Particularly New Mexico's monument: place-making at Fort Union, 1929-2014

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This dissertation examines the conception, planning, creation, and management of Fort Union National Monument (FOUN) in northeastern New Mexico. Over approximately the last eighty-five years, writers, bureaucrats, boosters, and the

This dissertation examines the conception, planning, creation, and management of Fort Union National Monument (FOUN) in northeastern New Mexico. Over approximately the last eighty-five years, writers, bureaucrats, boosters, and the National Park Service (NPS) have all been engaged in several different kinds of place-making at FOUN: the development of a written historical narrative about what kind of place Fort Union was (and is); the construction of a physical site; and the accompanying interpretive guidance for experiencing it.

All of these place-making efforts make claims about why Fort Union is a place worthy of commemoration, its historical significance, and its relationship to local, regional, national and international contexts. The creation and evolution of Fort Union National Monument as a memorial landscape and a place for communion with an imagined past—in short, a site of memory and public history—is only the latest chapter in a long history of migration, conflict, shifting ownership, and land use at that site. I examine the evolution of a sense of place at Fort Union in two broad time periods: the twenty-five years leading up to the monument’s establishment, and the seven decades of NPS management after it was created.

Taken as a case study, the story of FOUN raises a number of questions about the basic mission and meaning of NPS as a cultural institution and educational organization; how the agency conceptualizes and “talks about” Native Americans and the Indian Wars; the history and practice of public history; and how best to address sites like Fort Union that seek to historicize America’s imperial past.