Who Told Us That History Is Dead? It’s Very Much Alive, In Our Faces, and We Don’t Like It.
As someone who has been privileged to help run history & preservation organizations for the last 30 years, I feel compelled to call out, from my limited experience, what I see as not only my own, but external institutional bias, racism in the preservation field.
Please don’t respond defending preservation or historic districting, or Main Street Preservation Projects etc. I know there are good things about the field – but these have come later in its life and are exceptions rather than the underlying structure to the effort.
- Preservation is essentially an elitist, class and racially divisive activity whose result is a form of economic bias and segregation.
- History sites can perpetuate a divisive form of nostalgia that supports and validates racism and exclusion.
- Preservation can limit inclusion and perpetuate racial & social bias by regulating cultural narratives to simple themes.
- Historical regulations, district codes, and Preservation restrictions can be latently economically restrictive and culturally exclusionary, benefiting only those individuals who can afford the added costs, thus ensuring a form of aesthetically gated communities that reflect the dominant culture.
- Historic districting and preservation code requirements can be a contemporary form of “redlining” which excludes a diverse economic group of people from land ownership.
- Preservation is susceptible to the harshest form of capitalism in that only those historic sites that are targeted with money actually get preserved. Preservation choices are a matter of economics, not just history. The most revealing, unglamorous sites have rarely survived, nor have they been preserved.
- As Preservation has become more professionalized and can require a four-year degree, college has become more expensive and thus constricts the possibility of a racially, culturally, and economically equitable pool of professional practitioners. As a result, professional practices are sometimes biased.
- Preservationist, right now today, need to stop fetishizing the built environment and begin considering how preservation itself is part of the problem.
- Look at the money in Preservation. A budget reflects our priorities. Money goes where it is told. There is nothing natural about the market economy or what gets preserved. Wealth Preserves Wealth.
- Language as a tool of bias in Preservation with a weak notion of the appearance of diversity rather than full systemic representation. *
As Preservationists, We Must Do Better.