U.S. Department of the Interior, National Park Service
The creation of the National Register of Historic Places in 1966 provided the first national recognition for historic properties possessing State or local significance, and uniform standards for evaluating them. The National Register's Criteria for Evaluation established the threshold for defining the qualities that would make such a property worthy of preservation, but also needed to ensure credibility through adherence to standards acceptable to relevant professional disciplines. Through the special requirements of the Criteria Considerations, the criteria both caution against both subjective enthusiasm for certain types of resources, and also reinforce the importance of objective historical analysis.
In the legislative history of the 1980 Amendments to the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966, Congress indicated a desire that the Secretary of the Interior review National Register Criteria for Evaluation from time to time to ensure their effectiveness in carrying out the policies of the Act. In 1986, upon the 20th anniversary of the National Historic Preservation Act, the National Park Service organized such a review. In their December 17, 1986 report, those who reviewed the criteria concluded that no revision of criteria wording was warranted, but recommended several issues that could benefit from clarification through additional published guidance. The application of National Register criteria to graves and cemeteries was one such issue.
A greater appreciation has evolved in both scholarship and public perception for the important historical themes that graves, cemeteries, and other types of burial places can represent. The growing emphasis on the history of ordinary individuals, grass roots movements, cultural and designed landscapes, and various cultural groups has nurtured this evolution. At the same time, the identification, maintenance, and preservation of burial places is increasingly threatened through neglect, ignorance, and vandalism. This publication is intended to focus attention on these resources and provide detailed guidance on the qualities that render burial places significant representatives of our history worthy of preservation.
Lawrence E. Aten
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