Partnering with the American Battlefield Protection Program

By Special Contributor posted 03-31-2016 17:46

by Greg Hindsley with contributions from Sandi Burtseva and Eli Pousson

 From left to right, ABPP Chief Paul Hawke, archeologist and Planning Grants Program Manager Kristen McMasters, and archeologist and Battlefield Land Acquisition Grants Program Manager Elizabeth Vehmeyer address the audience at the Fields of Conflict Conference in Columbia, South Carolina, in February 2014. | Image Courtesy of the American Battlefield Protection Program

In this next post in a monthly series celebrating the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service, Paul Loether examines the digitization of the National Register.

The American Battlefield Protection Program (ABPP), which exists under the purview of the National Park Service in Washington, DC, was created by Congress in 1990 to address the threat of Civil War battlefields vanishing. The ABPP’s mission is “[t]o assist … in planning, interpreting, and protecting sites where historic battles were fought on American soil during the armed conflicts that shaped the growth and development of the United States, in order that present and future generations may learn and gain inspiration from the ground where Americans made their ultimate sacrifice.” Shortly after creating the ABPP, Congress formed the Civil War Sites Advisory Commission to identify historically significant Civil War sites, determine their relative importance and condition, assess threats to their integrity, and make recommendations for their preservation and interpretation.

Over the past 25 years, the ABPP has grown significantly. The staff now includes archeologists, historians, landscape architects, preservation planners, and students who help the ABPP fulfill its mission by providing the public with technical assistance in areas such as military history, battlefield landscapes, mapping, archeology, preservation planning, and compliance. This diversity in skill has allowed the program to evolve, reaching a broader audience and helping protect more battlefield acreage and resources. And in 1992, the ABPP began the Planning Grant Program to assist Civil War battlefields by providing funding for site identification and documentation, planning and consensus building, interpretation and outreach, and other projects. In 1996, Congress authorized extending this program to all wars fought on U.S. soil. Through 2015, the program has awarded more than $18 million, providing assistance to nonprofits; state and local governments; universities; and other organizations, from Vermont to Alaska to Palau, interested in battlefield preservation.

Successful partnerships include one with the Applied Anthropology Laboratories (AAL) at Ball State University, which has received five planning grants since 2010, all focused on protecting Fort Recovery in Ohio. AAL started out with a research grant to learn about the site and followed up with an inventory project and then a professional preservation plan. It is currently working on an interpretive plan for the site, which will allow the community to better understand its history and the unique resources it offers.

Another notable partner, Baltimore Heritage— a nonprofit historic preservation organization—received an ABPP planning grant in 2013. They used the grant to conduct an archeological investigation of Patterson Park, located in the heart of Baltimore, Maryland, and to hold public archeology sessions to educate the local population about the site.

 Baltimore Heritage used 2013 ABPP grant funds to conduct a public archeology event with local students at Patterson Park in Baltimore, Maryland, in spring 2014. | Credit: Baltimore Heritage

The organization’s director of preservation and outreach, Eli Pousson, explains that Baltimore Heritage first learned about ABPP in 2011, while looking for funding to support a public archeology program at a Civil War campsite. Although that site, not being a battlefield, did not qualify for an ABPP grant, Pousson and his colleagues foresaw a partnership opportunity around Patterson Park, a War of 1812 battlefield site.

In addition to ABPP’s support, Pousson attributes the success of the program at Patterson to diverse outreach efforts and location. In seeking broad audiences, the organization not only drew on existing connections to attract participants already interested in archeology, but also shifted resources to engage visitors to the nearby flea market and the Dío de los Niños festivities in the park. And while public archeology programs are not often set in an urban environment, Patterson Park’s location in downtown Baltimore, surrounded by more than 12 schools within walking distance (and many more accessible by bus), allowed Baltimore Heritage to access and engage a multitude of students.

In presenting their site review, Baltimore Heritage was somewhat limited by ABPP’s focus on battlefield archeology, unable to fully detail their public engagement efforts or their diverse findings—in Patterson Park, they uncovered artifacts not only from the 1812 battlefield but also from the subsequent Civil War camp as well as the decades of use as a public park that followed on the same site. And at ABPP’s symposium this past January at the Society for Historical Archeology in Washington, DC, Baltimore Heritage presented one of the few programs not exclusively focused on the technical aspects of archeology.

 A local student group tours the dig at Patterson Park in Baltimore, Maryland, in spring 2014. | Credit: Baltimore Heritage

But, Pousson says, he sees public engagement and participation as warranting a comparable level of attention because communities are ultimately responsible for the stewardship of their historic sites and resources. Making public connections can build support for volunteering and other long-term necessities, which is especially relevant for sites that, like Patterson, are in state or local—rather than national—parks. Interpreting archeology and translating its significance for the local public can be a tool for getting resources to help partners continue meaningful work.

In addition to its grant program and direct assistance, the ABPP attends many major and local conferences that focus on battlefield preservation and forms partnerships with state and local governments, nonprofits, universities, and other organizations around the country. And a strong social media presence helps the ABPP reach a wider and younger audience. The program aims for greater things over the next decades, reaching areas where its resources have not been used—thousands of small and obscure battlefields whose stories have not yet been told. The ABPP will continue to provide the tools and grants to help people who want to tell those stories.

Greg Hindsley is the ABPP Historic Preservation Specialist. Sandi Burtseva is Preservation Leadership Forum's editor. Eli Pousson is the director of preservation and outreach of Baltimore Heritage.

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