Graduate Research Assistant, Tim Johansen, reflects on race and parks

Graduate Research Assistant, Tim Johansen, contributed the following reflection on his time working with the PLHC on its project with Shenandoah National Park.

After completing my M.A. in History at Colorado State University, I was fortunate enough to become part of this project. I was part of a research team consisting of Principle Investigator, Dr. Ruth Alexander, and PLHC Program Manager and Lead Researcher, Ariel Schnee. Out team investigated the history of segregation and desegregation at Shenandoah National Park. My experience working for the PLHC was a wonderful journey. I am grateful that the opportunity was available to me.

Researching racial segregation at Shenandoah National Park

My goal throughout the project was to explore literature on black recreation, segregation, and the legacy of Jim Crow on public lands. The research brought me beyond history and into scholarship of cultural geography, a new area for me. The project was a great example of applied history, or, “the explicit attempt to illuminate current challenges and choices by analyzing historical precedents and analogues” (Belfer Center Applied History Project, Harvard University). Shenandoah National Park desired in-depth historical research to be done on their behalf, conducted through an academic lens. The goal of this research was to tell this part of the park’s history in order to make the park more relevant to a diverse population of visitors. The PLHC was able to offer them that.

Working at the PLHC

After graduate school, it was great to be able to remain engaged in academic research after graduation. The PLHC’s hybrid academic/professional atmosphere also appealed to me as a stepping stone. The PLHC’s work brings together scholars, graduate and post-graduate researchers, and staff. This makes the PLHC a great mixing place for ideas and different forms of expertise.

My time at the PLHC was the perfect bridge between my grad school experience and professional life. The PLHC’s goals is to prepare students and recent graduates for life after CSU, and in my case I think they were successful.

*Remarks have been edited for brevity and clarity