Preserving Integrity and Authenticity in the Public Display of Ruins

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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 research investigates how the public display of ruins affects their authenticity and integrity. People have long had a fascination with ruins and their ability to convey a sense of the past. For this reason, ruins are deemed worthy of preservation and placed on display for public enjoyment. However, in the process of public display, certain interventions to preserve ruins and make them safe and accessible to visitors may adversely affect the authenticity and integrity of the resources. Maintaining a high level of integrity and authenticity is valuable for the longevity of these resources and increases the public interest in them. Visitors enjoy knowing that ruins are original and authentic to the history that they convey. My thesis question is: In the public display of ruins, how and in what ways is it possible to preserve and protect integrity and authenticity of the physical remains, both above and below ground? Numerous resources, including English Heritage, the National Park Service, and the UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) World Heritage Convention were consulted for this thesis research and analysis. These and other sources of authoritative literature from heritage tourism, preservation, and conservation experts provide the methods and analysis for my research. Seven case studies of ruins in the Mid-Atlantic region are also presented. These examples demonstrate the various ways in which ruins are preserved and interpreted to the public. By analyzing these case studies and developing a rating system I was able to develop my findings and recommendations. Primarily, the key to preserving authenticity and integrity in the public display of ruins is maintaining a balance between resource protection and visitor services. In the decision-making process, site managers must place emphasis upon the retention of authenticity and integrity. The value of the ruin’s authenticity and integrity must be acknowledged and understood as a quality that protects the overall significance of the historic site. Site management decisions based upon maintaining authenticity and integrity of the ruins will be successful in choosing appropriate treatment interventions and the placement of visitor services.