On October 1, 2007, Washington State University alumnus Robert K. Sutton (Ph.D. '84, history) took over as chief historian of the National Park Service (NPS).
As chief historian, Sutton provides guidance and direction to the national parks on interpreting the significance of America's historic places, and on setting and implementing NPS standards and guidelines for documenting properties of historical significance to the nation. He is also responsible for managing the NPS history programs, including the coordination of historical studies at the national level and the management of the administrative history program.
Sutton began his career as a park ranger with Fort Vancouver National Historic Site in 1973, after completing his master's in history at Portland State University. From there, he went on to work as museum curator with the Oregon Historical Society; historian with the Oregon State Parks; architectural historian with the NPS Southwest Regional Office in Albuquerque, New Mexico; historian with Independence National Historic Park; assistant professor of history and director of the public history program at Arizona State University; and assistant superintendent and historian at National Capital Parks–East. Since 1991, he has held an appointment as adjunct professor of history at George Mason University.
From 1995 until this past fall, Sutton served as superintendent of the Manassas National Battlefield Park, which has an annual visitation of 800,000. During his time at Manassas, Sutton initiated a major symposium on the Civil War, developed an interpretive institute to train Civil War park rangers, and oversaw the restoration and wetland mitigation in a 100-acre area of the park, through a creative partnership with the Smithsonian Institution. In 2000, Sutton received the Department of the Interior’s Meritorious Service Award.
When his NPS appointment was announced last summer, Janet Snyder Matthews, associate director of cultural resources for NPS, said, "We are very pleased that Dr. Sutton has joined the Washington, D.C., office of the National Park Service as chief historian… We look forward to working with him on a wide range of history projects, including those that develop from the centennial of the National Park Service through 2016."
Sutton is editor of Rally on the High Ground: National Park Service Symposium on the Interpretation of the Civil War, coauthor of Majestic in His Wrath: The Life of Frederick Douglass, and author of Americans Interpret the Parthenon: Greek Revival Architecture and the Westward Movement.
The Chronicle, College of Liberal Arts, Washington State University