Why Preserve? Public Memory and Heritage Preservation

April, 2003

Preservationists have often been rather inarticulate on the central question of “Why Preserve?” When pressed to move beyond somewhat vague ideals related to the importance of heritage, preservationists’ have tended to argue on a parallel track with historians-- we try to learn from the past so that we can more clearly and critically understand how present actions give shape to the future. Preservationists have insisted through time that the material dimension of memory that characterizes preservation work serves as a particularly affective means of conveying historical narrative and understanding. I want scrutinize a few of the more common assumptions deployed in preserving buildings and places. They relate to citizenship, aesthetics, environmentalism, and the cultivation of a politics of locality.

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