A Richer Heritage: Historic Preservation in the Twenty-First Century

By Robert E. Stipe | Go to book overview

PROLOGUE
Why Preserve?

ROBERT E. STIPE

This book begins with a basic question that is not often asked: “Why preserve?” Why do so many of us care about what we call “historic preservation”? Is preservation at all important to society? Which parts of society? What is worth preserving, and what is not? Why we seek to preserve anything is central to these and other questions confronting the movement at the beginning of a new century. Those of us who tend the historic preservation vineyard are inclined to take it for granted. To us, it is important, and at a personal level each of us knows why. By extension, we think it should also be important to the rest of society. But in our more thoughtful moments, we recognize that there is no escaping the fact that for the public at large, historic preservation is not as high a priority as we might wish. That public is entitled to hear “why” we think it is important. That is the starting point for this book.

About thirty years ago, in the July 1972 issue of the National Trust's monthly newspaper, Preservation News, I outlined seven reasons why historic preservation was important. That small essay bears repeating here as a prologue to this book:

First, we seek to preserve our heritage because our historic resources are all that physically link us to our past. Some portion of that patrimony must be preserved if we are to recognize who we are, how we became so, and, most importantly, how we differ from others of our species. Archives, photographs and books are not sufficient to impart the warmth and life of a physical heritage. The shadow simply does not capture the essence of the object.

Second, we strive to save our historic and architectural heritage simply because we have lived with it and it has become part of us. The presence of our physical past creates expectations —expectations that are important parts of our daily lives. We should replace them only when they no longer have meaning, when other needs are more pressing, and we should do so only with great caution —knowing how our environment creates us, as well as how we create our environment.

-xiii-

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