The Professionalization of Historic Preservation

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MA in Historic Preservation

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To view a complete copy of this thesis please contact Goucher College Special Collections & Archives at or (410) 337-6075.


This thesis examines the professionalization of the historic preservation movement in the United States by applying sociological concepts of “profession” to the development of the movement and its practitioners. Laypeople initiated the historic preservation movement in the United States and, while the movement is still very much reliant on avocational or voluntary involvement, it has evolved to include professionals from a number of fields. In the 1960s the first higher education programs were offered expressly for individuals who wanted to target historic preservation as their primary field of work. These graduates made careers for themselves working in the expanded preservation movement that was legislated by the Historic Preservation Act of 1966. Unlike amateurs and professionals from other fields, these new “preservation generalists” had a formal education consisting of a broad exposure to the many disciplines relevant to preservation work. These Historic Preservation Generalists now exhibit many of the characteristics of a full-fledged profession. My thesis hypothesis is: In what ways is the role of the Historic Preservation Generalist a profession in its own right? In order to answer this question I have reviewed the history of the historic preservation movement to identify factors that relate to its professionalization. I conducted a thorough review of sociological literature pertaining to the nature of professions so as to develop a working concept of the definition of a profession. I then assessed the relative professionalization of the Historic Preservation Generalist against other disciplines closely related to preservation, including architects, archaeologists, architectural historians, and project managers. It is clear that the Historic Preservation Generalist has secured a place in the historic preservation movement along with other professionals. My research shows that Historic Preservation Generalists may come to claim greater importance in preservation activities as they assume greater jurisdiction in preservation decision making. My research shows that while there are professional Historic Preservation Generalists, they do not yet belong to an established and recognizable profession according to criteria set forth by prominent sociologists. It is clear that additional professionalization characteristics are required in order for historic preservation to become a profession recognized by other professionals working on historic preservation activities and by society at large.