While the Internet is a wonderful tool for research, are some brochures to national parks beginning to rely too much on cyberspace for depth of interpretation? If you compare old and new brochures from Jefferson National Expansion Memorial, it sure seems like it.
Visit St. Louis and a tour of the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial opens the door ajar to the history of this country's westward expansion under President Thomas Jefferson. Indeed, it was Jefferson's dispatching of Meriwether Lewis and William Clark to explore the West that opened the rest of the continent to American expansion.
And yet, over the recent years the role Lewis and Clark played in that westward expansion has been minimized in the memorial's brochures. In the 2004 brochure, this is the focus the government takes on Lewis and Clark and their Corps of Discovery journey to discern just exactly what President Jefferson had purchased from the French via the Louisiana Purchase:
But what had Jefferson bought? He sent the Lewis and Clark Expedition to find out, and it left St. Louis in the spring of 1804. Pushing against the Missouri's muddy current was hard, and the hot, mosquito-infested summer was a good introduction to western travel. Lewis and Clark spent the first winter at an Indian village in North Dakota. There they were joined by a young Indian girl, Sacagawea, who was to be a definite help on the journey, though not the indispensable guide that later myths made her.
Spring 1805: they began again, up the Missouri. There were ‘firsts’ almost daily: the first grizzly to be scientifically described, the first pronghorn, the first mountain sheep. Wool gave way to buckskin; equipment wore out and was replaced with wilderness substitutes. The Missouri became a mountain stream, then gave out altogether. They purchased horses from the Indians. (Often the expedition depended on Indians, for shelter, food, guidance, and transportation.) Also there was diplomacy, as they informed the Indians of the new U.S. sovereignty.
Now they were crossing the Rockies. What had been blank spaces on maps in St. Louis turned into great cliffs, tangled timber, and rushing rivers. The two-week forcing of the Bitterroot Mountains, in snow, was the worst hardship of the whole journey. But they made it.
Compare that text to what's contained in the 2008 brochure, which gives more copy to how the steel Gateway Arch was created than on what Lewis and Clark accomplished:
The period of westward expansion began in earnest with explorers who set out from the St. Louis area: Meriwether Lewis and William Clark on their Pacific Ocean expedition (1804-1806)...
And that’s it. One part of one sentence.
It’s a remarkable change, but just a glance at the two brochures shows that the 2004 version is much more text intensive that the 2008. A rough count (not including photo captions) shows about 2,300 words in the former, and 1,300 words in the latter. The latter, on the other hand, has bigger graphics: The entire background of the newer brochure’s front side is an evening photograph of the Gateway Arch, over which the text is printed, and while the brochure has fewer images than the 2004 edition, they are almost all larger.
Textually, the newer brochure seems to be surrendeing its educational mission to the Internet, directing readers more than once to www.nps.gov/jeff for more info, while the web is not even mentioned in the older brochure.
And that difference may be part of the thinking behind the newer design: People turn to the web for information, so why try to compete? Instead, the newer brochure touches on a variety of topics, any one of which can be further explored on the website – assuming, of course, that the readers have access or will remember to check out JNEM once they get home from their visit.
So here are some questions about National Park Service brochures in general:
* Are we seeing a similar change in brochures from other NPS sites?
* Are the brochures – old or new – performing a useful purpose? And what should that purpose be: Educational? Promotional? If a mix, then what should the balance be?
* How are changes in the brochures reflecting the current state of the public and the republic?
Jefferson National Expansion Memorial is the only site where I now have an old and new brochure. I’m hoping my fellow Travelers have multiple samples from other places and can do some more comparisons.