Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Does this Place Matter to You? Searching for Relevancy at a Professional Conferences

February 6-8, 2013 marked the annual Saving Places Conference in Denver Colorado. The conference was organized by ColoradoPreservation Inc. (CPI).  CPI is dedicated to promoting historic preservation by providing education, training, expertise and advocacy to communities throughout the state of Colorado. This state historic preservation conference is an important part of CPI’s outreach and brings together preservation professionals and local community members passionate about historic places in the Rocky Mountain region.

This year’s conference was entitled, The Language of Preservation: Building a Relevant Message for the 21st Century. Like sustainability, resiliency, inclusiveness and green, the word relevant is one of those popular buzz words in today’s society. In the historic preservation field, relevancy has become the antidote for declining interest and waning public support for historic preservation. Many of the conference sessions touched on this very topic: how do we make historic sites relevant within our society?

In other words, how do we make people care about the historic places we care about? This begs an even bigger question, should people really care about historic places? Do these sites truly reflect our diverse American culture? 

Questions about relevancy are part of a larger issue regarding history and how we learn about the past. Often our first experiences with history are in the classroom. We're handed dusty text books full of historic facts and are expected to commit these facts to memory. And then not too long after, we're tested on remembering historic dates with only one right answer. At an early age we are taught to think of history as static facts which result in clear outcomes. 

However, this robs history of its most valuable and enduring quality:

Actions in the past result in diverse outcomes for different people and historic events are wide open to interpretation from multiple perspectives depending on your age, gender, ethnicity, or religious background. In the search for relevancy we must be willing to embrace numerous human experiences throughout history. And historic sites provide an opportunity to explore the multi-cultural layers of our nation’s past. 

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