A Look into the Diversity of Historic Preservation

Jackson Beck (‘13) is furthering his education in history as a student in the University of Georgia’s master’s degree program in Historic Preservation. But what exactly is historical preservation and what does it involve? As Beck noted, when people often think of historic preservation, they think of eccentric community members who are “tree huggers for buildings.” Yet since the 1966 National Historic Preservation Act, it has developed into a professional field to be taken seriously. The effort behind preservation is not for nostalgia’s sake, as Beck emphasizes, but “it is also a recognition that historic buildings, sites and heritage are resources—and limited ones at that.”


Beck became excited about historic preservation when he discovered a career that intertwined his passions; it tied together his interests of history and his desire to contribute to stronger communities. While researching programs, he realized the diversity of historic preservation. Programs vary from public history aspects, law and policy, to even construction techniques.

The diversity of programs reflects a diversity of career options. “There are definitely opportunities in historic preservation for Goshen students to explore,” Beck noted. These range from governmental jobs, jobs in the private sector, or in nonprofit organizations. People interested in governmental jobs may find themselves working with the National Park Service or the State Historic Preservation Officer (SHPO) involving physical restoration, site interpretation public history or project management and other planning/developing positions. In the private sector careers exist through consultation, contracting, design and other fields. They often work with architectural firms, municipalities and other institutions to assess and conserve historic resources. Nonprofits also help to preserve community heritage through advocacy, obtaining conservation easements, managing historic sites and assisting municipalities.

Furthermore, Beck says there are many options for careers in the international community. Institutions and organizations like UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) and ICOMOS (International Council on Monuments and Sites) help preserve sites on the World Heritage List or explore the developing field of intangible cultural heritage preservation (folklore, music, art, etc.).


As Beck decided to focus on policy and program development, he shares what some of these classes involve.  “One of my favorite classes involves learning about historic building materials (Building Materials and Conservation). I am only a couple weeks into the class, but I can already date buildings based what kind of saw marks are visible on the wood, what kind of nails were used, what kind of construction techniques were employed and what architectural style was followed. It’s essentially like being a building detective. Another class I enjoyed was preservation law. In law class I learned about the legal tools available to preserve buildings, the process of setting up historic district ordinances, design guidelines and preservation tax credits. Learning these practical tools was encouraging and it helped me picture the economic viability and sustainability of preservation efforts.”


Graduate programs present opportunities to students to work alongside professors. Beck was able to obtain an assistantship with Professor James Reap. Beck has helped with departmental tasks, such as developing content on their website, sending newsletters or brochures, or research. Beck was able to help with a project doing research on legal pathways to preserve intangible cultural heritage, specifically Quinoa plant culture. “‘The United Nations declared the year 2013 as “The International Year of the Quinoa.” This was in part reaction to the increasing stress put on its cultivation. As such, protecting the indigenous peoples who grow it and their growing tradition was the subject of an upcoming meeting this January to which Professor Reap was attending.”


As one can see, there are many opportunities in historic preservation. This also means there are a wide variety of disciplines that feed into historic preservation programs. Beck comments, “overall there is a good mix of hands on work and theoretical/policy studies. I haven’t had a hard time adjusting to the area of study; in fact, most people come from history backgrounds.” Although history is a common undergrad for this field he notes that “most historic preservation programs take people from any background,” as they even have at least one student with a background in nursing in the program. UGA’s program is also coupled with a law school program for which he is currently applying for.

Mixed with many opportunities, small class sizes, and his assistantship Beck concludes that “all in all I’m having a good time.” Plus, he adds, “I have found that Goshen’s history department. has prepared me pretty darn well for grad school.”

For more background checkout UGA’s program, here: http://www.ced.uga.edu/academics/graduate-programs/mhp/