Students in many graduate programs are faced with what is, at times, a daunting challenge of researching and writing a thesis. This is especially true when the thesis is empirical–in other words, the student has to employ a particular research methodology to collect, analyze, and then interpret data to answer a research question.
Since 2011, my students in the graduate historic preservation program at Roger Williams University have been using social science research methodologies to answer important questions related to the practice of built heritage conservation. My students’ work has included investigating the effectiveness of programmatic agreements for Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act, how sociocultural factors influence the decisions that school district administrators make in conserving historic school buildings, and how preservation architects interpret and apply design standards.
Some of my students have been interested in using methods from environment-behavior research to answer their research questions. A great example of this kind of inquiry is Nina Caruso’s (RWU MSHP ’14) investigation of the congruency between the original design intent of historic “rustic” architecture and how people perceive these places today. Her thesis, which is titled, “Visual Harmony in Relation to Camp Santanoni: User’s Perceptions and Interpretations of Visual Harmony between Historic Rustic Architectural Design and the Natural Environment Based on Recommendations Made by Downing, Olmsted and Wicks,” used photo sort techniques and stakeholder interviews to answer this question. Her work has direct implications on the potential management and conservation plans for Camp Santanoni.
Nina recently presented her work at the Cultural Landscapes and Heritage Values Conference hosted by the University of Massachusetts, Amherst in May to a receptive audience. Her thesis is a great example of the kind of cutting-edge research that graduate students in historic preservation/built heritage conservation programs can do to help advance practice.