The Social and Ethnic Dimensions
of Historic Preservation
ANTOINETTE I. LEE
Few other topics so perfectly capture the essence of “a richer heritage” than the social and ethnic dimensions of historic preservation. Today, the preservation field embraces the heritage of numerous cultural groups that made their mark on the American landscape. Surveys are conducted of the historic properties associated with diverse communities. Historic properties in ethnic neighborhoods are enjoying a longer life through historic rehabilitation. The stories of diverse groups are being interpreted for community residents and visitors alike.
Historical studies of diverse groups are yielding an unfolding tapestry of ethnic heritage. The popular media provides frequent reports about the unearthing of ethnic and minority history in archaeological investigations, archival research, and even DNA test results. The “recent past” provides a rich trove of possibilities as the nation explores themes such as the desegregation of the public schools and public facilities. And events of today will take on significance as they fade into the past. New groups continue to arrive at the country's shores and are making their own marks on the face of the nation.
The authors of the essays contained in With Heritage So Rich could not have imagined that the historic preservation field would incorporate such a broad story into the narrative of the nation's heritage. When one reads this seminal work of 1966 through the lens of today's social history, there is hardly a mention of social or ethnic history. This oversight is due in part to the nature of historical study in the mid-1960s. The “new social history” was not yet a presence in the history courses that were taught in colleges and universities and pursued in graduate studies. The focus of history instruction was on military and political events and zeroed in on the achievements of national figures, usually European American men. In addition, architects of the mid-1960s played a major role in the development of the legislation, and their focus was on highstyle architecture.