Great Topics Seminars
Spring 2019 – The Best Idea We Ever Had: The History of the National Parks


Spring 2019 – The Best Idea We Ever Had: The History of the National Parks

The national park system began in 1872 with the establishment of Yellowstone National Park. Today there are 60 U.S. National Parks plus 377 other significant sites, such as battlefields, monuments, and seashores that are administered by the National Park Service. Other nations have followed suit.

The International Union for the Conservation of Nature counts 6,555 national parks worldwide. The U.S. national parks have been a proving ground for ideas about  preservation. Since the earliest efforts to protect Yellowstone and Yosemite, preservationists have battled with those who would use special lands, ranging from miners and ranchers to indigenous people and concessionaires. The parks have fostered and tested the thinking of key conservationists, including John Muir, Theodore Roosevelt, and Rachel Carson. The parks may be “the best idea we ever had,” in the words of Wallace Stegner, but the idea of the parks has changed over time. Our class will explore the history of the U.S. national parks, reading primary works by key thinkers. We will also read works by historians and watch the 2009 documentary by Ken Burns, The National Parks: America’s Best Idea. Discussions will also take into account nearby parts of the national park system, such as Vicksburg National Military Park and the Natchez Trace National Parkway. Consideration will also be given to national parks in other countries and it is hoped that participants will share their own experiences of visits to national parks.

About National Parks

Stephen T. Mather, First Director of the National Park Service (1917-1929): “Who will gainsay that the parks contain the highest potentialities of national pride, national contentment, and national health? A visit inspires love of country; begets contentment; engenders pride of possession; contains the antidote for national restlessness….He is a better citizen with a keener appreciation of the privilege of living here who has toured the national parks.”


Millsaps College sits on 100 acres in the heart of Mississippi’s capital city of Jackson. The majority of our students choose to live on campus and experience events such as concerts, crawfish boils and lecture series. In addition, our campus is near popular spots for festivals and events, such as Bright Lights, Belhaven Nights in Belhaven and Fondren’s First Thursday street festival.

Dining Services

Craving a burger? Looking for a plant-based meal? Or maybe you’re seeking a home-cooked dinner like fried chicken. From breakfast, lunch and dinner at The Caf to late-night bites at Reuben’s to a dose a caffeine from EcoGrounds—Millsaps’ dining services has you covered.

Wellness and Recreation

Millsaps is invested in the whole student, including your physical health. The Millsaps community has access to the Maurice H. Hall Activities Center to lift weights, take a workout class or do some cardio. Our campus is near the new Museum Trail for your outdoor walking and cycling needs, too. Not feeling well? We have a clinic on campus to help get you back to class and your life.

Student Support

Millsaps cares about each of our students and supports their career planning and mental health needs. Our Center for Career Education guides our students through career options, whether it’s graduate school applications or connecting with a prospective employer before graduation. In addition, we offer mental health services through counseling, and our Chaplain is available to help you with your spiritual needs—no matter your affiliation.

Dr. William K. Storey is Professor of History at Millsaps College, where he has taught since 1999. Storey grew up on Long Island and attended boarding school at Andover. He earned his A.B. in history at Harvard and his M.A. and Ph.D. in history at Johns Hopkins, followed by a postdoc in Cornell’s Department of Science and Technology Studies and a postdoc in Harvard’s Expository Writing Program. He teaches classes about world history that have a focus on environment and technology.

Storey is the author of four books. Two books are based on research about environmental and technological aspects of imperialism: Guns, Race, and Power in Colonial South Africa (Cambridge University Press, 2008) and Science and Power in Colonial Mauritius (University of Rochester Press, 1997). He is also the author of two textbooks that draw on his teaching at Millsaps: Writing History: A Guide for Students (Oxford University Press, 5th ed. 2017) and The First World War: A Concise Global History (Rowman & Littlefield, 2nd ed. 2014). Storey is currently writing a book about Cecil Rhodes.

For his commitment to teaching and writing, Storey has been recognized as the Mississippi Professor of the Year by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. He has also won the Millsaps Distinguished Professor Award and the Mississippi Humanities Council Teacher Award.

Who Should Attend

  • If you are a lifelong learner who values serious intellectual stimulation
  • If you are a community volunteer or activist
  • If you are a professional in public or private schools and foundations
  • If you are someone who wants to affect public opinion in your community
  • If you are a member of the legal, medical or other professions
  • If you are an administrator in government at the local, state, or federal levels

What to Expect?

The Millsaps Great Topics Seminars: Studies in the Humanities and Sciences are designed for serious lifelong learners who hold a baccalaureate degree or its equivalent. The seminars provide opportunities for serious engagement with intellectual issues affecting society and the individual. More than 330 leaders have participated in our seminars since they were established in 1988.

Participants are encouraged through collaborative learning techniques to develop a greater capacity for analysis and synthesis of ideas, critical thinking, oral and written communication, and appreciation for the values inherent in our institutions and practices, including historical and literature components.


Millsaps College’s Great Topics Seminar for the spring semester, 2019, will begin Friday, January 11. Meetings will be held on Thursdays, from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., starting on January 17 and ending on May 2. No class meeting during Spring Break or on April 11.


The fee for participating in this seminar is $825. Due to this special pricing of the Great Topics Seminars, no discounts can be made in the tuition. This course is a noncredit offering of the College and carries no academic credit; however there are rigorous requirements of reading and informal reflection writing during the semester. A processing fee of $100 will be held upon withdrawal from the seminar.

Leadership Seminars in the Humanities were begun in 1988 through a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities. Their continuation is made possible in part by the generous support of Millsaps College and by the support of former seminar participants. To better reflect the current philosophy of these seminars, the name has been changed to Millsaps Great Topics Seminars: Studies in the Humanities and Sciences.

For further information, contact Dr. Nola Gibson at 601.974.1130 or

The application deadline is December 19. Enrollment in the Seminar is limited.


Established in 1988 and made possible in part by a grant from the National Endowment
for the Humanities, Leadership Seminars in the Humanities bring together Millsaps
professors in the humanities with corporate, volunteer and professional leaders in
the community. To better reflect the current philosophy of these seminars, the name
has been changed to Millsaps Great Topics Seminars: Studies in the Humanities and
Sciences. These seminars offer an opportunity for serious engagement with intellectual
issues affecting society and the individual. More than 330 leaders have taken our
seminars since they were established.