Profile

Dr. Laurie Sommers

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Bio

My name is Laurie Kay Sommers. I'm a folklorist and historic preservationist based in Michigan with my own business--Laurie Kay Sommers Cultural Consulting LLC. I am interested in a more humanistic approach to historic preservation that includes community engagement and utilizes the tools of ethnography and oral history (in addition to archival research) for a richer sense of place and more vital, community-centered preservation approach. My background in historic preservation dates to the late 1970s, when I worked for the Michigan SHPO and then as an independent consultant for various clients while putting myself through grad school in Folklore. I subsequently discovered that folklore was not considered a relevant field for preservation work in many contexts, so my opportunities to combine the two fields were relatively few.   In 1989-1990, I headed the Michigan State University Museum’s (still one of a kind) inclusion of folklife resources via Bulletin 38 and other National Register criteria to the study “Cultural and Paleontological Effects of Siting a Low-Level Radioactive Waste Storage Facility in Michigan, Candidate Area Analysis Phase” (Richard Stoffle, et al, Ann Arbor, Institute for Social Research, 1990). A version of this work later appeared in Conserving Culture—A New Discourse in Heritage (1994).  During the late 1990s I also conceptualized and helped to implement the first large-scale folk architecture survey for the Florida Bureau of Historic Preservation. Most recently, I worked as the historian/folklorist for the Fishtown Preservation Society in Leland, Michigan, and developed an integrated approach to historic preservation and folklore in The River Runs Through It, Report on Historic Structures and Site Design in the Fishtown Cultural Landscape (Fishtown Preservation Society, Leland, Michigan, 2011). My current project is titled "Engaging Artists and Communities to Preserve Nordic Heritage Churches," an initiative of Partners for Sacred Places with funding from the Margaret A. Cargill Philanthropies. The project combines folklore and historic preservation to inventory historic Nordic heritage churches in six Upper Midwest states and then fund a selected group of cohorts for specific arts and  preservation projects. I currently co-chairs the American Folklore Society’s Working Group on Folklore and Historic Preservation Policy [www.afsnet.org/?page=HistPresPolicy] where we are both identifying and creating model projects that combine folklore and historic preservation methodology for a more humanistic approach. Our website includes a white paper, case studies, a bibliography and webography [www.afsnet.org/?page=HistPresPolicy]. I'd love to hear from other preservationists interested in or applying these approaches.