Not all of our nation’s past is tucked away in history books. Much of it is all around us – in historic buildings, sites, districts, structures and objects that hold meaning for communities and cultural significance for our country. Unless it is documented and protected, this living history is often destroyed or sits unrecognized by people who pass by it each day. Carol Shull, Chief of Heritage Education Services with the National Park Service, has dedicated her career to keeping our history alive by recognizing the value and encouraging preservation and understanding of these irreplaceable national treasures.
The National Register of Historic Places, where Shull was a leader for more than 30 years, is known worldwide as a model for engaging citizens to value and preserve significant historic places in their communities. Historic properties eligible for the National Register must be considered in the planning of federal projects, and listing provides access to grants and tax incentives to assist in their preservation. The National Register now lists more than 1.5 million historic properties, with the vast majority added to the inventory under Shull’s tenure, first as Chief of Registration, then as Keeper of the National Register.
In 1972, Shull began working in the National Park Service’s National Register office as a historian. Through 30-plus years of expanding and maintaining the Register, she realized the importance not only of documenting, cataloging and protecting our historic places, but also of bringing their history to life for students, community members, and others. To this end, Shull initiated a Discover Our Shared Heritage travel itinerary series and worked with partners nationwide to develop dozens of itineraries that shine a spotlight on historic places, enhance the visitor experience and provide communities with a guide to their own local history. For example, for anyone who wants to tour Richmond, Virginia, the newest itinerary in the ongoing series identifies 87 registered places, including descriptions of each and why it is significant, plus information on how to plan a visit.
She also developed a program and supported others to produce to date 135 award-winning Teaching with Historic Places lesson plans that encourage place-based learning at historic sites. Merging history with technology, Shull ensured that these lesson plans and the travel itineraries are available for free on the National Park Service Web site. In fact, the entire National Register will soon be online thanks in part to Shull’s persistence and leadership.
Shull has worked in partnership with thousands of people in national, state, local, and tribal preservation offices and communities across the nation and mentored many of them. She has been a leader in interpreting and applying the criteria for registering historic places and assisted many communities in organizing to evaluate their own local history. Thanks to Carol Shull and her decades of leadership in the National Register of Historic Places, people throughout our country and around the world can more fully understand, appreciate and enjoy where we come from, which is invaluable in understanding where we are going as a nation.