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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
- 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.