment to people who interpret laws in a variety of ways. The government is not perfect, but it tries to be an objective force among subjective people.

This summer also taught me to look at history differently. I once thought history depicted long-lost civilizations that are researched through old manuscripts. This “Ancient History” does exist, but History encompasses much more. History includes the events that happened yesterday, next door. It includes any actions that any person has taken ever. It is complex; it is confusing. It is difficult to determine exactly why something happened or why someone chose to do this thing or that thing. It requires extensive research; sometimes research includes reading manuscripts, but often it involves analyzing old buildings or interviewing individuals who remember a historic event. Research is not done behind a desk; it is done out in the real world, on the sites of historic events and in the world of real life. For this reason (and many others), it is important that cultural sites be preserved.

I am grateful for my summer experience, and I look forward to see what the future holds in store for me. I intend to continue studying Ancient History, but over my internship I realized that ancient history is not as important to me as ancient literature. History is important, but I am more interested in the symbols and philosophies and dreams of ancient people. I find these more present in literature. However, literature must be understood in its historic context, which shows history is crucial in understanding literature.

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Photo courtesy of Brandon Kapelow

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