Forum Journal & Forum Focus

Cultural Diversity in Historic Preservation: Where We Have Been, Where We Are Going (Update) 

12-09-2015 17:35

My 1992 Forum Journal essay on cultural diversity in historic preservation was part of a special issue devoted to the diversity topic. It followed the 1991 National Preservation Conference held in San Francisco, Calif., that marked the 25th anniversary of the National Historic Preservation Act. This conference identified diversity as one of the major forces that would shape not only historic preservation, but all aspects of American society in the next quarter century. This projection was based on the demographics resulting from changes in United States immigration policy dating back to the mid-1960s.

Accordingly, the succeeding National Preservation Conference, held in 1992 in Miami, Fla., focused on diversity. The 1992 conference also inaugurated the offering of scholarships to diverse attendees. For the 1992 Forum Journal essay, I reviewed more than 70 abstracts submitted to the National Trust in response to its call for papers for the Miami conference. These abstracts represented the experiences of dozens of preservationists who undertook diversity projects or made astute observations about the cultural heritage of diverse communities.

What is different today? The subject of diversity is no longer an edgy topic in the historic preservation field. It is part of the mainstream of historic preservation goals and objectives as well as projects and programs. Much more work is being done with diverse historic places and in cooperation with diverse communities. However, when viewed within the totality of the historic preservation field, the number of diverse historic properties that are officially recognized and preserved still constitutes a small percentage of the total activity.

The ideas presented in my earlier essay point the way toward overcoming this gap. More official recognition should be given to intangible culture, beyond just American Indian tribal historic preservation programs. Yet historic preservation tools remain fairly static; few adjustments have been made to established criteria and standards in order to accommodate cultural differences and the priorities of cultural groups. In order to meet the cultural heritage needs of the nation’s diverse population, the field needs to “recalibrate” its current tool box and develop new approaches in partnership with the nation’s cultural groups.

Read Cultural Diversity in Historic Preservation: Where We Have Been, Where We Are Going.

Publication Date: Fall 2012

#ForumJournal #Diversity

Author(s):Toni Lee