Track 4: This New World: Preservation technology and emerging issues within our historic buildings and built landscapes
2 - Preservation versus Conservation: Expanding the Definition
Wednesday, September 26
10:30 AM - 12:00 PM
Historic preservation can be restrained by its linguistic terminology, which may limit its larger role in society. In our book, Historic Preservation: An Introduction to Its History, Principles, and Practice, we asked the question: What is the underlying value and staying power of the terminology that defines our role as preservationists? This paper opens a dialogue to further the discussion of who we are and what we do.
The terminology—historic preservation—itself may be an impediment. The problem is not so much the actual words as it is the perception that historic preservation has in the past been identified with elite individuals or groups who have the means and time to be involved with such activities. Other countries use the more inclusive term heritage conservation when referring to historic preservation activities. Heritage conservation is the commonly accepted term in Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia, and Japan, for example. In Great Britain, heritage conservation incorporates a larger sphere that includes both historic structures and the natural environment. The five hundred sites owned by the English National Trust include castles, houses, and monuments but also gardens, nature preserves, and parks, as well as over 775 miles of coastline.
Although some may prefer terms such as heritage conservation, there is a reason historic preservation is prevalent in the United States. As writer and professor James Marston Fitch asserted in his book, Historic Preservation: Curatorial Management of the Built World, “The term will continue to serve as the umbrella name for the field for the simple reason that it has become institutionalized, e.g., the National Trust for Historic Preservation; the Association for Preservation Technology; the societies for the Preservation of New England, Virginia, and Long Island Antiquities; national legislation entitled Historic Preservation Act of 1966; and courses in some 90 universities classed as preservation-oriented.” Concurrent to its fifty-year celebration, APT has created a new Code of Ethics. In doing so, members grappled with the terms preservation and conservation. So many institutions and legal documents use the term preservation, including APT, that it is hard to imagine abandoning it altogether.
Other terms equivalent to historic preservation might include conservation zone, heritage district, designation zone, or simply historic area or region. Some American academic institutions have adjusted their curricula to include courses and concentrations in heritage conservation. But will the term historic preservation actually be replaced? Perhaps, if historic preservation moves beyond its linguistic and cultural constraints and is redefined by the larger role it can play in society. Although some see the inherent value, even necessity, of this revision, such a change would be feasible only over time.
- Distinguish between the terms preservation and conservation as they relate to advocacy for the built environment.
- Conduct an informed debate with other preservation or conservation professionals about how we define our role in society.
- Describe examples from around the world where the various terms of professional identity are applied.
- Understand the mission of APT to advance the application of traditional and contemporary technology appropriate to conservation of the built environment and the cultural resources that contribute to its significance.