Publications >

Preservation Education and the Real World
First presented at Restoration 93, Boston, Massachusetts, December 7, 1993. Published in NCPE News, Winter 1994, Volume 1, No.1, pp.1-5.

Traditionally, the "real world" of any career includes that work an individual undertakes as a professional after completing her or his academic studies. Education is seen as something other than the real world by individuals in the field and, at times, by their profession at large. Yet the foundation of an individual's lifelong training and the basis for defining the professional standards of any field are based on several stringent criteria, beginning with academic education.

And so this afternoon I wish to address the role preservation education plays in developing our profession and in pursuing a career. Due, in part, to my training, work, and teaching as an architectural conservator, my references will be directed principally to this area of the field. After an overview I wish to discuss the important role of undergraduate education, as well as graduate education, training in the building trades, and continuing education play in establishing a career in the preservation profession. Discussion of doctoral work in the field is beyond the scope of this paper.

As historic preservation has developed its own history, I wish to reflect upon some of our past with respect to education. Employing the methodology of the architectural conservator I will examine and diagnose the "existing conditions" of the field today. Then, after developing a prognosis, I will present a few "treatment recommendations."

Existing Conditions

The architectural conservator, as professional, was conceived in September, 1972 in Williamsburg and Philadelphia when over 140 practitioners in related fields met for the North American Regional Conference (under the auspices of the ICC, International Centre Committee, and ACHP) entitled "Preservation and Conservation: Principles and Practices." But it was not until the next year, 1973, that the term "architectural conservator" was employed&endash;or born&endash;in the National Conservation Advisory Council (now NIC [now Heritage Preservation]) document entitled Report of the Study Committee on Architectural Conservation, which explored the need for this developing specialization and the skills such professionals would require.

And so it has been only twenty years since the profession of the architectural conservator began; since architectural conservators started their collective careers. At this time the field of art conservation served as the basis for developing a model for the work of architectural conservators. But the climate-controlled environments of the art conservator were quite different from the constantly changing environment imposed by demands of clients, architects, the construction trades and building themselves on restoration projects.

Previously the field of preservation was considered to be an avocation rather than a vocation. At the onset, preservationists chose to qualify their professional work in the field&endash;by just that: their "work experience" in the field rather than their academic training&endash;as such training did not exist.

Today, preservationists (including architectural conservators) who are developing their career typically substantiate their credibility by holding an undergraduate and/or a graduate degree in preservation. In fact, educational credentials have become particularly important in the field since there is no present system of examination, registration, and licensing&endash;as our colleagues have in allied professions.

A case in point. There is a vast difference between those credentials which an architect and a preservationist may have. An architect typically receives a Bachelor of Architecture degree after five years of undergraduate study. She or he may subsequently continue to complete two years of graduate studies to receive a Masters in Architecture. She or he will undertake an internship for three years, successfully complete exams, become a registered architect, and, finally, become licensed to practice in several states.

By contrast, a preservationist's education and formal training is typically limited to receiving a Masters degree after two years of graduate study. There is usually no undergraduate study, no long-term internship, no formal comprehensive exam, no registration, and no licensing.

While work experience may count, how can it replace such academic training. And while a graduate degree in preservation may be the most available option, how can our careers in preservation be furthered without placing such academic credentials in a broader context&endash;both within our own profession and with respect to allied professions. For our careers in the field depend less on how we as individuals are qualified with respect to other conservators than how conservators collectively are qualified with respect to allied professions.

Undergraduate Education

According to the National Council for Preservation Education (NCPE) there are nine programs in the country which offer undergraduate studies in historic preservation. Of these, only four offer a Bachelors degree. And within a degree-granting preservation program, only two offer concentrations in architectural conservation.

The diverse nature of preservation makes it well suited as a field in which undergraduate students may obtain a broad, humanistic, multi-disciplinary general education grounded in both theory and practice. Concurrently, students are introduced to specialized resources of various fields in the arts and sciences. Here, the humanistic context in which students integrate the resources of specialized disciplines is much the same as what professionals experience in their daily work in which professionals represent many disparate fields: archaeology and urban planning, mechanical engineering and ethnography, art conservation and construction management.

Some students may wish to augment their major in preservation with a minor in one of the related fields: architecture, engineering, business, American studies, the natural sciences, or the arts. Conversely, students may major in a related field and minor in preservation.

In some cases, students may elect not to pursue a "career in preservation" but to establish themselves in another profession and pursue preservation-related work. Such students may undertake graduate work in architecture, planning, law, business, or the sciences.

In such cases, an undergraduate experience in historic preservation affords a strong, humanistic foundation for any future studies and career. And for those of us who seek to engender future generations with a preservation ethic this would be a means to broaden our base at the professional level.

Others who obtain a bachelor's degree may elect to undertake graduate study in preservation or in an allied field. By holding a bachelor's degree in the field they should be able to specialize at the graduate level from the onset. But these students may be hindered by graduate offerings in certain subjects, including architectural conservation. This is because these programs include course offerings which, in a sense, are remedial: they aim to help students unfamiliar with the field through past undergraduate studies to "catch-up." In so doing they provide foundation courses to the majority of students at the expense of other possible&endash;and necessary&endash;specialized offerings.

Graduate Studies

According to the National Council for Preservation Education (NCPE), 39 graduate programs have developed to serve the diverse needs of students in preservation. Of these, 12 confer degrees in historic preservation; the remaining 27 are graduate programs in allied disciplines with a specialization in historic preservation.

These programs, begun with course offerings in the mid '60s, served an entire generation of preservationists as they launched their career in the new, unchartered territory of the developing profession. Some of us are part of that generation. We rode the wave of interest in our history begun during celebration of the bicentennial; it was swelled by a developing interest in the benefits of economic development of historic structures&endash;a phenomena which continued somewhat unabated until the late '80s. These graduate programs served us well, helping us to establish ourselves in the field.

Yet&endash;given the increasing specialization today&endash;will these programs, and the academic context in which they exist, serve the next generation as well.

The development of graduate programs can be likened to the careful construction of a house over a poorly built foundation. To date, most graduate students have entered with a bachelor's degree in another field, not an undergraduate degree in preservation. While this provides a hybrid vigor to the field it does so at risk. For the basis of so many professions, including those so closely allied to preservation, is in a strong but general undergraduate education, followed by specialized training and research at the graduate level. Such specialized work can be had only if graduates begin with a strong foundation.

And, as mentioned before, such specialized work can be had only if graduates do not have to burden their academic load with courses they should have taken at the undergraduate level. So this lack of a strong "foundation"&endash;as it were&endash;has helped undermine the quality of the graduate experience in some aspects of the field; certainly in the field of architectural conservation.

Based upon their earlier work of 1977, the National Conservation Advisory Board created a Task Force on Architectural Conservation that developed "Suggested Guidelines for Training in Architectural Conservation," published in 1980. Since 1980, not a single university program has developed to satisfy the curriculum and degree requirements for architectural conservation as established by the Task Force.

I believe this is due partially to a lack of emphasis on undergraduate study in the field. Interestingly, the development of degrees&endash;much less concentrations&endash;at the undergraduate level was not considered a priority by the original NCAC Study Committee in 1977. This should be carefully re-evaluated.

Building Crafts and Trades

After receiving a bachelor's degree in preservation, a student may choose to begin her or his career as an apprentice in the building crafts or trades.

Importantly, our mission as preservationists should be not simply to conserve buildings but to conserve the building crafts. And we can only achieve this by developing and nurturing new means by which craftspeople may be educated and trained.

Last July (1993) the World Monuments Fund organized a symposium addressing "Employment Strategies for the Restoration Arts" attended by seventy participants. The Education sub-group charged with identifying problems observed that "Preservation education programs are currently oriented toward administration and high technology. They offer little trades training or appreciation."

Neither undergraduate nor graduate programs can provide training or skills development in the building trades. It is not their mission. And, in any case, they do not have near enough time to impart a skill. But academic training should be aimed increasingly at understanding the scope and nature of each building trade. For conservators are sought to assess their work.

At other times conservators are required to work with skilled tradespeople to present their project findings&endash;as the work of tradespeople without the academic credentials may unfortunately be undervalued or not even considered by others involved in a conservation project.

However, preservationists who wish to undertake "hands-on" work in the field may enjoy the benefits of having the requisite academic credentials and combine these with an applied skill which they can acquire through an apprenticeship. These credentials may include an undergraduate and/or a graduate degree. But skills development through apprenticeship and training is usually an option only for those who do not have the financial and domestic demands they may assume later in life. In other words: a single 21 year old just out of an undergraduate program is more likely to be able to apprentice than someone receiving a graduate degree who may be thirty-something, with a family and mortgage.

Continuing Education

At the same time, institutions of higher learning throughout the country are witnessing a marked increase in enrollment by older students choosing to complete their degree requirements, augment their skills in a field, or change professions. Preservation is no exception.

Craftspeople, already skilled in their particular trade, may augment their skill with continuing education in preservation to receive an undergraduate or graduate degree, or a certificate in the field.

Preservationists, tradespeople, and other professionals in allied disciplines may be appraised of advances in the field through conferences, symposia, and workshops. However, only a limited number of these are associated with degree-granting academic institutions. And no single conservation organization provides the service of granting continuing education units for these offerings.

In contrast, the American Institute of Architects, as part of its professional development program, provides a mechanism to approve or directly sponsor programs for architects for which AIA will grant CEUs, or continuing education units. Soon, AIA members will be required to update their training by attending such programs. Some will likely be in architectural conservation. Does this mean that architects, because of this means of review and approval, will be better able to document their qualification in the field than some architectural conservators.


Will we maintain the historic trend of relying upon the graduate education experience as the primary means by which preservationists begin their career. If so, we may find that the academic programs awarding these degrees are unable to provide an adequate education to those choosing to adapt to changing demands on the profession, to those choosing to specialize. To specialize in architectural conservation, in preservation planning, in cultural resources management, and in many other aspects of our developing field.

If we choose to undervalue the worth of undergraduate programs, and their relation to the future development of the field, how can we expect others not to do the same.

The 1992 Amendments to the National Historic Preservation Act require that "minimum professional qualifications are established to ensure credibility within the professional community of not only the person meeting the professional requirements but also the organization for whom the professional works whether in State, local, or Federal agencies." (July 7, 1993 meeting summary).

Accordingly, qualification standards will be "revised" or created for the disciplines of archaeology, architecture, conservation, curation, history, landscape architecture, and planning.

Last summer the subject of "Professional qualification standards in historic preservation" was addressed at a meeting held by the the National Conference of State Historic Preservation Officers (NCSHPO) Board of Directors and the National Park Service (Committee Meeting, July 25, 1993, Chicago). Perhaps it should come as no surprise that the following points were raised:

  • Experience should play a major role in determining whether someone is qualified
  • Advanced degrees do not necessarily make for a capable professional. Successful performance and good products are more important that degrees.
  • There seems to be a general agreement that professional qualification standards should embody some combination of education and experience as related to the ultimate products to be produced. Education is a less significant factor than experience.

Are policy-makers nationwide choosing to undervalue or disregard our academic credentials at a time when the profession needs to augment existing educational offering in order to preserve the integrity of the preservation profession? And the integrity of our own careers?


I recommend that preservationists recognize the increasing importance that undergraduate education will play in the profession.

I recommend that, where necessary, graduate programs require students to take introductory preservation courses in-addition-to rather than as-part-of the courses which satisfy their degree requirements. In this manner graduate work can be directed to specialized graduate-level study and research.

I recommend that at least one academic institution develop both a Bachelors of Science and a Masters of Science. Currently no such series exists.

I recommend that when we consider our individual and our collective careers in preservation we begin with an understanding of the importance that education plays in its advancement. In doing so I hope we will find the means by which to sustain and develop educational programs so they may help us meet the ever-increasing demands on our profession.