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)
I am an associate professor in the School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation at the University of Maryland, College Park (USA), where I teach in the graduate historic preservation program, focusing on preservation planning. My prior professional experience includes serving as the Principal Preservation Planner for the City of Denver and working as a Main Street (downtown revitalization) manager and an architectural materials conservator.
My research explores how people perceive and are affected by patina and decay in the built environment; the intersection between critical heritage studies and rules, laws, and regulations; heritage behavior, including the language everyday people use to describe old places; and the development of applied social science and participatory methodologies that can be used by practitioners. I am particularly interested in multicultural and social justice perspectives in my research and teaching and have worked with US-based Latino communities in Allentown (PA), Providence (RI), Woonsocket (RI), and San Juan (PR). In 2015, I completed a Fulbright scholarship to conduct community-based participatory research in Olinda, Brazil.
My publications, both co-edited with Barry Stiefel (College of Charleston), include Human-Centered Built Environment Heritage Preservation: Theory and Evidence-Based Practice (Routledge, 2019) and Preservation Education: Sharing Best Practices and Finding Common Ground (University Press of New England, 2014; distributed by the University of Chicago Press). My research has been published in the Journal of Architectural and Planning Research, Journal of Environmental Psychology, International Journal of Heritage Studies, Journal of the American Institute for Conservation, and the Association for Preservation Technology Bulletin along with numerous book chapters. I served as the co-editor of the referred journal, Preservation Education & Research, from 2013-15.
I am the Past Chair of the Environmental Design Research Association (EDRA), where I created EDRA’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. Through this network, I helped facilitate the creation of the “Principles for Integrating Environmental Design and Behavior Research into Built Heritage Conservation Practice” to help guide researchers and practitioners.
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