Historic Preservationists


Exploring this Job

Would you like to learn more about the field of historic preservation? You can begin by contacting your local historical society; most towns maintain such an office dedicated to preserving sites and structures within the community. You may be asked to volunteer for a number of tasks ranging from clerical—answering phones, paperwork, mass mailings—to ones that provide you with hands-on experience such as conducting tours of a historical home to gathering signatures for a landmark petition.

Pass on that vacation to a seaside resort and opt instead for a driving tour of the nation's best landmarks. Don't forget to visit museums or tourist centers often located near the sites to learn more about the structure or landmark. Visit the National Trust for Historic Preservation's Web site (https://savingplaces.org) for information on our country's historical treasures.

The Job

The industry of historic preservation received a tremendous boost with the passage of the 1966 National Historic Preservation Act—which gave direction and focus toward the U.S. government's commitment to better care for its historic resources. This law created a need for qualified historians and historic preservationists well trained to identify, preserve, and maintain our national treasures.

Today, historic preservationists work in a variety of settings. Many employed by the federal government work for the National Park Service. The maintenance of battlefields such as Spotsylvania in Virginia, national parks such as the Badlands National Park, and places of interest such as Mount Rushmore are examples of various projects managed by historic preservationists. Their responsibilities may include researching the site's origin, implementing plans of routine maintenance and preservation, and suggesting marketing and educational campaigns to present the site to the public. For example, historic preservationists may suggest plans to help slow erosion in Gettysburg National Military Park in Pennsylvania or prevent damage to the impressive ruins of the Pueblo culture at Chaco Culture National Historical Park in New Mexico. They may also conduct research on architectural styles and period-specific décor to properly restore a structure (for example, one of Abraham Lincoln's childhood homes) to its former condition. Many times, a museum is housed alongside a historic site or national park to further educate the public regarding its significance. Preservationists are often employed to help plan the scope of a museum's exhibits and design an educational program for visitors of all ages.

Historic preservationists may also work at the state level. As a result of the 1966 National Preservation Act, each state is required to maintain an office that acts as a liaison for federal and local preservation agencies. State-employed historic preservationists conduct inventories of structures and sites of historic importance, prepare educational programs, and investigate possible National Register nominations. State historical offices are often considered a resource for communities or individuals who may have a particular building or site with historic or cultural relevance. For example, if someone discovered their home once belonged to a prominent person or was designed by a famous architect or was the site of a historic moment, they would turn to their state's historic office. Preservationists would then verify the building's significance and begin the paperwork needed to register the site as a national or state landmark.

Historic preservationists may also work at the local level. Many cities and towns maintain planning commissions or economic development offices to help preserve historic sites or artistic styles within their own communities. For example, when a town experiences a large growth spurt or undergoes a major downtown renovation, planning commissions, alongside historic preservationists, want to ensure that growth is monitored without compromising a neighborhood's important architectural elements or cultural significance. The staff may be composed of mostly volunteers, but a qualified preservationist is often retained full time to conduct research, create educational programs and tours, and ensure that existing and potential historic sites are maintained within local regulations. Preservationists may also take on many other duties such as performing clerical work, conducting tours, or any other tasks needed to get a project off the ground.

Historic preservationists may also find employment at private firms as full-time employees at larger organizations or at smaller companies as part-time employees or consultants. At this level, preservationists use their training to promote awareness of a community's historical treasures of architecture, art, or natural resources, find sufficient funding from public and/or private sources, and maintain a project within a designated budget.