Evaluation Guidelines


These Guidelines link the Standards for Evaluation with more specific guidance and technical information. These Guidelines describe one approach to meeting the Standards for Evaluation. Agencies, organizations, or individuals proposing to approach evaluation differently may wish to review their approach with the National Park Service.

The Guidelines are organized as follows:
The Evaluation Process
Application of Criteria within a Historical Context
Recommended Sources of Technical Information [Note: The references are outdated and are not included here.]

The Evaluation Process

These Guidelines describe principles for evaluating the significance of one or more historic properties with regard to a given set of criteria.

Groups of related properties should be evaluated at the same time whenever possible; for example, following completion of a theme study or community survey.

Evaluation should not be undertaken using documentation that may be out of date. Prior to proceeding with evaluation the current condition of the property should be determined and previous analyses evaluated in light of any new information.

Evaluation must be performed by persons qualified by education, training and experience in the application of the criteria. Where feasible, evaluation should be performed in consultation with other individuals experienced in applying the relevant criteria in the geographical area under consideration; for example, the State Historic Preservation Officer or local landmarks commission.

Evaluation is completed with a written determination that a property is or is not significant based on provided information. This statement should be part of the record.


The purposes of evaluation criteria should be made clear. For example, the criteria may be used "to evaluate properties for inclusion in the county landmarks list," or "to implement the National Register of Historic Places program."

For Federal cultural resource management purposes, criteria used to develop an inventory should be coordinated with the National Register criteria for evaluation as implemented in the approved State comprehensive historic preservation plan.

Content of Criteria: Criteria should be appropriate in scale to the purpose of the evaluation. For example, criteria designed to describe national significance should not be used as the basis for creating a county or State inventory. Criteria should be categorical and not attempt to describe in detail every property likely to qualify. Criteria should outline the disciplines or broad areas of concern (history, archeology, architectural history, engineering and culture, for example) included within the scope of the inventory; explain what kinds of properties, if any, are excluded and the reasons for exclusion; and define how levels of significance are measured, if such levels are incorporated into the criteria. If the criteria are to be used in situations where the National Register criteria are also widely used, it is valuable to include a statement explaining the relationship of the criteria used to the National Register criteria, including how the scope of the inventory differs from that defined by the National Register criteria and how the inventory could be used to identify properties that meet the National Register criteria.

Information Needed to Evaluate Properties: The criteria should be accompanied by a statement defining the minimum information necessary to evaluate properties to insure that this information is collected during identification activities intended to locate specific historic properties. Generally, at least the following will be needed:

1. Adequately developed historic contexts, including identified property types. (See Guidelines for Preservation Planning for discussion of development of historic contexts.)
2.Sufficient information about the appearance, condition and associative values of the property to be evaluated to:

a. Classify it as to property type;
b. Compare its features or characteristics with those expected for its property type; and
c. Define the physical extent of the property and accurately locate the property.

To facilitate distinguishing between facts and analysis, the information should be divided into categories including identification and description of pertinent historical contexts; description of the property and its significance in the historical context; and analysis of the integrity of the property relative to that needed to represent the context.

Usually documentation need not include such items as a complete title history or biography of every owner of a property, except where that information is important in evaluating its significance. Information on proposed or potential treatments or threats, such as destruction of a property through uncontrollable natural processes, is also not needed for evaluation, unless those effects are likely to occur prior to or during the evaluation, thereby altering the significant characteristic of the property. If archeological testing or structural analysis is needed for evaluation, it should not proceed beyond the point of providing the information necessary for evaluation and should not unnecessarily affect significant features or values of the property.

When more information is needed: Evaluation cannot be conducted unless all necessary information is available. (See Information Needed to Evaluate Properties.) Any missing information or analysis should be identified (e.g. development of context or information on the property) as well as the specific activities required to obtain the information (archival research, field survey and testing, or laboratory testing). When adequate information is not available, it is important to record that fact so that evaluation will not be undertaken until the information can be obtained. In some cases needed information is not obtainable, for example, where historical records have been destroyed or analytical techniques have not been developed to date materials in archeological sites. If an evaluation must be completed in these cases, it is important to acknowledge what information was not obtainable and how that missing information may affect the reliability of the evaluation.

Application of the Criteria within a Historic Context

The first step in evaluation is considering how the criteria apply to the particular historic context. This is done by reviewing the previously developed narrative for the historic context and determining how the criteria would apply to properties in that context, based on the important patterns, events, persons and cultural values identified. (See the discussion of the historic context narrative in the Guidelines for Preservation Planning.) This step includes identification of which criteria each property type might meet and how integrity is to be evaluated for each property type under each criterion. Specific guidelines for evaluating the eligibility of individual properties should be established. These guidelines should outline and justify the specific physical characteristics or data requirements that an individual property must possess to retain integrity for the particular property type; and define the process by which revisions or additions can be made to the evaluation framework.

Consideration of property type and integrity: After considering how the criteria apply to the particular historic context, the evaluation process for a property generally includes the following steps:
1. A property is classified as to the appropriate historic context(s) and property type(s). If no existing property type is appropriate, a new property type is defined, its values identified, and the specific characteristics or data requirements are outlined and justified as an addition to the historic context. If necessary, a new historic context is defined for which values and property types and their integrity requirements are identified and justified.
2. A comparison is made between the existing information about the property and the integrity characteristics or data required for the property type.
a. If the comparison shows that the property possesses these characteristics, then it is evaluated as significant for that historic context. The evaluation includes a determination that the property retains integrity for its type.
b.If the comparison shows that the property does not meet the minimum requirements, one of several conclusions is reached:
1. The property is determined not significant because it does not retain the integrity defined for the property type.
2. The property has characteristics that may make it significant but these differ from those expected for that property type in that context. In this case, the historic context or property types should be reexamined and revised if necessary, based on subsequent research and survey.
The evaluation should state how the particular property meets the integrity requirements for its type. When a property is disqualified for loss of integrity, the evaluation statement should focus on the kinds of integrity expected for the property type, those that are absent for the disqualified property, and the impact of that absence on the property's ability to exemplify architectural, historical or research values within a particular historic context.

The integrity of the property in its current condition, rather than its likely condition after a proposed treatment, should be evaluated. Factors such as structural problems, deterioration, or abandonment should be considered in the evaluation only if they have affected the integrity of the significant features or characteristics of the property.


An inventory is a repository of information on specific properties evaluated as significant.

Content: The inventory should include:
1. Summaries of the important historic contexts. These may be in the form of an approved plan or analysis of historic contexts important in the history of the geographical area covered by the inventory.
2. Descriptions of significant property types of these contexts, whether or not any specific properties have been identified.
3. Results of reconnaissance surveys or other identification activities, even if the level of information on specific properties identified as part of those activities is not sufficient to evaluate individual properties.
4. Information on individual properties that was used in evaluation.
  • Historic contexts are identified by name, with reference to documents describing those contexts, or with a narrative statement about the context(s) where such documents do not exist.
  • A description of the property. Part of this description may be a photographic record.
  • A statement that justifies the significance of the property in relation to its context(s). This statement should include an analysis of the integrity of the property.
  • Boundaries of the property.
  • A record of when a property was evaluated and included in the inventory, and by whom.
  • Records on demolished or altered properties and properties evaluated as not significant should be retained, along with full description of areas surveyed, for the planning information these records provide about impacts to properties and about the location and character of non-significant properties to prevent redundant identification work at a later time.
Maintenance: Inventory entries should be maintained so that they accurately represent what is known about historic properties in the area covered by the inventory. This will include new information gained from research and survey about the historic contexts, property types, and previously evaluated properties, as well as information about newly evaluated properties. For individual properties, addition of kinds of significance, change in the boundaries, or loss of significance through demolition or alteration should be recorded.

Uses and Availability: An inventory should be managed so that the information is accessible. Its usefulness depends on the organization of information and on its ability to incorporate new information. An inventory should be structured so that entries can be retrieved by locality or by historic context.

The availability of the inventory information should be announced or a summary should be distributed. This may be in the form of a list of properties evaluated as significant or a summary of the historic contexts and the kinds of properties in the inventory. Inventories should be available to managers, planners, and the general public at local, State, regional, and Federal agency levels.

It is necessary to protect information about archeological sites or other properties whose integrity may be damaged by widespread knowledge of their location. It may also be necessary to protect information on the location of properties such as religious sites, structures, or objects whose cultural value would be compromised by public knowledge of the property's location.

Part of a series of articles titled Secretary of the Interior's Standards and Guidelines for Archeology and Historic Preservation.

Last updated: May 13, 2020