Historical Documentation Standards

Historic documentation provides important information related to the significance of a property for use by historians, researchers, preservationists, architects, and historical archeologists. Research is used early in planning to gather information needed to identify and evaluate properties. (These activities are discussed in the Standards and Guidelines for Preservation Planning and the Standards and Guidelines for Identification.) Historical documentation is also a treatment that can be applied in several ways to properties previously evaluated as significant; it may be used in conjunction with other treatment activities (as the basis for rehabilitation plans or interpretive programs, for example) or as a final treatment to preserve information in cases of threatened property destruction. These Standards concern the use of research and documentation as a treatment.

Standard I. Historical Documentation Follows a Research Design that Responds to Needs Identified in the Planning Process

Historical documentation is undertaken to make a detailed record of the significance of a property for research and interpretive purposes and for conservation of information in cases of threatened property destruction. Documentation must have defined objectives so that proposed work may be assessed to determine whether the resulting documentation will meet needs identified in the planning process. The research design or statement of objectives is a formal statement of how the needs identified in the plan are to be addressed in a specific documentation project. This is the framework that guides the selection of methods and evaluation of results, and specifies the relationship of the historical documentation efforts to other proposed treatment activities.

Standard II. Historical Documentation Employs an Appropriate Methodology to Obtain the Information Required by the Research Design

Methods and techniques of historical research should be chosen to obtain needed information in the most efficient way. Techniques should be carefully selected and the sources should be recorded so that other researchers can verify or locate information discovered during the research.

Standard III. The Results of Historical Documentation are Assessed Against the Research Design and Integrated into the Planning Process

Documentation is one product of research; information gathered about the usefulness of the research design itself is another. The research results are assessed against the research design to determine how well they meet the objectives of the research. The results are integrated into the body of current knowledge and reviewed for their implications for the planning process. The research design is reviewed to determine how future research designs might be modified based on the activity conducted.

Standard IV. The Results of Historical Documentation are Reported and Made Available to the Public

Research results must be accessible to prospective users. Results should be communicated to the professional community and the public in reports summarizing the documentation activity and identifying the repository of additional detailed information. The goal of disseminating information must be balanced, however, with the need to protect sensitive information whose disclosure might result in damage to properties.

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