San Antonio Conservation

June 26, 2016 History, Intangible Heritage, Interpretation Comments (0) 461

“The entire mix of cultures was their birthright, the soul of their home city, and it was not to be taken away. Their goal became the saving not only of landmarks but of traditions and ambiance and natural features as well, the preservation of no less than San Antonio’s entire cultural and natural environment.”

Lewis F. Fisher, Saving San Antonio, p. 91-92 Continue Reading

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Integrity and Authenticity

March 16, 2016 History, Intangible Heritage, Interpretation Comments (0) 347

My favorite example:  where Ralph Ellison wrote Invisible Man.  Authenticity?  Integrity?

I will presenting at the 7th National Symposium on Historic Preservation Practice this weekend at Goucher College, on the Diversity Deficit and the National Register of Historic Places.  I have written often about this subject over the last five years, but lately my recommendations are getting more specific.  One of those has to do with the concept of Integrity, which I have previously proposed needs to be replaced with Authenticity. Continue Reading

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What Survives?

February 24, 2016 History, Intangible Heritage, Interpretation Comments (4) 433

I recently saw the report of a “phylogenetic” study of fairytales that determined that some fairytales were 6,000 years old, reaching into the Bronze Age.  We have long known that certain tales – Cinderella, Beauty and the Beast, flood myths – are shared across hundreds of cultures and geographies.  I read the report (linked here) the same day I went to see the ancient Greek show at the Field Museum, where many tales are illustrated in the more durable forms of pottery and stone.

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Everything You Know Is Wrong, Part II

February 6, 2016 Blog, History, Sustainability, Technology, Vision and Style Comments (0) 294

Who doesn’t adore their own adolescent brain?

Eight years ago I wrote a blog with this title, to remind us that we often think our way past reality.   Despite our ongoing technological revolution the human mind still has a series of fallback postures that fail to perceive reality but instead distort it – simplify it, really – to make it fit into categories more satisfying to our adolescent brains. Continue Reading

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Diversity and American History

December 18, 2015 Blog, History, Interpretation Comments (2) 358

I took this picture in the United States.

For several years I have been working on a problem: the “Diversity Deficit” in the National Register of Historic Places.  95% or more of our historic sites have as their primary significance the story of a male of European descent.  You can see some of this year’s blogs on the topic here and here. Continue Reading

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Finding the East out West

August 21, 2015 History, Interpretation Comments (2) 304

When I spoke to the National Tribal Preservation Conference two days ago, my host Bambi Kraus of the National Association of Tribal Preservation Officers introduced my talk by noting that the Tribal Historic Preservation Officers should “be themselves” and offer alternatives to the “Western” approach to historic preservation. Continue Reading

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National Historic Preservation Act: Addressing the Diversity Deficit

August 4, 2015 Blog, History, Intangible Heritage, Interpretation Comments (3) 310

Two weeks ago I spoke during the meeting of the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation regarding the Future of the National Register of Historic Places, which will be 50 years old next year.  I detailed some of the shortcomings that have emerged over that time, including a startling “Diversity Deficit.”

Less than 5% of the buildings listed on the National Register evoke the nation’s diverse history – the rest chronicle white men, who are much less than half the country.  I also detailed many of the challenges in preservation practice that we inherited from an architect-driven 1960s practice, one that has a tendency to focus too much on the formal.

The photo is one of may favorite examples, from St. Nicholas Avenue in Hamilton Heights, New York, the building lacks architectural integrity.  But Ralph Ellison wrote Invisible Man there in 1947, a book more relevant than ever today. The building is authentic but does not have integrity.  The problem is not the building but our practice – we adopted the architectural concept of “integrity” in 1966 instead of the international concept of “authenticity.” Continue Reading

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World Heritage in Texas!

July 5, 2015 Global Heritage, History, Texas Comments (0) 324

This is the time of year new World Heritage sites are inscribed by UNESCO.  The total number passed 1000 last year, after over 40 years of the program.  As I have noted before, the United States has not taken advantage of World Heritage status in many years, partly due to a political funding dispute.  Absurdly, the U.S. has refused to pay its UNESCO dues for many years, so even though we can arguably afford to take care of our sites, at World Heritage level, we are deadbeats. Continue Reading

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Transforming the Heritage Field

May 7, 2015 Historic Districts, History Comments (0) 306

Lockport, Illinois, part of the I & M Canal National Heritage Corridor

The first of two blogs on my plan to transform the statutory and philanthropic foundations of heritage conservation.  Today we deal with the statutory in the United States…

As I prepare to move on from Global Heritage Fund after three years, I am committed more than ever to the transformation of the field of heritage conservation.  In the distant past, heritage conservation was a curatorial activity that sanctioned and even encouraged the removal of physical – and intangible – artifacts from our economic everyday in order to conserve them as if under a bell jar.  But, as I demonstrated in my dissertation, that approach began to die as historic preservation (in the U.S.) and heritage conservation (everywhere else) were infused with community-based activism and organization in the 1960s.  I had the good fortune of coming into the field during the creation of the first heritage area in the U.S. 32 years ago. Continue Reading

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Literature and Landmarks

January 17, 2015 History, Interpretation, Vision and Style Comments (1) 306

This is the building in Harlem New York where Ralph Ellison wrote Invisible Man.  There have been extensive alterations, some of which were there in 1947 when he wrote the book. 

This week Ray Bradbury’s classic book Fahrenheit 451 was occupying our living room couch because my daughter was reading it as a high school assignment.  As I did, as many of us did.  It is a classic about the need for books, for culture, in the face of dystopia.  At the same time, the author’s home for over 50 years was being demolished a few hundred miles to the south, in Los Angeles, by the prize-winning architect Thom Mayne.  You can see the demolition and read about it here.    People are so upset that Mayne himself said it was “a bummer,” and you know how hard it is to crack an architect’s ego.

But the larger and more interesting question is:  How do we preserve the legacy, the memory, the significance of a literary landmark?  The issue is at the heart of many of our current debates about the National Register of Historic Places and the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards, both of which are geared toward architecture and are not always ideally suited to the preservation of memory, of culture, of the rich loam that nourishes books like Fahrenheit 451 and all of the students who have read it for the last half-century.  Here are a few examples I have used to illustrate literary landmarks over the years, and each of them betrays an architectural modesty, if not monstrosity.  They are significant not because of their form, but because of what happened there. Continue Reading

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