Teaching Cultural Heritage Preservation

Historic Preservation, Cultural Resource Stewardship, and Related Fields

Teaching Cultural Heritage Preservation

Teaching Cultural Heritage Preservation: Historic Preservation, Cultural Resource Stewardship, and Related Fields (.pdf 3 mb) is a course outline developed by a team of educators and preservationists to encourage teaching about the preservation of diverse cultural heritage. While applicable at any institution of higher education, this course outline is intended for Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), Hispanic Serving Institutions (HSIs), Asian American Studies programs, and Tribal Colleges.

The course is organized around three units: 1) Place and Culture; 2) Power and Politics; and 3) Process and Profession. Each unit consists of Learning Objectives, Learning Activities, and Learning Resources. Briefly stated objectives and the activities follow.


Unit One: Place and Culture (.pdf 1mb)

Place and Culture is designed to help students understand what is encompassed within the term “cultural heritage.” It examines how buildings, sites, structures, and landscapes are determined to have historic or cultural significance, and thus are considered to be worthy of preservation. It also introduces concepts such as how shared ideas, values, and experiences help define a community, and the importance of memory and the transmission of shared values and experiences to cultural heritage preservation.

The two learning objectives are intended to guide students in the definition of what is important to communities and what is worthy of preservation. They will also instruct students in various methods of documenting and interpreting historic places and important cultural activities. 

Place and Culture Learning Objective 1:

Students will develop an understanding of how people and society define the places that are important to them. They will learn how to examine the shared values, experiences, and perspectives that help to define cultural heritage in a community.

Place and Culture Learning Objective 1, Learning Activities:

A. Students should take a field trip to a place designated as historic by a local government, the state historic preservation office, the National Register of Historic Places, or the National Historic Landmarks program of the U.S. Department of the Interior. Students will be introduced to the criteria used by the level of government involved to determine why it is considered historic and whether it is eligible for official recognition. They should discuss the values of the different groups that are represented in the place. They should also visit with leaders of various cultural groups in their community and ask them what is important to their cultural identity and how the larger society can assist with its preservation.

B. Students should address the topic of why some cultural groups have few officially recognized historic places to date and what can be done to increase public awareness and understanding of these places.

C. Students and the educator should organize a panel discussion to discuss what is considered historic and whether it is worth preserving. Panel members should include students and community leaders who are not guided by official government criteria for designating places and events as historic, as well as representatives of local, state, or federal government agencies who are. Students should explore where concepts of significance differ as well as coincide. They should discuss both non-place and non-physical aspects of cultural heritage, such as ceremonies, as well as place-oriented and physical manifestations of cultural heritage.

D. Students should interview older citizens in their community about its history and culture and the changes that they have witnessed. Students will ask questions about events, people, and places of particular significance. They should study how this history and culture serves to maintain the cultural identity of the community. Students should record and edit the oral interviews for deposit in a local library, historical society, historic preservation organization, or state archives. Alternatively, they may seek permission from the interviewees to prepare a slide show or videotape of the discussion.

Place and Culture Learning Objective 2:

Students will develop a critical analysis of the ways in which historic places and historical events are interpreted to the public. Students will learn how the interpretation of the same place or event can differ depending on scholarship, community input, and point of view.

Place and Culture Learning Objective 2, Learning Activities

A. Students will be introduced to the field of historical interpretation by visiting historic sites that are interpreted by interpreters or docents. They should take notes on the different ways that the history of the property is presented as well as the content of the presentations. If minority roles are addressed, students should discuss how these minority roles are presented.

B. Students should prepare a printed brochure that follows a heritage trail through a place that is important to them and will use both scholarly and community input. The brochure project gives students an opportunity to identify what should be included in the trail, conduct research on important landmarks, and prepare written materials for the brochure. They should take the tour themselves in order to gauge the time it requires to complete the tour. In addition, they could escort a small group on the tour and ask the participants to analyze the tour contents.

C. Students should visit an exhibit at a local museum, historical society, or archive. They should critically evaluate how it is presented and recommend how it might be improved to appeal to a broader range of cultures.

Unit Two – Power and Politics (.pdf 1mb)

Power and Politics is designed to help students examine the forces of the larger society that affect the preservation of historic places and cultural heritage. Decisions about historical matters are made within the context of power and politics. Power and politics include policies and decisions by government agencies and elected government officials and the desires of property owners and community members. This unit will introduce students to what can be done to empower communities to preserve their cultural heritage.

The two learning objectives are intended to guide students in understanding how power and politics are involved in deciding what types of cultural heritage are preserved. Students will be introduced to the evolution of the cultural heritage field. They will learn how communities can be empowered to shape these decisions to ensure the preservation of important cultural heritage.

Power and Politics Learning Objective 1

Students will develop an understanding of how preservation of cultural heritage has developed in the United States, including the roles that power and politics have in shaping the cultural heritage field.

Power and Politics Learning Objective 1, Learning Activities

A. Students should visit a historic or cultural site established at least 40 years ago. While there, they should examine its guidebooks and brochures from the past as well as the present as a means of understanding how the property was interpreted when it first opened and how it is interpreted today. They should discuss the changes that have occurred and how they reflect changes in American society during the time the site has been open to the public.

B. Students should hold a discussion with community residents and leaders, park or site personnel, political figures, and others who are knowledgeable about how a historic or cultural site was developed. They should discuss the potential effects of reinterpreting the site to make it more appealing to other cultures and how this would have differed from the original concept for the site and its interpretation.

C. Students should develop the history of a historic place in their community that has been demolished or destroyed and examine the length of time that the place existed, when and why it was demolished or destroyed, and what has taken its place. They should explore whether or not the place still plays a role in the cultural memory of the community.

Power and Politics Learning Objective 2:

Students will examine how minority cultures are becoming more involved in formal cultural preservation processes. They will learn how the process of empowerment helps diverse communities assert control over their cultural heritage and encourage economic development.

Power and Politics Learning Objective 2, Learning Activities

A. Students should identify a historical society or organization associated with African Americans, Asian Americans, Hispanics or Native Americans and learn about their activities. They should interview members of these organizations. They should discuss how the organization has interpreted and presented their cultural heritage for their own community as well as for the general public.

B. Students should visit a cultural site or museum associated with a minority group. They should identify the economic and social contributions that the site or museum has made to the community and how public and private investment might be increased in the future.

C. Students should discuss how an exhibit could be created to interpret an important historical event, such as Rosa Parks’ refusal to give up her seat on a Montgomery, Alabama city bus in 1955, in light of other events of the time. Students should create a list of artifacts that should be included in the exhibit, plan a route through the exhibit, and develop a self-guided tour brochure. They should also address how this exhibit could serve as a heritage tourism destination and an element in an economic revitalization plan for the economy.

Unit Three – Process and Profession (.pdf 1mb)

Process and Profession is designed to assist students with examining what people do to accomplish preservation and the kinds of jobs that are available in this field. This section covers the processes by which historic places and other cultural expressions are identified, documented, preserved, and interpreted. It also will assist students with exploring the various professions and disciplines that contribute to historic preservation and cultural heritage activities.

The two learning objectives are designed to describe the current process of identifying, documenting, and preserving the nation’s historically and culturally significant places, as well as how that process can be made more inclusive of cultural diversity. It also introduces students to the range of professions that play leading decision-making roles in the preservation process. 

Process and Profession Learning Objective 1:

Students will develop an understanding of the preservation processes, laws and regulations, government agencies, private organizations, and advocacy groups that affect the recognition and preservation of cultural heritage.

Process and Profession Learning Objective 1, Learning Activities

A. Students should visit a local public records office or archive and a state and/or local historical society. They will learn what types of documents and information are housed in these institutions. Students will use these collections to research and document the history of an event or place significant to their culture as well as to other cultures. The documentation should be prepared using the information requirements of a local preservation program or the state historic preservation office.

B. Students should prepare a nomination of a historic place to the local list of historic places or state historic register and serve as advocates for the place in the review process. The local preservation office or state historic preservation office should be asked to assist the students with understanding the process and preparing the nomination.

C. Students should study the educational programs on preservation and cultural heritage provided by the state historic preservation office, local preservation office, or state and local historical societies. They should write a critique of the programs, focusing especially on how diversity issues are interpreted and making recommendations on how the programs might be made more inclusive.

Process and Profession Learning Objective 2:

Students will learn how the various professions contribute to the preservation of historic places and cultural heritage and will learn about opportunities in the field for diverse individuals.

Process and Profession Learning Objective 2, Learning Activities

A. Students should be assigned to work on internships and practicums with professionals involved in preservation. In addition to the tasks assigned by their supervisors, students should maintain a diary of their daily activities and thoughts about the work they are doing, particularly noting activities and observations related to preserving cultural heritage. At the end of the semester, students should discuss and compare their experiences.

B. Students should invite preservation professionals from the local government’s preservation office, the state historic preservation office, or the National Park Service to visit the classroom and talk about disciplines represented in their governmental agencies and opportunities for employment. Students should ask questions about how the cultural heritage preservation of diverse people is incorporated into the agency’s mission and activities.

C. Students should invite preservation architects, archeologists, landscape architects, and others in private practice to visit the classroom to discuss their work as well as opportunities in the field. The invitees should discuss projects that have incorporated diverse cultures.

D. Students should write an essay about the cultural heritage of a cultural group in the community, how the cultural heritage is being preserved, and who is undertaking the preservation.

Last updated: April 11, 2016