The Practice of Cultural Preservation

If the works by Hurley and Stanton tell us anything, it is that when districts are preserved, they become sites for historical production – what Milton Singer describes as “cultural performance.” (see Stanton, 21) This may seem obvious – well, because it is – but it seems to me to be the starting point for something I had not considered until recently; that is, the function of interpretation in preservation.

A couple of examples: we can all point to case studies where massive preservation efforts were undertaken and discover that typically, one particular era was the emphasis of preservation (Charleston, SC chose its colonial roots). Likewise, we have discovered the importance of preserving culture along with the material – a practice that may not often yield the most gain financially, but is necessary nonetheless as a matter of good practice.

I have always equated “historic” with “preservation,” but have only recently come to appreciate the relationship between “culture” and the present. When a culture is preserved, it accounts for the evolution of a place – from then to now. How this process is interpreted is my focus – and learning from sites like Lowell’s Acre, which, to be honest, seemed a bit voyeuristic to me.

Still, I am willing to admit to its merits. It is an experience – which is what history is so often -where people can see the story of ethnic groups that have passed through (some staying, some moving on) – all in the process of becoming what it currently is. I would like to see how other culture’s have been preserved, as the practice is becoming more refined, to see if they have accounted for this evolution; and how they managed to provide the “infill” of all their groups’ voices.

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