Who’s Preserving Our Heritage?

The stereotypical historic preservationist is most certainly the little old man or lady who, after retiring, has turned his or her attention to saving local buildings of historic significance.  As we progress further into the twenty-first century, we have to ask ourselves: does this stereotype hold any merit?

True, only twelve institutions in the United States offer Bachelor’s degrees in what the National Council for Preservation Education considers to be historic preservation.  There are almost triple the number of programs offering graduate degrees, which is still a small number in the grand scheme of the American university system.  But none of this holds back younger people from getting involved in preservation.

As with many movements involving younger generations, the internet plays a role, with HistPres.com touting itself as the preservation website for “this generation”.  Historic preservationists also have a place in the blogosphere, and on social media sites like Twitter and Facebook.  You can even find a rap about the National Register of Historic Places on YouTube.  The 2013 National Preservation Conference hosted a panel on social media and historic preservation, and encouraged conference attendees to live tweet the event using the hashtag #PresConf.  The conference also had a session called “Next Generation of Preservation Professionals,” and a high school Girl Scout presented on her project nominating a local school for the National Register.

Young preservationists have places to gather in person outside of conferences, too.  Groups for historic preservation students and young professionals can be found around the country, some more active than others.

For example, The Young Preservationists Association claims to be the only organization in the country dedicated to encouraging “the next generation” to become involved in preservation.  Their efforts include educational programs, tours, and special projects that allow students to learn about preservation.

One organization aimed at helping young professionals get their foot in the historic preservation door is the Architectural Conservancy of Ontario’s NextGen shadow program, which pairs emerging preservationists with experienced professionals for hands-on insight into the field.

Other organizations take a more relaxed route to give new historic preservationists networking opportunities.  Baltimore Heritage hosts Happy Hour events several times a year for “young preservationists.”  The Massachusetts Historical Society, the Boston Preservation Alliance, and the Foundation for Historical Louisiana all have special events and benefits for members under 40 and under 35, respectively.

Of course, all this calls into question the meaning of the word “young.”  Is it under 40, like the Massachusetts Historical Society and Boston Preservation Alliance have decided?  Recently, blogger and historic preservationist Kaitlin O’Shea of Preservation in Pink wrote about the problems with using the word.  She says it can refer to a wide variety of people: elementary school students, college students, or recent college grads.  She points out (as the examples above show) that more attention has been given to “young preservationists” in recent years than ever before.  But, she asks, does there need to be a divide?  This is, perhaps, an important question to consider for the future of the historic preservation field.  You can read her thoughts on the subject here and here.

In the end, though, what matters is that historic preservation efforts get the attention they need.  And whether “young preservationists” are elementary schoolers, recent college grads, or just young in spirit, they are certainly making their mark on the field both virtually and in reality!

Want to get involved in historic preservation?  Check out the upcoming projects with Adventures in Preservation!

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