The decades following the Second World War brought a tsunami of change——social, cultural, political, economic——to nearly every corner of life in the United States, challenging Americans to rethink and renew many a cherished institution. We were, for the most part, keen acolytes of modernity, convinced that the new was inherently better than the old, that embracing change would yield a more powerful, prosperous, equitable nation. The United States was founded, after all, upon a fresh faith in humanity, and American industry and innovation had just saved the world from fascism.

The National Park Service is perhaps not the first institution that jumps to mind when we reflect on the convulsive modernization of the postwar era. The very idea of "park" is, after all, wrapped in escapist fantasy. We think of parks as sanctuaries from reality, as places magically apart from history...

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