Advisor

Dr. Anthony Denzer

Abstract

The historic preservation movement in the United States is dedicated to preserving the nation’s historic resources in the built environment. However, historic preservation presents a major flaw in terms of definition. The common definition of historic preservation uses the term ‘historic’ in both the name of the movement itself as well as its definition, making it a victim of circular definition. What the definition of historic preservation tends to avoid is that of the specific understanding of the word ‘historic.’ ‘Historic’ is not intrinsically meaningful. Rather, it has a more specific cultural definition that depends highly on how one views the relationship of the present to the past and what role the past has in informing the future. Ultimately, these specific definitions of ‘historic’ govern specific sets of resources that should be preserved. The buildings that are preserved thus inform a particular construction of what history itself is by claiming certain buildings to be ‘historic’ and the rest as ‘non-historic.’ The purpose of “Modernity and the ‘History’ of Historic Preservation” is to explore the origins of the historic preservation movement’s particular version of history. I argue that historic preservation’s history is consistent with the general philosophy of history employed by the modern episteme. Historic preservation indeed aims to preserve history, but the conglomerate history gleaned from preservation projects tells a selective version of history that is perceived to have values that are still applicable in various ways to the present.

Department

American Studies

Publication Date

Spring 5-2016

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