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Historic Preservation @Fifty Years: What is Going On?

By Brenda Barrett July 29, 2015
Preservation50 - 1966-2016. Credit: Preservation@50

Preservation50 – 1966-2016. Credit: Preservation@50

Anniversaries are big news. Last year was the 30th anniversary of the National Heritage Areas. This year in 2015 US ICOMOS reached the magical five decades. The Land and Water Conservation Fund will turn 40 in 2016. The much talked about Centennial of the National Park Service is also just over the horizon.

But it is the fiftieth anniversary of the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966 that has caught my attention and that of the historic preservation world. Passing the fifty year mark has special significance in a field that sets that number as the marker for determining a resource’s historicity. “Generally, properties eligible for listing in the National Register are at least 50 years old. Properties less than 50 years of age must be exceptionally important to be considered eligible for listing.

The rich irony of the National Historic Preservation program turning fifty and itself becoming historic has not been lost on many observers. So as the count down begins – with events that strike both a celebratory and a more reflective tone. A web site Preservation 50 has been launched as gathering point for information with well-designed posters and other merchandise. Trust the National Trust for Historic Preservation to find a position at the more festive end of the spectrum. The venerable Annual conference titled Past Forward (November 3-6 2015 in Washington DC) is “to begin a year-long celebration of the National Historic Preservation Act’s 50th anniversary with programming that celebrates and honors the past while looking decisively forward toward our next 50 years.”

Preservation 50 1966-2016. Credit: Preservation@50

Preservation 50 1966-2016. Credit: Preservation@50

The National Association of Preservation Commissions has adopted a slogan for their conference with the forced gaiety that usually marks an “over-the-hill” themed birthday party – Hip, Happening Historic Preservation @ 50. However, on a more serious note the organization is also calling for papers on future facing topics: Preservation@50, advocacy, diverse and underrepresented resources, and climate change

Goucher’s Historic Preservation Program is striking a more thoughtful tone with a national forum “A Critical Examination of the next Fifty Years”. The forum will examine predicted changes in America’s population, economy, natural environment, everyday technology, and education at all levels over the next 50 years will affect the theories, policies, and professional practice of historic preservation in the United States at all levels of government and within the private and non-profit sectors. Finally, taking the long view the The Public Historian and History@work teamed up in 2013 to inaugurate a set of conversations over the next three years “to assess the history, impact, and legacy of the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966.” – See the results here.

I for one am looking forward to these discussions. As in many fields that started as a movement, there gets to be a point where it is time to grow up. Historic Preservation is not alone in this problem; many of my colleagues in the environmental movement are facing the same challenge.

Some of the best ideas I have heard came from a recent talk by Randy Mason, Chair of the Graduate Program in Historic Preservation Program at the University of Pennsylvania. He urged practioners to redesign historic preservation. Perhaps even reframing our work not as preservation, but as conservation, design and planning. As a field we should be less dependent on prescriptive polices and not settle for small victories, but take more flexible and expansive approach.

This is music to ears of someone who has been urging a landscape scale vision for historic preservation, conservation and the future of sustainable communities. I look forward to more!

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Pennsylvania Hallowed Ground: A Landscape of Hope

By Brenda Barrett September 2, 2013
Credit: Larry Knutson Penn Trails

Pennsylvania Hallowed Ground: Work Day Lincoln Colored Cemetery, Mechanicsburg, PA

I like to think that once upon a time our cemeteries were inviolate landscapes cared for by the communities who created them. They did not have to be not classified as historic preservation projects or land conservation initiatives or tourism opportunities. But I have learned that many burial sites fall between the cracks of all such efforts both incremental and intentional. Rural cemeteries are abandoned as populations shift and families move on to new opportunities. Urban cemeteries fall victim to changing land use and financial downturns.

African-American cemeteries are particularly vulnerable.  Recent experiences in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania illustrate the challenges. In the run up to the 150th Anniversary of the Battle Of Gettysburg, Lenwood Sloan, then Director of Heritage and Cultural Tourism, kicked off a series of innovative projects to tell a more inclusive story of the state’s Civil War history. The work started by conserving and researching the 97 United States Colored Troops (USCT) military muster rolls that were located in the Pennsylvania Archives. Of the eight thousand USCT who served in Pennsylvania regiments, the muster rolls documented those who survived. The tourism office then selected 100 African American Civil War veterans who were from Pennsylvania for further research and interpretation. The research tracked down and documented forty-two cemeteries across the commonwealth where USCT veterans were interred.

Credit: Brenda Barrett

Pennsylvania Hallowed Ground: Memorial Day Midland Cemetery Steelton PA

This is where the story of the Pennsylvania (PA) Hallowed Ground begins. In seeking out these cemeteries, the tourism office found that some had become overgrown and forgotten; others were being cared for by stewards who were growing older and were seeking the next generation of caretakers. In an effort to help, the office sent out teams to assess the conditions of the burial sites and began to link the community of caretakers. They offered genealogical workshops and specialty tours and voluntourism programs. However, just as the program began to pick up steam a change in the Governor’s office in 2010 brought changes to the tourism office’s priorities. The state’s Visit PA web site still list some of these sites like the Lincoln Cemetery in Penbrook near the State’s Capitol of Harrisburg as places to visit. But today, there is no state program to help coordinate visitation or support the site’s caretakers. Many of the web links are now just dead ends.

Credit: Larry Knutson Penn Trails

Volunteers at the Lincoln Colored Cemetery, Mechanicsburg, PA

But for the cemetery caretakers the work goes on. Leaders such Barbara Barksdale at the Midland Cemetery in Steelton continues her over two decades of regular site maintenance with helpers as disparate as the work release crew from the county prison to the wrestling team at a local college. The VFW Post in Mechanicsburg still holds work parties at the Lincoln Colored Cemetery in a farm field in Lower Allen Township. The local United Way’s provides volunteers for cemtery clean ups through the annual Day of Caring. Recently a small group of volunteers, who have dubbed themselves the PA Hallowed Ground project, have received a modest grant from the National Trust for Historic Preservation for an annual gathering for the caretakers and a few hands on workshops. They continue to seek opportunities to keep the community together.

There is so much still to learn from PA’s Hallowed Ground. The fact that the USCT veterans were laid to rest in segregated burial grounds in the state where they served, that such cemeteries were often unincorporated places where even today ownership is unclear, that there are veterans from many conflicts honored at these sites, and that there are still places to discover and protect. However, the most important lesson is this – dedicated and caring people are still hard at work tending some of the nation’s most sacred places. And doing so, as Lenwood Sloane says  “with their hands in the earth and their hands on their hearts’.

Despite all odds this is a landscapes of hope.

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Finding a fit for cultural landscapes: Is it “preservation” or “conservation”?

By Guest Observer April 30, 2013

By Paulette Wallace

As an offshore visitor attending the recent George Wright Society conference: “Protected areas in a changing world,” in Denver in March, I was pleasantly surprised by the number of sessions focus sing on the cultural elements of protected areas management. What made the presentations all the more exciting was that the concept of “cultural landscapes” was a frequent topic of discussion. On at least three occasions, (and despite the sequester), I heard of the United States National Park Service’s efforts to revitalize the toolkit it employs for the identification and management of cultural landscapes. As part of how this “revitalization” might be enacted, US Park staff were working to have cultural landscapes included as a distinct property type within the National Register of Historic Places criteria. It was also conveyed that staff were working to enable greater recognition of National Heritage Areas for cultural landscape management.

Yet, while these initiatives were widely supported, Hugh Miller, a stalwart of the cultural landscape movement in the United States, drew attention to the view that any innovation for the identification and management of cultural landscapes is impeded by the existence of “preservation” at the heart of the US Park Service’s system of cultural resource management. My interpretation of preservation recognises that the term has traditionally been concerned with properties and districts of architectural and/or historical significance. The term is fabric focused and suggestive of minimising change to the original configuration, arresting the tangible to a certain point in time, and closing the heritage item off to all external forces. People’s feelings and ideas of connection to place do not automatically associate with my ideas of what preservation encompasses. This kind of understanding of preservation does not lend itself to the concept of cultural landscapes where change is inherent, and where cultural landscapes look to the future with an eye to the past, rather than capturing a date, or era from that past.

In contrast, “conservation” is the guiding term that I am familiar with in my part of the world. In Australia and New Zealand our heritage management systems are led by “conservation” – “conservation” is not the same thing as “preservation”. Rather than focusing on arresting change, conservation connotes a more processual approach to caring for heritage for the future. Conservation also seems to be more open and connected to cultural significance – people’s feelings and connections to place. To conserve is to accept that change and progress may be necessary. It is perhaps also a term that sits more easily across the natural and the cultural, and one which might also be more aligned with indigenous heritage perspectives.

Therefore, if our understandings of what heritage involves in today’s “changing world” are growing exponentially to mirror the mounting complexity and diversity of surrounding social and economic forces, then the ways and means for managing that heritage also necessitates a more open and inclusive approach. Cultural landscape provides a useful tool, yet at the same time it is restricted by falling under the direction of preservation. If the US Park Service is serious about cultural landscapes to support the management of the vernacular, ethnographic, and the indigenous, in addition to the more standard historically designed landscapes, than perhaps cultural landscapes needs to function as a management category that sits between “Natural Resource Management” and “Cultural Resource Management”. Then if this could be achieved, there needs to a further adjustment of the terminology to support “Bio-Cultural Landscapes” as the section heading.

Paulette Wallace is a PhD Candidate at Deakin University in Melbourne, Australia. Her research is investigating how the major parks agencies in New Zealand, Australia, Canada and the United States of America are engaging with the concept of cultural landscapes for heritage management. Paulette worked as a historic ranger for the New Zealand Department of Conservation before moving to full-time study in March 2011.

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National Trust for Historic Preservation: A Tale of Two Sessions

By Brenda Barrett November 30, 2012

Scene from Glacier National Park, part of the larger Crown of the Continent landscape.

Large landscapes. Living Landscapes. Cultural Landscapes – what a difference a few words can make! Earlier this month, a pair of well-received sessions at the National Trust for Historic Preservation Annual Meeting in Spokane, Washington highlighted the challenges associated with defining these terms. The two back-to-back panels, which both tackled landscape scale issues, drew very different responses from the audience – a testament to how exciting, yet also contested, these ideas remain.

The first session Indigenous Cultural Landscapes: New Ideas on Place presented work underway in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed that has redefined landscapes from the perspectives and lifestyles of pre-contact Native peoples. The goal of this expanded definition is to better interpret the place of American Indians on the land. It also draws on Indigenous knowledge systems to strengthen conservation practice by adding a cultural perspective to areas already significant for their ecological resources and water protecting capacity.

Deanna Beacham, an American Indian Program Manager with the National Park Service, started the panel’s conversation on how the concept of the Indigenous Cultural Landscape has been used to enrich the Chesapeake Bay region’s understanding of place. Lisa Hayes from Accokeek Foundation followed next, illustrating how the concept is being applied to better understand the homeland of the Piscataway in Maryland. Stephanie Toothman, Associate Director with the National Park Service, discussed the need to examine how the NPS uses the idea of cultural landscapes, especially in contexts where knowledge systems and values may or may not overlap.

For the next 45 minutes, attendees discussed and debated the meaning of this broader approach to cultural landscapes. The dialogue was quite rich and an overwhelming majority of attendees reported back on evaluations that this helped make the session one of their favorites at the conference. At the time and in the post session write-ups, a number of folks asked for more specifics on how this idea would impact the resources they care about and the work they do on the ground. Yet, others pushed back against this idea, noting that law and/or regulation is often used as a way to limit or contain the possibilities of new approaches. Hands flew in the air. What would mean it for the National Register criteria, as we know it today? How could it possibly work with the section 106 process? Who speaks for Indigenous peoples? Does it have any applicability in the western United States? Many were inspired as one person said, it presented “ the idea of a cultural landscape not as a static thing… it is a continuing discourse between the past, present
 and potential for the future.”

The afternoon session on Conservation on a Grand Scale: The Large Landscape Approach had a very different dynamic – maybe it was the after lunch time slot or the room which was a bit cavernous. The second panel featured Mark Preiss, the manager of Eby’s Landing National Preserve, and Shawn Johnson, who coordinates the work of the Crown of the Continent Roundtable. They presented complex work that crosses jurisdictional boundaries and integrates private and public lands to achieve a partnerships approach to land and water conservation and natural resource management. Both panelists talked from a large landscape perspective and emphasized the importance of integrating culture and nature values.

However, despite the scale of these large landscape efforts and the inclusion of cultural resources as key components, no challenging questions were raised about how these resources were identified or defined. The largely positive post session reviews expressed no uncertainty about how it would impact the field of historic preservation. What if the session was titled Cultural Landscape Conservation on a Grand Scale? Would the conversation have taken a different turn? Perhaps the emphasis on an ecosystem approach, stretching across multiple states, proved a bit unfamiliar to National Trust conference attendees, whose work tends to focus on smaller areas or sites. Perhaps not, but whatever the reason, the two sessions produced markedly different responses among participants.

For a fuller description of the session and speakers see link to the National Trust Conference Program in Spokane WA for Friday Nov 1, 2012

 

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Fall Meetings and Networking

By Brenda Barrett July 25, 2012

This Fall Meet Up on Large Landscapes

Summer is the time to plan for  the upcoming conference season. Until recently there have been limited opportunities for folks on the ground to learn and share their best ideas on the large landscapes movement. However, this fall has produced a good crop of chances to get together. On the east coast, the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources is hosting the Conservation Landscape Summit: Naturally Connecting People and Places October 29-30, 2012 in Harrisburg PA.  This gathering will include elected officials, local organizations, and business owners who are working in seven conservation landscapes across the commonwealth to use natural assets for conservation and economic revitalization efforts.

Meanwhile for those on the west coast, the National Trust for Historic Preservation is holdings its annual conference for the first time in Spokane, Washington. On Friday November 1, 2012, there will be two sessions of interest. The Indigenous Cultural Landscapes: New Ideas on Place will look at defining larger landscapes from the perspectives and lifestyles of pre-Colonial Native peoples. A second session, Conservation on a Grand Scale: Large Landscape Approach, will provide an opportunity for the cultural community to shape the new landscape movement and develop working partnerships with environmental organizations. The speakers at both sessions are leaders in this new field and welcome your questions and participation.

This is all part of a trend to adapt the large landscape movement to encompass community sustainability and cultural heritage.  Oh, one more reminder from the Living Landscape Observer. If you are interested in cultural landscapes at a global scale consider attending the October 12-13 Cultural Landscapes Challenges in the 21st Century, Rutgers University, NJ . Celebrating the 40th anniversary of the World Heritage Convention and the 10th anniversary of the Declaration on Cultural Landscapes, the conference will bring together scholars and professionals from around the world.

 

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