Balancing conservation practice

1. Balancing practice between meanings and fabric

Cultural landscapes and built heritage are important to people, but the ways in which these places are conserved are not responsive to people’s values, perceptions, and needs. On this site is a three-part investigation that looks at the state of conservation today, what it could look like tomorrow, and questions that need to be answered followed by ways you can become involved in changing research and practice.

  • Conservation today — Is there a problem with the orthodox theory and practice of conserving the historic environment today?
  • Conservation tomorrow? — Moving from continuity of fabric to the continuity of meanings: a heterodox approach.
  • Questions that remain — It’s not so easy to convert heterodox conservation theory into practice.
  • Take action — Ways in which you can participate in making heritage conservation theory and practice more responsive to people.

2. Why practice needs to change

The orthodox practice of heritage conservation excels at talking to its own, expert members, but fails to communicate essential messages to everyday people as to how and why it is important to conserve the historic environment. One reason for this disconnect is that orthodox practice focuses too much on fabric and not enough on the people who benefit from heritage conservation. Without people, there is no reason to conserve; the values and perceptions of most stakeholders need to become as central to conservation practice as the conservation of physical fabric.

3. Methods to gather evidence

How can social science research methodologies be used to gather empirical evidence to substantiate practice?

4. Evidence to change practice

There is very little evidence to substantiate the way in which the conservation of the historic environment is performed, especially in context with the goal that its activities are in the public good. What does “evidence-based heritage conservation” look like, especially when such evidence is gathered via social science research methodologies?

5. Defining the discipline

What exactly is a “built heritage conservator” or a professional “historic preservationist”? What characteristics do they share with other built environment disciplines? What are the challenges in working with architects, planners, and other built environment specialists?

6. Teaching heterodox theory and practice

How should postsecondary educators of heritage conservation and historic preservation degree programs address heterodox conservation theory and practice? For these educators, there is little agreement on how to address this topic and for what material students should be held accountable.