This land is your land

By Jeffrey K. Stine

Like millions of people who watched or listened to We Are One: The Obama Inaugural Celebration at the Lincoln Memorial on January 18th, I couldn’t help but be moved by the music and the symbolism. When Pete Seeger and Bruce Springsteen took the stage to sing Woody Guthrie’s “This Land Is Your Land,” the sense of joy and hopefulness was palpable.


WildlandsFrom the film “Wildlands Philanthropy: The Great American Tradition.” Photo courtesy Antonio Vizcaino.

Written in 1940, following a decade of grinding economic hardship, Guthrie’s folk ballad paid tribute to the wonders and beauty of this great land, linking the nation’s natural heritage to the social need for human rights.

One of America’s greatest inventions has been the idea of “national parks,” that is, of setting aside some of the country’s most treasured places for the use of all people for all time. Those parks, along with other lands held in public trust, go a long way toward embodying Guthrie’s roaring statement that “this land belongs to you and me.”

As part of the 17th annual Environmental Film Festival in the Nation’s Capital, the museum will be joining with the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery on Thursday, March 19th, to present three new films and a film-in-progress, each of them celebrating in their own way the power and glory of America’s wondrous open spaces.

The films completed in 2008 include: “Wildlands Philanthropy: The Great American Tradition”; “Red, White & Green”; and “Appalachia: A History of Mountains and People, Time and Terrain.” But we are also delighted to be able to show a work-in-progress—selected clips from Ken Burns’s forthcoming “The National Parks: America’s Best Idea,” which is scheduled to air on PBS in the fall of 2009.

I hope you can join us for these special screenings and discussions with the filmmakers. And I hope, too, that you take the time in the coming months to explore and enjoy this land of ours.

Jeffrey K. Stine is curator for environmental history at the National Museum of American History.