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A guide to becoming a professional historic preservationist

  • 1.  A guide to becoming a professional historic preservationist

    Posted 10 days ago
    Some of you might be interested in a guide I created that has just been posted on the Forum section of the Trust's web site. "A Guide to Becoming an Historic Preservation Professional" takes a novice from initial interest to practicing professional and is informed by a census that I did of historic preservation job postings to identify the specific knowledge and skills that employers want. There is also a discussion of the selection of degree programs based on a potential student's interests. A thread through the entire guide is the need to diversify the field both in terms of the object of its attention as well as its practitioners.

    See here for a description of the guide from the Trust's Forum page. You can link directly to the PDF of the guide here

    I wanted to thank Priya Chhaya (from the National Trust) in helping me to produce this guide. She provided some very useful input and feedback. My hope is that preservation professionals, such as those of you reading this post, will use this guide to help nascent preservationists choose a fruitful and fulfilling career path.


  • 2.  RE: A guide to becoming a professional historic preservationist

    Posted 10 days ago
    Edited by Charles Lawrence 9 days ago

    Good work Jeremy, I know this has been a subject of interest to you for a while. I did a similar exercise in parsing out HP job listings some time ago and wrote this post on a now defunct blog that you may find interesting:

    Heritage Conservation: Becoming (and Being) a Professional

    EDIT: Jeremy, I wanted to suggest a subset of work types for the Arch & Construction track; these include Historic Structure Reports, Building Preservation  Plans, Historic Preservation Plans, Campus HP Plans, etc. As well, Historic Tax Credit consulting is a big part of the HP work done in A/E firms today, especially in states with robust programs. I'd also note the absence of the academic track - which I assume is the result of job postings for academic positions being more rare.

    Charles Lawrence
    Architectural Conservator / Preservation Planner
    Lord Aeck Sargent
    Atlanta GA
    Chair, Board of Directors
    Historic Atlanta, Inc.

  • 3.  RE: A guide to becoming a professional historic preservationist

    Posted 10 days ago
    This looks so helpful, Jeremy. Thank you! Thank you!! Judy Wellman

    Judith Wellman, Ph.D.

    Principal Investigator, Historical New York Research Associates

    Professor Emerita, State University of New York at Oswego

    2 Harris Hill Road, Fulton, New York 13069


    Discovering extraordinary people and places in time.

    "All men and women are created equal." Declaration of Sentiments, Seneca Falls, 1848

    "Right is of no sex. Truth is of no color." Frederick Douglass. North Star, 1848

  • 4.  RE: A guide to becoming a professional historic preservationist

    Posted 8 days ago
    Hi Jeremy,
    This is so cool! Your work, I believe, will help professionals more clearly and adequately explain the different manifestations of current preservation practice to laypeople as well as to professionals of other fields. Additionally, I think it will really help people who are coming into this field of practice (either students or professionals seeking career changes) to more easily assess where their interests and skills will best be applied (this tool gives direction to passion, thank you!) What I am most excited about is that your work gives fresh, and much needed, insight on the possible directions that the field can (and needs) to explore in order to more effectively "[impact] people's identity, wellbeing, and sense of place." I also believe these evolving trends will give ample space for preservationists to successfully collaborate with professionals from other fields (similar to the mission of Katie Rispoli Keaotamai's Ticco initiative) as well as expand the capacity of preservation (and preservationists) into new, innovative ways to address "making the world a better place for people"-if preservationists take advantage of the opportunity to move forward in this line of practice.

    After reading the article I just have a few questions:

    1) Considering the perceived relationship between preservation and architecture, and the more widely accepted correlation between preservation and regulatory compliance, do you think that some preservation job seekers are surprised by the employer requirements for sectors such as downtown revitalization and preservation advocacy? Do you think this may cause job seekers to shy away from these sectors for this reason?

    2) To what extent do you think that unclear assumptions, biased perceptions, and/or unproductive experiences with current preservation practice cause employers to exclude preservation employment opportunities?

    3) What advice would you give to preservation students and/or professionals who are interested in working in some of the new trends in historic preservation-diversity, inclusion, social justice and equity; climate change; technology; etc.-but encounter obstacles because of nascent cross pollination within academic programs, lack of employment opportunities that recognize and nurture these new combination of skills, and, indeed, resistance from some in preservation, and other fields, to accept these new trends because of their belief in a static definition of what their field is and isn't, what it does and doesn't do?

    Looking forward to the discussion,

    Jamesha Gibson

  • 5.  RE: A guide to becoming a professional historic preservationist

    Posted 6 days ago

    Jeremy (& Priya),


    Thanks for creating this. It's a sobering read. I'm disappointed that so many jobs are focused on regulation – 70% (!). The remaining 30% is, to me, the part that can take preservation to a deeper connection to our landscape. Of course, these fields have limited funding because of the perceived lack of value to this work.


    Governments often "get" the idea of regulations and rules and therefore jobs exist where the money is. NEPA, NHPA, 106, etc. We live in an alphabet soup of a career. This attitude reduces innovative thinking about how preservation can best approach solving major issues facing our built landscapes and instead reduces it to simple formulas for protecting the basics. We get stuck in silos instead of having a broad take. Our training programs and degrees teach to help those that are seeking the 70% of positions. That isn't the fault of individual programs (they are fighting for the survival of the program generally), but is an issue that we in the field must take on.  Students want to come out and have a good job – so we teach them for the jobs that exist, rather than the jobs we need. Funders fund projects that work, not projects that need tested and tried.


    Interns who come here are asked "what can we do with this internship to make you feel like you have accomplished something?" They often go to research. They want to research and dig deep. My answer: "We all want to research, but there isn't money for it. So what else is there?" Most struggle to figure it out. "I like old buildings" or "I'm really into history" are common answers.


    Of course, this report also misses some trends because (as they say on the second page), not all jobs are classified as historic preservation. Partnership development, fundraising, etc. are all part of the job of historic preservation. It just isn't as clean cut. I would love to see more preservation training programs team up with businesses schools to offer dual degrees in nonprofit management or public administration and historic preservation.


    Jamesha –


    Good questions that were asked. I would say that the problem with downtown revitalization and preservation advocacy isn't that students aren't applying for them – rather that they cannot pay what its necessary. These fields do not get the type of funding they need to do the jobs they do – and can't pay professionals what they should be paid to do a highly complex job that has a tangible outcome.


    I can't answer your second question easily, but on the third, you may have answered your own questions. Our institutions that were built for preservation are large, unwieldy, and hard to change. There are loads of the pioneers still in charge. They may be 70+ but they are still leading the charge. They believe so deeply in the cause that they are loathe to give up the mantle. These are interesting, supportive leaders – but new directions are hard to adapt to.


    I once read that universities should not offer degrees in one topic like history or engineering – but instead should offer degrees in "water." You would learn a cross cutting method of attacking a major issue from the history, to the engineering, to the politics, etc. Preservation is one of the few places where we can do that. And no one at the higher levels gets it. So I wouldn't put it at the feet of the departments – but put it to those higher up.


    The rising trend of public history is, I believe, a response to this increasing focus on regulation and the lack of jobs in "traditional history." Perhaps combining this information with what we are seeing in public history might give a better sense of where jobs are for a wider range of students.


    Thanks again,




    Aaron Marcavitch, Executive Director

    Maryland Milestones/ATHA Inc.

    MAILING: P.O. Box 367, Hyattsville, MD 20781

    PHYSICAL: 4318 Gallatin Street, Hyattsville, MD 20781


    301-887-0777 (p)

    301-887-1077 (f)


    **Support Maryland Milestones with a contribution at GoFundMe**


  • 6.  RE: A guide to becoming a professional historic preservationist

    Posted 4 days ago
    Hi @Aaron Marcavitch,
    Thank you for considering and answering my questions. I agree with you that funding issues and ​ideological differences within the ranks of preservation hinders professionals' ability to explore innovative directions to solve reoccurring and emerging problems facing our practice. But, I think that by continuing to ask questions, and  initiating collaborative research projects with interdisciplinary teams to find solutions for issues  that have an overlapping impact on our work; will have the potential to enact influential change in historic preservation.

    Jamesha Gibson

  • 7.  RE: A guide to becoming a professional historic preservationist

    Posted 3 days ago
    Hi Jamesha,

    Thanks for your input. I think for your first question, I would say that the issue in the HP field is that we really have four distinct areas of practice - regulatory compliance, design/materials conservation, interpretation, and advocacy - that often fail to overlap in terms of knowledge and skills. While there are some shared areas of knowledge and skills, there's not nearly as many as most people seem to think. If HP was 10x larger than its current size, I think we would see specialization in terms of degree programs and training in these areas, but as we are now, we're too small to make this work. (I'm certainly open to counter arguments.)

    If I understand your second question, there's a concern that because of the biases and stereotypes around HP, some employers might not want to create positions in which someone could do this work? I'm thinking of some kind of historic preservation specialist at an architecture firm, for instance. While I'm sure some employers hold these perceptions, most of these decisions come down to the bottom line - can an employer make money by offering HP services delivered by qualified professionals? Or, on the non profit and especially government side, are we able to clearly make arguments as to our value in this area? Many smaller local municipalities, for instance, hire a general planner and expect him/her to support a local preservation commission, even if this individual has no formal training in the area. How could you convince a small municipality of the value of hiring a qualified HP planner in this scenario in addition to an urban planner?

    As for your last question, my thought would be that new students entering the field would be well served by a basic interest founded in people and their welfare. While I doubt anyone would enter the field without an interest in the aesthetic qualities of buildings, without the interest in people (especially marginalized populations) and the real benefits our practice brings to society, we'll have difficulty advancing the relevance of what we do.