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Secretary of the Interior's Standards and Guidelines
[As Amended and Annotated]

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Standards & Guidelines for:.
Preservation Planning
Note on Documentation and Treatment of Hist. Properties
Historical Documentation
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    Secretary of the Interior's Standards for Historical Documentation

    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.


    Secretary of the Interior's Guidelines for Historical Documentation


    These Guidelines link; the Standards for Historical Documentation with more specific guidance and technical information. They describe one approach to meeting the Standards for Historical Documentation. Agencies, organizations or individuals proposing to approach historical documentation differently may wish to review their approaches with the National Park service.

    The Guidelines are organized as follows:
    Historical Documentation Objectives
    Research Design
    Integrating Results
    Reporting Results
    Recommended Sources of Technical Information

    Documentation Objectives

    Documentation is a detailed record, in the form of a report or other written document, of the historical context(s) and significance of a property. Historical research to create documentation uses archival materials, oral history techniques, ethnohistories, prior research contained in secondary sources and other sources to make a detailed record of previously identified values or to investigate particular questions about the established significance of a property or properties. It is an investigative technique that may be employed to document associative, architectural, cultural or informational values of properties. It may be used as a component of structural recording or archeological investigation, to enable interpretation or to mitigate the anticipated loss of a property through conservation of information about its historical, architectural or archeological significance. Documentation generally results in both greater factual knowledge about the specific property and its values, and in better understanding of the property in its historical context. In addition to increasing factual knowledge about a property and its significance in one historical context, documentation may also serve to link the property to or define its importance in other known or yet-to-be defined historic contexts.

    Documentation should incorporate, rather than duplicate, the findings of previous research. Research may be undertaken to identify how a particular property fits into the work of an architect or builder; to analyze the historical relationship among several properties; or to document in greater detail the historical contexts of properties. The kinds of questions investigated will generally depend on what is already known or understood and what information is needed. For example, documentation of a bridge whose technological significance is well understood, but whose role in local transportation history is not, would summarize the information on the former topic and focus research on the associative values of the property. The questions that research seeks to answer through deed, map or archival search, oral history and other techniques may also relate to issues addressed in structural documentation or archeological investigation; for example, the reasons for and history of modification of a building to be the subject of architectural or engineering documentation.

    Research Design

    Historical documentation is guided by a statement of objectives, research design or task directive prepared before research is performed. The research design is a useful statement of how proposed work will enhance existing archival data and permits comparison of the proposed work with the results. The purpose of the research design is to define the proposed scope of the documentation work and to define a set of expectations based on the information available prior to the research. Generally, the research design also ensures that research methods are commensurate with the type, quality and source of expected information. The research design for a property should identify

    1. Evaluated significance of the property(is) to be investigated;

    2. Historical, architectural, archeological or cultural issues relevant to the evaluated significance of the property;

    3. Previous research on those issues and how the proposed work is related to existing knowledge;

    4. The amount and kinds of information required to produce reliable historical analyses;

    5. Methods to be used to obtain the information;

    6. Types of sources to be investigated; types of personnel required;

    7. Expected results or findings based on available knowledge about the property and its context; and

    8. Relationship of the proposed historical documentation to other proposed treatment activities; for example, recommendations on the use of documentation in interpretive programs or other aspects of treatment such as anticipated architectural, engineering or archeological documentation.

    Research Methods

    Research methods should be chosen based on the information needs, be capable of replication and be recorded so that another researcher could follow the same research procedure. Sources should be recorded so that other researchers can locate or verify the information discovered during the search.

    Use of Sources: The variety of available written and graphic materials and the number of individuals that can serve as sources, including but not limited to personal records, deed and title books, newspapers, plats, maps, atlases, photographs, vital records, censuses, historical narratives, interviews of individuals and secondary source materials, should be considered in developing the research design. Part of the development of the research design is deciding what kinds of source materials are most likely to contain needed information and at what point in the research process that information will be most valuable. For example, often secondary sources are most valuable for gathering background information, while primary sources are more useful to gather or confirm specific facts. The documentation goals may not require exhaustive investigation of sources, such as deed records or building permits. Research may be kept cost-effective by making careful decisions about when to use particular sources, thereby limiting the use of time-consuming techniques to when absolutely necessary. Decisions about when to gather information may also affect the quality of information that can be gathered. When dealing with large project areas where loss of many properties is anticipated, it is important to gather information from local archival sources and oral histories before project activities destroy or disperse family or community records and residents.

    Analysis of the accuracy and biases of source materials is critical in analyzing the information gathered from these sources. Maps, historical atlases and insurance maps should be assessed like written records for errors, biases and omissions; for example, some map sources may omit structures of a temporary nature or may not fully depict ethnic or minority areas. Likewise, building plans and architectural renderings may not reflect a structure as it was actually built.

    Analysis: Analysis should not only focus on the issues defined in the research design, but should also explore major new issues identified during the course of research or analysis. The documentation gathered may raise important issues not previously considered, and further investigation may be important, particularly when contradictory information has been gathered. It is important to examine the implications of these new issues to ensure that they are investigated in a balanced way.

    Questions that should be considered in analyzing the information include:

    1. Has enough information been gathered to answer the questions that were posed?

    2. Do the answers contradict one another? If so, it may be necessary to search for more evidence. If no additional evidence is available, judgments must be based on the available sources, weighing their biases. Conflicts of source materials should be noted.

    In general, the more the researcher knows about the general historical period and setting and limitations of the source materials under investigation, the better the individual is prepared to evaluate the information found in the documentary sources investigated. Peer review or consultation with other knowledgeable individuals about the information and the tentative conclusions can be an important part of the analysis.

    Integrating Results

    The results of documentation must be integrated into the planning process so that planning decisions are based on the best available information. The new information is first assessed against the research design to determine whether the gathered information meets the defined objectives of the research. Then the relevant historic contexts, property types, and treatment goals for those contexts are all adjusted, as necessary, based on the historical documentation results.

    Reporting Results

    Reports should contain:

    1. Summaries of the purpose of the documentation, the research design and methods and techniques of investigation.

    2. Sources of facts or analyses so that other researchers can locate the information in its original context. Notation of any conflicts in source materials and how the individual performing the documentation interpreted these conflicts.

    3. Sources consulted, including those expected to contain useful information and those that contained no information about the property(ies).

    4. Assessment of the accuracy, biases and historical perspective of all sources. This information and that identified in No. 3 may be provided in an annotated bibliography.

    5. Discussion of major analyses and results, including conclusions regarding all major research issues identified in the research design, as well as important issues raised in the course of research. The analysis should be summarized in terms of its impact on interpreting the property's significance and expanding or altering the knowledge about the property and its context.

    6. Researchers' interpreting of historical events or trends. These interpretations should be clearly identified.

    Primary results should be preserved and made accessible in some manner, although they need not necessarily be contained in the report. At minimum, the report should reference the location of notes and analyses.

    Results of historic documentation should be made available for use in preservation planning and by the general public. Report formats may vary, depending on the audience and the anticipated uses of the documentation, but professionally accepted rules of report writing should be followed. If reports are of a technical nature, the format of the major scientific journal of the pertinent discipline may be the most appropriate format. Peer review of draft reports is one means of ensuring that state-of-the-art technical reports are produced.


    Recommended Sources of Technical Information

    Current Recommendations


    Ethics and Public History: An Anthology. Theodore J. Karamanski, editor. Robert E. Krieger Publishing Company, Malabar, Florida, 1990.

    The Modern Researcher. 5th Edition. Jacques Barzun and Henry F. Graff. Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston, 1992.

    The New American History. Eric Foner, editor. Temple University Press, Philadelphia, 1990.

    A Shared Authority: Essays on the Craft and Meaning of Oral and Public History. Michael Frisch. State University of New York Press, Albany, 1990.

    Telling the Truth About History. Joyce Appleby, Lynn Hunt, and Margaret Jacob. W.W. Norton & Company, New York, 1994.

    The Past Before Us: Contemporary Historical Writing in the United States. Michael Kammen, editor. Cornell University Press, Ithaca, New York, 1982.

    Nearby History: Exploring the Past Around You. David E. Kyvig and Myron A. Marty. The American Association for State and Local History, Nashville, Tennessee, 1982.

    Folklife and Fieldwork A Layman's Introduction to Field Techniques. Peter Bartis. American Forklift Center, Washington, DC, 1979.

    Ordinary People and Everyday Life: Perspectives on the New Social History. James B. Gardner and George Rollie Adams, editors. American Association for State and Local History, Nashville, Tennessee, 1983.

    The Process of Field Research. Carl Fleischhauer and Charles K. Wolfe. American Folklife Center, Washington, D.C., 1981.

    Researching Heritage Buildings. Margaret Carter. Ministry of the Environment, Ottawa, Canada, 1983.

    See also


    National Register of Historic Places

    Historic American Buildings Survey/Historic American Engineering Record (HABS/HAER)

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