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Teaching Preservation Law 

12-09-2015 17:35

Since the first historic preservation ordinances were passed in the 1930s, the law has been among the most potent tools in the preservationist`s store of tactics. Training in preservation law has been part not only of a legal education, but of the schooling of countless graduate and undergraduate students in the nation`s historic preservation programs as well. But until recently teachers of historic preservation law in neither context had gathered nationally to discuss their discipline systematically.

In June 1996 the National Council for Preservation Education (NCPE), the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, and the National Trust for Historic Preservation convened the first Conference on Preservation Law Education, held at the Pocantico Conference Center of the Rockefeller Brothers Fund in Pocantico Hills, N.Y. The conference provided an opportunity for preservation law educators from colleges, universities, and law schools to meet, exchange information, identify needed resources, and chart a course of action to strengthen preservation law education in the years ahead.

In preparation for the conference, two surveys were conducted to determine who is teaching preservation law and in what contexts. The National Council for Preservation Education (NCPE), under the direction of David Ames, conducted a survey of its members to determine where and how historic preservation law is being taught in historic preservation programs at the graduate and undergraduate levels. Roy Hunt, of the University of Florida College of Law, directed a survey of law schools to determine the extent to which historic preservation law is being taught to aspiring lawyers. The results indicated that preservation law is rarely taught in law schools as a separate course. It is more often included as a topic in land use, environmental, and other related courses. Preservation law is more frequently taught as a separate course in historic preservation programs and is also included as a topic in a number of other general preservation courses.

Thirty participants representing 23 colleges and universities attended the conference. Many of them had never met, and all were eager to exchange information and discuss the challenges of their discipline. The conference agenda began with an overview of the current state of preservation law education, moved to the specifics of class structures, curriculums, and teaching materials, and continued with discussion of the resources that are needed to increase and strengthen the teaching of historic preservation law.

In working through the agenda, the participants identified four key factors that must be considered in developing strategies and materials that would aid in teaching historic preservation law. Based on these factors, they also reached consensus on several conclusions and specific action items that would be helpful in improving their ability to teach historic preservation law and in encouraging other programs and schools to include historic preservation law in their curriculums.


There is a distinction between teaching historic preservation law to law students and teaching it to non-law students.

This distinction springs from the different purposes of their curriculums. Law students generally have little knowledge about preservation as a discipline; non-law students generally have little knowledge about the law and legal reasoning. It was generally agreed that a substantial aspect of teaching historic preservation law to non-law students is the need to teach about legal techniques and legal reasoning. It was also agreed that it is important to teach law students about historic preservation.

Teaching preservation law is idiosyncratic.

The participants generally agreed that preservation law is taught in a number of different ways, depending on the overall program in which it is taught, the topics that are covered by other classes in the program, and the interests of individual teachers. The participants agreed that although there probably could not be a "model" syllabus for preservation law, there are core preservation law topics that should be addressed in any preservation program and that it is very useful for teachers to share syllabi. It was also acknowledged that historic preservation law presents an excellent teaching opportunity because it presents a broad range of public policy and legal issues and because of the close relationship between substantive preservation work and legal issues.

Institutional commitment to historic preservation law should be strengthened.

Law school classes are often taught by tenured professors who have a personal interest in the field; therefore, a law school as an institution may not remain committed to the class if the professor leaves the institution. In preservation degree programs institutions often use adjunct professors in order to have lawyers teach courses in historic preservation law. Although the use of adjuncts may be necessary in order to obtain qualified teachers, this benefit is offset to some degree by the fact that adjunct professors may have substantial other commitments and may not have long-term ties to the institution.

Concise, usable course materials are not readily available.

There is currently no single book that is usable as a text for teaching historic preservation law. Although many participants had used A Handbook on Historic Preservation Law, edited by Christopher J. Duerksen, it is now out of print. Most teachers currently create packages of course materials tailored to specific classes. Conference participants acknowledged that different classes need different types of texts. It was generally agreed, however, that a basic textbook covering core material would be useful. It could then be supplemented by course packets, collections of cases, and other supplementary material.


Conceptually, historic preservation law as a teaching topic should be broadened to encompass cultural preservation and conservation, land use planning, and environmental issues.

Increased scholarship in preservation law will aid in analyzing, evaluating, and developing legal tools for preservation.

All degree programs in historic preservation should include a required element of training in historic preservation law.

Preservation law classes in law schools should include an element of training in historic preservation philosophy, standards, and methods.

The core preservation law topics that should be addressed in any preservation law course would be local, state, and federal preservation law within the context of relevant constitutional issues, such as takings and procedural due process.

Preservation law should be taught in more programs, including more law schools and other non-preservation degree programs, either as separate courses in historic preservation law or as parts of other courses.

Resources for teaching historic preservation law are currently limited and should be actively developed.

Teaching historic preservation law should include real world involvement; local communities provide good opportunities for such involvement.

Internships that provide exposure to historic preservation law should be expanded.

Historic preservation educators should continue to meet to exchange information.


Refine Surveys.  NCPE and the University of Florida College of Law should refine their surveys to confirm or clarify current information about preservation law education.

Convene Meetings.  The National Trust, NCPE, and others should continue to convene meetings of preservation law educators, including those in related educational fields.

Publish Course Materials.

Provide Updates.  Publish easily understood, annual updates to historic preservation law that can be easily used by teachers in updating their syllabi.

Use the Preservation Law Reporter (PLR).  Strengthen PLR, including broadening the subscription base, and use it as a resource for course materials and updates as well as increased scholarship.

Use Computer Technology.  Increase computer capabilities, including the use of networks.

Use Existing Collections.  Make better use of preservation law collections, such as the collection at the University of Virginia Law Library and the National Trust Library at the University of Maryland. Develop Innovative Materials. Develop interesting and innovative teaching materials, including the use of visual materials, and share those materials widely.

Clarify Standards.  NCPE should clarify and strengthen its standards concerning historic preservation law. A basic module of historic preservation law should be taught, but it can be taught in a variety of ways.

Strengthen Institutional Commitment.  Wherever and however possible, strengthen institutional commitment to teaching historic preservation law, such as finding funding for endowed chairs in historic preservation law.

Publication Date: January/February 1997

#Legal #Education

Author(s):Thompson Mayes