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HistoricEnvironment_NetworkKey takeaways:
The Environmental Design Research Association’s (EDRA’s) Historic Environment Knowledge Network is probably the most mature and relevant venue to address how heterodox theory can change built heritage conservation practice.
Consider joining EDRA and its Historic Environment Knowledge Network.
Consider submitting an abstract or paper for the next EDRA conference.
Guidance is available in the “Principles for Integrating Environmental Design and Behavior Research into Built Heritage Conservation Practice” (PDF) document created by the Historic Environment Network.


How to Implement Heterodox Theory in Built Heritage Conservation Practice?

Are you interested in exploring ways to help implement heterodox theory in the conservation of the historic environment? Would you like to tackle some of the questions that need to be answered? Consider joining the Environmental Design Research Association’s (EDRA’s) Historic Environment Knowledge Network.

EDRA’s Historic Environment Knowledge Network is certainly not the only option, but as far as I am aware, it is the most mature and relevant venue for the topic of integrating heterodox heritage approaches in conservation practice.

What are the requirements for an appropriate venue to address the implementation of heterodox theory in built heritage conservation practice?

Any forum or venue that addresses how heterodox conservation theory can be implemented in practice must involve the participation of both practitioners and academics in a dialog of equals. All participants need to understand that one of the possible outcomes is that there are some areas of conservation practice that may not be able to accommodate heterodox theory, but until we try, we will never know what is, and is not, possible.

Ideally, the forum/venue should have had some prior experience in bringing academics and practitioners together to address social science research that addresses people/place and behavior in order to develop pragmatic, applied and efficient social science research methods. Participatory action research (PAR) should also be a part of this discussion in the context of empowering communities and balancing regimes of power.

What existing entities might be appropriate as a forum/venue?

In the heritage conservation world, there are many NGO and governmental organizations that address orthodox theory and practice, such as the National Park Service (US), English Heritage (UK), or the Australian Council of National Trusts. Most of these organizations primarily support the work of heritage practitioners (as opposed to the work of scholarly researchers/academics). For example, both English Heritage and the US-based National Trust for Historic Preservation (see “Why Do Old Places Matter?“) have shown an interest in aspects of heterodox heritage, but there is not yet a dedicated forum/venue to specifically address the topic of implementing heterodox heritage as is being proposed here. If you represent an organization with an interest in serving as a forum/venue in the pursuit of how heterodox theory can be implemented in built heritage conservation practice, please contact me.

The International Council of Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS) (and individual country chapters of ICOMOS) have scientific committees that are officially tasked to “Gather, study and disseminate information concerning principles, techniques and policies.” While many of the active members of these committees are academic scholars, practitioners also participate to some extent. As with the other NGOs mentioned, there is currently no ICOMOS scientific committee that specifically addresses the implementation of heterodox theory in built heritage conservation practice, although many of the existing committees already address some elements of this inquiry, such as the International Committee on Intangible Cultural Heritage (ICICH). If you are interested in forming a new ICOMOS scientific committee to address the challenges of implementing heterodox heritage in practice, or you are a member of an existing committee and would like to address these issues, please contact me.

Lastly, there is the Environmental Design Research Association (EDRA). I bring up this option last because, in my opinion, it currently offers the best forum/venue–the Historic Environment Knowledge Network–for the discussion and investigation of how heterodox theory could be implemented in built heritage conservation practice. EDRA, along with the International Association of People-Environment Studies (IAPS), are the only entities that specifically focus on bringing academics and practitioners together in a multidisciplinary venue to address the person-behavior-environment relationship, which is fundamental to many of the questions posed in implementing heterodox heritage practice. EDRA has a 40+ year track record of addressing environment-behavior research that brings practitioners and academics together under the umbrella of social science research methods.

EDRA offers a place where people from many disciplines (e.g., anthropology, sociology, psychology, architecture, landscape architecture, planning, interior design) collectively address a common issue/topic/problem and put their disciplinary assumptions aside. About half of the attendees are practitioners while the other half are academics, so there is an implicit focus on using theory to inform practice and vice versa. At EDRA, we are self-described “misfits” because of the interdisciplinary nature of our work that doesn’t seem to fit anywhere else. It’s one of the few places I’ve been where I can describe my interest in the social sciences and built heritage conservation and people just “get it”.

Although EDRA’s yearly conference and proceedings have always included papers on the historic environment, I created the Historic Environment Knowledge Network there in 2008 to help increase the focus on this topical area and provide a forum for like-minded practitioners and researchers to collaborate and help answer some of the questions related to implementing heterodox heritage practice.

EDRA’s Historic Environment Knowledge Network has created the guiding document, “Principles for Integrating Environmental Design and Behavior Research into Built Heritage Conservation Practice” (PDF) to help foster social science research on ways in which people value, perceive, and are affected by the historic environment with the aim of influencing practice.

Consider joining EDRA and the Historic Environment Network and help us address some of the questions related to heterodox heritage. At a minimum, you can submit an abstract or paper at the yearly international conference, which usually takes place at the end of May. (Call for abstracts and papers are usually in July and submission deadlines are in September.) Examples of papers presented at EDRA conferences include:

  • “Towards a Holistic Understanding of ‘Authenticity’ of Cultural Heritage: An Analysis of World Heritage Site Designations in the Asian Context”, Kapila Silva, Julie Lawless
  • “Use of a Mixed Methodology in Historic Preservation: Perception of Visual and Physical Features in Preserving Urban Historic Districts”, You-Kyong Ahn, Traci Montgomery
  • “Regional Characteristics of Landscape Heritage in Kyushu and Okinawa Area”, Naoko Fujita
  • “Space and Movement Dynamics in the Old City Of Jeddah, Saudi Arabia: Lessons for Heritage Planning of the Historic Cities in Islamic Societies”, Mahbub Rashid, Ahmed Bindajam
  • “The Global City of Doha: Is There Room for Heritage?”, Djamel Boussa
  • “The Symbolic Authenticity of Heritage Places”, Kapila Silva
  • “Heritage and Dwelling: Opportunities for Reanimation of the Small Industrial City”, Lynne Dearborn, Elisa Laurini
  • “Understanding the Relationships Between Movement, Function, and Space in the Historical Core of Jeddah, Saudi Arabia”, Ahmed Bindajam
  • “Historic Districts as Restorative Environments”, Azza Eleishe
  • “Preservation and Townscape of Japanese Traditional Houses: A Case of Koyasan”, Yoshihiro Kametani
  • “New Uses for Old Buildings: Boosting Tourism Through Preservation, Restoration, and Adaptive Reuse”, Theodore Drab
  • “To Preserve: Historical Consciousness in a Suburban New Urbanist Community”, Bryan Orthel, J. Philip Gruen
  • “Placemaking and Authenticity in Historic Environments”, Jeremy Wells, Daniel Levi, Sara Kocher, April Allen
  • “The Intangible Cultural Heritage: What It Is & What To Do About It”, Kapila D. Silva, Neel Kamal Chapagain, Sharif Shams Imon, Ehab Kamel, Amita Sinha, Marina Mellado Corriente, Sonal Mithal Modi, Wantanee Suntikul, Annie Varma, Dina Shehayeb
  • “Memory, Redevelopment, and Cultural Landscape: Two Case Studies of Loss and Response”, Bryan Orthel
  • “Valuation of Cultural Heritage: Towards a Conceptual Model and Potential Evaluation Strategies”, Zena O’Connor
  • “A Systemic Theory for Historic Preservation: Land Use Management Strategies as Preservation Policy”, Galen Newman

For questions/observations/comments/concerns

Please contact me directly or leave a comment (below) if you have any interest in collaborative research opportunities, influencing practice, developing case studies, or questions about the EDRA Historic Environment Knowledge Network. If you have alternative ideas for exploring how heterodox theory can be implemented in conservation practice, please let me know.

-Jeremy C. Wells


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