How to Spend a Summer Becoming a Preservationist

Summer is just around the corner and with it opportunities for students to gain some professional experience in their chosen field. If your field is historic preservation, heritage conservation or some other related aspect, there are plenty of organizations that could use your help –  and help you kick-start your preservation career.

Preservation can be a particularly challenging field to enter. Given the small size and specialized nature of the field, it’s often difficult to get a job without experience and it’s hard to get experience without finding a job. For that reason, internships have been a mainstay of preservation training for years. Internships provide a boost to non-profit organizations that can use the staffing and energy young preservationists provide, and sometimes turn into permanent positions.

If you’re casting about for ways to gain some preservation experience, here are a few pointers. Of course, there’s plenty of opportunity for hands-on preservation work with Adventures in Preservation!

The National Park Service’s Heritage Documentation Program is  the granddaddy of them all. Begun with the Historic American Building Survey (HABS) and Historic American Engineering Survey (HAER), it has expanded to include to include the Historic American Landscapes Survey (HALS) and Cultural Resources Geographic Information Systems (CRGIS). Their mission is preservation through documentation, and each summer, they hire research and documentation teams. The programs last 12 weeks, beginning in May or June. The resulting documentation is placed in the Library of Congress. Employment is limited to US citizens; the application deadline is generally early February.

International opportunities are available via the US/ICOMOS international exchange program, which provides opportunities for young preservationists to work with international organizations. The program has been running for 25 years and has placed 600 professionals in preservation organizations. US volunteers have worked in Australia, Italy, Lithuania, Pakistan, Slovakia and the United Kingdom, among many others. Interns from outside the US often work at or with units of the National Park Service.

The program is very competitive. At a minimum, applicants must have an undergraduate degree in a preservation-related field. While there are no age restrictions, the program is designed for those nearing the end of their graduate programs (usually second year students) or those who have been working professionally for 1-3 years.

Good online sources for internship opportunities – and jobs – include PreservationDirectory.com and PreserveNet. Recent postings there included a Building Preservation/Restoration Intern, Stratford Hall, in Stratford, Virginia, and Historic Preservation Intern, Timucuan Ecological and Historic Preserve, in Jacksonville, Florida.

Check with your local or statewide preservation organization and see if they would welcome an intern. The advantage of this approach is the ability to define your own project. Initiative could lead to some very interesting projects.

Whatever you decide to do with your summer this year or next, I hope it’s a good one!

About Adventures in Preservation

Huge fans of the world's architectural heritage, making it a point to seek out historic buildings wherever we travel. Bloggers include co-founder of Adventures in Preservation, a non-profit organizing historic preservation-based volunteer vacations, and AiP interns.
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