Questions that remain

The previous two articles (Conservation Today and Conservation Tomorrow?) summarized the state of the theory and practice of historic environment conservation and how it could change in the future to place people in the center of practice, focus more on conserving meanings associated with heritage, and balance power between experts and most stakeholders. Now let’s assume that we try to turn heterodox conservation theory into practice. Unfortunately, this just isn’t possible today until we have the answers to the following five questions:

  1. How can the orthodox/heterodox conversation begin to happen among practitioners? Currently, the conversation is solely among a small group of heritage studies academics with little or no participation from practitioners.
  2. How can heterodox theorists pragmatically address how practitioners can use heterodox theory in their practice? Currently, the literature largely ignores practical ways built heritage conservation practice can accommodate heterodox theory.
  3. Can heterodox heritage conservation be implemented in statutes, ordinances, and rules? Should it be? No one knows yet, but the legal challenges appear to be quite daunting.
  4. How can we develop pragmatic, practical social science tools for practitioners, including ways to implement participatory research? Currently, existing social science research methods are not well adapted to use by practitioners who are not already social scientists.
  5. How can heritage experts communicate with most stakeholders using the language of laypeople to describe the importance of heritage conservation and how the authenticity of buildings, places, and landscapes can be retained? Current practice is to communicate with most stakeholders using the jargon of the heritage expert, which often alienates most people.

Lastly, we currently lack the following empirical evidence to substantiate conservation practice, which could be provided by environment/behavior research and/or conservation social science methodologies:

  1. How do most people value the historic environment? What is meaningful about it to them?
  2. How does the historic environment influence people’s behavior?
  3. What are the psychological effects of the historic environment on people? How does the historic environment influence emotional attachment to place?
  4. How do most people perceive the authenticity of the historic environment? What impact does authenticity have on cultural practices and on individuals?

Next: Consider working with the Environmental Design Research Association’s Historic Environment Network to address these questions

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