How do we decide what deserves to be preserved? There are countless sites and objects out there in the world, out there in our country, so how do we know what we should and should not keep for future generations? This week we looked at just some of the reasons why we preserved things and what some of those things were, as well as how they got preserved. Let’s start with Public History. Here we were given a basic understanding of what goes into preservation. For example, how some call for a rehabilitation of an old building to make it how it was in the past once more, while others call for it to remain untouched forever. So, groups have to decide whether something falls under stabilization/preservation, reconstruction, restoration, or rehabilitation, these choices are all just the first steps in historic preservation.
The call for historic preservation in our country has gone through various stages of importance throughout its lifetime. In the early days, the colonists held the Old World in high esteem, but they also looked toward the future of the New World. At the same time the history of the New World did not matter to them because it was not their history. So, much of that history would be lost and forgotten as those who would preserve it, the Native Americans, were forced away from that land and those traditions. Much later, people started trying to preserve the past for various reasons. Historic preservation can be applied to an object, a building, a battlefield, a plot of land, almost anything one could think of. In most cases the reason something gets preserved is because someone calls for its preservation, but the reasons behind those calls can be numerous. Many of the early examples from the start of the preservation movement, between the 1880s and 1940s, were objects that organizations like the Brahmins and the DAR wanted to preserve. The reason they wanted to protect these objects and buildings was not to keep them around for future generations, however, but to give accreditation their organizations. Other areas of preservation, like Colonial Williamsburg, were constructed simply to keep a way of life from being lost forever. The national parks are also a good example of protecting sites for future generations, as well as the national monuments that were originally protected under the Antiquities Act of 1906. Places and objects are also preserved for greedy reasons. In Mickey Mouse History Mike Wallace points out how people started going on trips and vacations explicitly to see historic places such as the French Quarter in Louisiana, and that these places were extremely profitable, so more and more cities began to look for something to protect and make a profit from in the tourist industry.
The issue of preservation is still a fight that is going on today. We, the people, can help have a say in what gets preserved and we can do it from the comfort of our own homes. Take a look at the National Register of Historic Places Program on the National Park Service website and check out some facts about preservation and how anyone can submit a nomination for preservation! The National Trust for Historic Preservation is also a great site to see just what preservation has done for our country and what more it could do. Places like the Empire State Building and any other national monument wouldn’t be here for anyone to enjoy without some sort of preservation process. To keep these places lasting past the foreseeable future they need visitors and funds. Some places, like the Eastern State Penitentiary are getting creative in producing funds. The ESP gives historic tours during the day and has a haunted house tour during the nights. If you’re not sure you want to visit a place check out their website and see if they have a podcast to listen to to get a taste of the experience. The Metropolitan Museum of Art has a few podcasts up. One I found interesting urges you to take a look, just to take a look around you and imagine the work that went into creating these pieces of art in “One Bottle: Any Bottle”, it helps give you a sense of the various things that can be protected and preserved for the future.
This country wouldn’t be what it is without preservation. We wouldn’t have the national parks, monuments, or historic sites. We wouldn’t have museums or historic homes. There would be many less reasons to travel and we would lose a part of our identity because “a future in which America found itself without roots [and] without a sense of identity” is a country “with nothing to lose.” (Mikey Mouse History 187)