Matt poses. . . err, plans programs while he is off duty as well. It's always a plus to be passionate about the subject matter of your tours. Accordingly, historians often spend a fair amount of time in the field to have a better understanding of their topic. Having a sense of the terrain and comprehending the physical (not to mention psychological) obstacles Civil War soldiers faced will allow you to sharpen your tour in many respects. Here, Matt stands at the peak of Little Round Top and points past the 155th Pennsylvania Infantry monument into the Valley of Death.
In-depth research in the park archives and library is often the next step in the process. Many refer to the War of the Rebellion: Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies also known as "the ORs." Filled with primary sources of first hand battle accounts and correspondence by officers, generals, and politicians of the war era, the collection is a fantastic resource. Published between 1881 and 1901, the set includes 128 books. They include after action reports, telegrams, letters, and other very useful material. While Matt likes to head down to the park reading room and browse the indices for his research material, I prefer browsing the ORs online at sites like Cornell University's Making of America Library collections. Photo courtesy of Bibliopolis.
writing for the official park blog). He also serves as one of the main speaking heads on park history and policy, showing up on the History Channel and such multiple times over the past years. Above, Matt discusses a potential new program with Scott.
Rangers offer tours not only to members of the general public, but also training for new park interns and seasonal staff. Here, Matt discusses the uses of artillery near the Abraham Bryan Farm on Cemetery Ridge to a group of new colleagues. Perhaps the best resource a park ranger has available to them is their co-workers, many of whom have worked for the NPS for twenty or thirty years. Their experiences and knowledge is something not to be underestimated.
Finally, rangers assist and collaborate with other parks as well. In July 2011, Matt helped out at the 150th anniversary of the Battle of First Manassas (in the oppressive heat). Although there are 400 National Parks across the country, the NPS is a close-knit community. Because rangers often work at multiple parks before they settle down, they know a wide spectrum of other rangers nationwide, each with their own methods of planning and assisting with programs to make your visit memorable. Make use of and support your parks. Enjoy not only their scenic vistas and history, but all the exciting and interactive opportunities to experience therein--including Battlefield Programs.