About the National Archives

Welcome Remarks for Making America's Public Lands

Greetings from the National Archives’ flagship building in Washington, DC, which sits on the ancestral lands of the Nacotchtank peoples. I’m David Ferriero, Archivist of the United States, and it's my pleasure to welcome you to today’s conversation with Adam Sowards about his new book, Making America's Public Lands, which synthesizes public lands history from the beginning of the republic to recent controversies. Joining the author in conversation will be journalist and author Michelle Nijhuis.

Before we begin, I’d like to tell you about two upcoming programs on our YouTube channel.

On Thursday, April 28, at 1 p.m., Mark Updegrove offers an illuminating account of John F. Kennedy’s brief but transformative tenure in the White House in his new biography, Incomparable Grace.

And on Wednesday, May 4, at 1 p.m., Tomiko Brown-Nagin will discuss her new book, Civil Rights Queen, which tells the story of Constance Baker Motley, the first black woman to argue a case in front of the Supreme Court.

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Two years ago, as the COVID-19 pandemic closed down businesses and schools, people across the nation turned to parks and other open spaces. In urban parks and sprawling national parks, we sought places where we could socially distance and let nature lessen the stress of the day.

We enjoy our public lands but often take them for granted. Learning how they came about and how they have been used over time enriches our overall understanding of them.

Here at the National Archives, we preserve the records of the four federal agencies most involved in the management of our nation’s public lands—the Bureau of Land Management, the U.S. Forest Service, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the National Park Service. The written records, photographs, and motion pictures contain the stories of the beginnings of federal stewardship.

In his book Making America’s Public Lands, Adam Sowards takes us through the history of these lands and examines the changing priorities and challenges concerning them.

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Adam M. Sowards is professor of history at the University of Idaho. He is the author of United States West Coast: An Environmental History, The Environmental Justice: William O. Douglas and American Conservation, and An Open Pit Visible from the Moon.

Michelle Nijhuis is a project editor at The Atlantic, where she edits features for the Planet section and a series called Life Up Close. Her writing has appeared in publications including National Geographic and the New York Times Magazine, and she is the author of Beloved Beasts: Fighting for Life in an Age of Extinction.

Now let’s hear from Adam Sowards. Thank you for joining us today.