About this site
In 2010, I created this web site as a way to help bring more awareness to heritage studies and the intersection of the social sciences and historic environment conservation theory and practice. Originally focused more on research and theory, I’ve since realized that there is a growing gulf between academic theorists and heritage practitioners. In a similar sense, NGOs that advocate for the conservation of the historic environment are losing their members as the “historic preservation movement” (in the US) gets lost in the noise of environmental conservation, sustainability, and smart growth. In addition, academics and practitioners seem to alienate the public rather than engender them to the conservation cause. We’ve lost (if we ever had) the ability to speak to the public in the language of the layperson about the importance of built heritage and cultural landscapes to human flourishing.
Most stakeholders think of built heritage in very different terms than heritage practitioners — subjective meanings versus objective facts — and view the bodies that protect built heritage as the “heritage police”. This is not a productive way to move forward. My somewhat humble suggestion is to understand, if not embrace, the perspective of most stakeholders in terms of the valuation and treatment of the historic environment. The idea of “trust” is somewhere in this dialog along with community empowerment.
I firmly believe that we cannot advance conservation practice without understanding the everyday person’s perception and valuation of the historic environment. Once we have this foundation, then incorporating an increasing array stakeholder values into practice makes more sense because these meanings can be contextualized.
All of this means that practice and theory has to change. Perhaps the perspectives of heritage studies theorists are simply unworkable in practice. Or maybe not. The reality is that we just don’t know. Shouldn’t we try to find out? Please consider joining me in this quest.
About me Download my curriculum vitae (PDF)
Since 2011, I have been an assistant professor of historic preservation in the Historic Preservation Program in the School of Art, Architecture, and Historic Preservation at Roger Williams University. Before that, I worked as a preservation planner, Main Street manager, and as an architectural materials conservator. I created the Environmental Design Research Association’s Historic Environment Knowledge Network in 2008 to work with other academics and practitioners in addressing the person/place and environment/behavior aspects of heritage conservation.
In my research, I am interested in how people perceive, value, and interact with historic environments and how this experience is similar to the experience of natural environments with a focus on place attachment. I use social science research methodologies, such as ethnographies, survey research, and phenomenology to answer these questions because, fundamentally, I believe that the conservation of the historic environment is an endeavor that benefits people.
Send me a note, below. I am especially interested in collaborative opportunities to advance the theory and practice of heritage conservation or on ways to improve this web site. Let’s work together.
– Jeremy C. Wells