Ethnic Minority Heritage Values and U.S. Historic Preservation Significance Policy

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Type of Work



MA in Historic Preservation

Citation of Original Publication


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The reasons for the preservation of historic properties related to ethnic minority groups have been much discussed in the historic preservation field. However, there are factors that are still of concern as many of these properties are often overlooked. This merits a discussion of what constitutes importance to an underrepresented group that falls outside of traditional historic preservation policy and processes in terms of assessing and evaluating their significance. United States historic preservation public policies and processes concerning historic significance should reflect the changing attitudes and shifts in thinking about heritage and history, as well as the dynamic nature of communities themselves. The year 2016 marks the fiftieth anniversary of the National Historic Preservation Act. As historic preservation goes forward into the next fifty years, the United States will become a different nation in composition, but is still one nation by acknowledging that all citizens have a contribution to make to its collective historic narrative. Ethnic minority groups are now demanding a more flexible, inclusive form of historic preservation; one that is not as primarily focused on architecture or integrity, but focused on what is valued and culturally significant to the communities in which those historic properties are located. The National Register of Historic Places itself is flexible and accommodating in what properties may be listed, but more creative approaches, interpretations, and uses of the criteria, guidance, and processes—including the incorporation of more ethnographic techniques—have become necessary. As the United States prepares for a majority-minority shift in 2050, who decides what is significant or relevant—historic preservation practitioners or ethnic minority communities themselves? By actively implementing steps to become more truly inclusive, we can help to assure that the significance of historic properties and valued places of meaning to all of its citizens will be effectively considered.