Book Review: Historic Preservation Law in a Nutshell

By Special Contributor posted 09-16-2014 12:05


By Caitlin C. Fitzsimons

nutshellimageSara C. Bronin and Ryan Rowberry’s Historic Preservation Law in a Nutshell  (West Academic Publishing 2014) is a comprehensive resource for law students, attorneys, historic preservation law enthusiasts, and many more. Part of West Academic Publishing’s extensive “Nutshell Series” (or “Nutshells,” as law students affectionately call them), the study guide serves as an excellent companion to any law school course in historic preservation law as well as a summer legal internship in historic preservation law. 


Like its fellow Nutshells, Historic Preservation Law in a Nutshell outlines the major case law and statutes in the historic preservation law field and presents the material in a clear and concise discussion that facilitates the connections law students make in reading their casebooks. Bronin and Rowberry walk their reader through the intricacies of the three foundational, federal laws governing historic preservation in the United States, namely the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966, the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969, and Section 4(f) of the Department of Transportation Act of 1966. The authors also contemplate local regulation of historic preservation at the state, county, and town levels via historic preservation ordinances, which vary widely across the country. After surveying historic preservation law statutes and supplementing their discussion with relevant case law, Bronin and Rowberry move to federal constitutional constraints on historic preservation law, including the police power, due process, takings, religious liberty, and free speech. The second half of the Nutshell explores subtopics in historic preservation law including architectural protections for antiquities and abandoned shipwrecks, the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, and the federal and state rehabilitation tax credits. The authors conclude their study guide with a consideration of international preservation, highlighting the 1954 Hague Convention and 1970 and 1972 UNESCO Conventions.

The Nutshell largely follows the development of Bronin’s preeminent casebook, Historic Preservation Law, co-authored with J. Peter Byrne. Bronin and Rowberry depart from the casebook’s organization and content in the Nutshell’s opening and closing pages. While traditional law school casebooks prompt students to filter their lengthy readings for salient points, the Nutshell’s introduction very clearly digests the field of historic preservation, its rationales, and its scope in order to give the reader a quick understanding of the practice area. Similarly, the authors' final chapter on international preservation allows the reader to easily contextualize historic preservation in the United States in light of international conventions in the field.

Of particular interest to me is the authors' inclusion of the Antiquities Act of 1906 in their discussion of archaeological protections. In addition to my interest in the preservation of America’s historic places, I have also long been fascinated by the looting of objects of cultural heritage. Bronin and Rowberry’s explanation of the Antiquities Act and in particular, permits for archaeological excavation and penalties for inappropriate excavation, provides a concise overview of the federal legal protections for American cultural property. Similarly, the Nutshell’s chapter on international preservation delves into the international theft of cultural heritage objects in the authors’ discussion of the Hague and UNESCO Conventions, necessitated by the rampant looting during World War II.

Although the Nutshell was written to accompany a law school course in historic preservation law, the Nutshell is not overrun with “legalese.” Instead, Bronin and Rowberry’s language is clear and concise for any layperson to enjoy. Directors of a statewide organization or local community activists could certainly make good use of the text, as its comprehensive survey of historic preservation law clearly explains the legal tools at their disposal.

As an intern with the Law Division of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, the Nutshell proved an invaluable resource for me during my summer at the Trust. Although the first year law school curriculum touches briefly on matters of historic preservation in the mandatory Property course, I found myself a true newcomer to the practice area in June. Throughout my weeks of assisting the law division with historic preservation advocacy, the Nutshell has been at my side as I have researched related statutes and case law in order to help save America’s historic places. I am confident that Bronin and Rowberry’s Historic Preservation Law in a Nutshell will continue to serve me and many others well as the emerging field of historic preservation law continues to develop.

Caitlin Fitzsimons is a second year law student at Cornell Law School in Ithaca, New York, and a budding preservationist. Fitzsimons spent this past summer as a legal intern in the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s Law Division working closely with the division’s attorneys on historic preservation advocacy and corporate law matters. She is originally from Hingham, Massachusetts – home to two National Historic Landmarks, including the country’s oldest continuously used church, right at the end of her street!


Get Connected

Discuss this blog post and more on Forum’s new online community. Sign up now.