Researcher Tim Johansen on Working with the Public Lands History Center

The following is written by Tim Johansen, written in reflection of his time spent working with the PLHC and on his work with the Shenandoah National Park Project:

After completing my Masters in American History at Colorado State University, I was fortunate enough to become part of this project for the PLHC and Shenandoah NP. As for my experience working for the PLHC, it was a wonderful and stimulating journey, and I am very grateful that the opportunity was available to me. Coming fresh off the heels of two intense years of graduate school, it was great to be able to unwind after those semesters of non-stop writing, reading, and grading, but also remain engaged in academic material and scholastic pursuits. The brightest aspect of working for the PLHC is by far the hybrid academic/professional atmosphere. While many of the PLHCs members and volunteers are academics, whether professors or students, many are also post-graduation, working either for the PLHC full-time or other forums. This makes the PLHC a great mixing place for ideas and different forms of expertise.

This mixture of knowledge, expertise, and experience is further reflected by the projects that the PLHC engages with. Specifically, the Shenandoah project that I worked on is a great example of non-academic interests and goals being facilitated by academic rigor. For Shenandoah National Park desired to have in-depth, academic quality professional research done on their behalf. The need for academic work, but not necessarily only from students, was perfectly met by the PLHC. While I was not the lead investigator on the segregation project, I was able to utilize my fully developed skills to suit the non-academic needs of the National Park Service.

My main goal throughout the project was to explore and synthesize the relevant secondary literature on the topics of black recreation, segregation, and the legacy of Jim Crow and public lands. While history mainly revolves around original research and dusty archives, it is also essential to understand and interpret what other historians have argued in the past. It turns out that the topics of segregation, public parks (whether state or national), and recreation have been explored by historians and geographers alike. However, it is crucial to synthesize this information around a focused topic, Shenandoah’s Lewis Mountain in this case. Historiography can be the dirty work of historians, but despite that, I loved investigating what other historians have argued and brought to light, and presenting that information for the benefit of understanding Shenandoah’s past has been a wonderful experience.

On a personal note, my time at the PLHC was the perfect bridge that enabled me to compartmentalize my grad school experience and grow as a professional. One of the goals of the PLHC is preparing students and recent graduates for professional life. The PLHC did just that.