Track 3: For Power or For Passage: Re-envisioning Historic Industrial and Transportation Infrastructure
APT Student Scholar Abstract
1 - What does it mean to preserve a historic technology? Exploring revitalization, interpretation and adaptation at historic hydropower sites.
Tuesday, September 25
10:30 AM - 12:00 PM
Michael Holleran, Ph.D – University of Texas at Austin
This study asks what it means to preserve a historic infrastructure system, and suggests how adaptation of historic technologies as operative sites may best serve interpretive, preservation and sustainability goals. Preservationists are constantly evaluating the physical historic fabric, the integrity, and the temporality of a site. The reality of both historic and modern technologies is that they are constantly evolving entities, and that their significance stretches beyond the physical fabric of the actual place. Preservation’s tools for placemaking, buildings and materiality are ill-equipped for some systems whose use has evolved constantly over centuries, and whose character is defined in their functionality. Operative examples offer the best opportunity for public history, interpretation and legibility. This is illustrated by a close examination of two historic hydropower systems at falls sites, and how they have been preserved, documented and adapted for public interpretation and continued use.
Through a review of the literature, this study endeavors to understand how the fields of historic preservation, industrial archaeology and civil engineering have handled infrastructure and industrial systems after the passage of the National Historic Preservation and and the establishment of the Historic American Engineering Record. This study also briefly touches on the arguments for and against the removal of dams and canal systems, a movement that gained momentum at the end of the 20th century. Then, by examining the St. Anthony Falls Heritage Area and the Paterson Great Falls National Historical Park, this paper explores how operative hydropower systems serve as excellent public history opportunities. By re-establishing energy generation is a visible and interpretable way, technological history becomes accessible and legible.
This study’s relevance to our present conversations is essential, as the national lens is focused on infrastructure revitalization. A 2015 report from the United States Department of Energy sets a goal for growing our nation’s hydroelectric power generation dramatically by the year 2050, and lists the alteration of existing dams as a key apparatus towards that goal. Hydropower was the backbone for 18th century industrialism after the American revolution, and history should be a part of the process of bringing that sustainability into the new era.
Finally, the presentation will define the goals of technology preservation as practitioners more and more often need to address complex mechanical and technological sites, like those commonly associated with adaptive reuse projects and structures developed in the computer age.
- Discuss the appropriateness of operative examples of historic and modern technologies as essential components of interpretation and public history.
- Consider the inclusion of unseen or underground infrastructure components as a part of the essential historic fabric of a site.
- Evaluate traits like integrity at historic infrastructure sites, considering constant and necessary adaptation as a component of the preservation story.
- Identify evidence of industrial hydropower systems and consider appropriate alterations to the industrial landscape.