Historic Sites Survey

The NHL Program, originally called the Historic Sites Survey, was authorized by the Historic Sites Act of 1935, one of the earliest efforts to establish a nationwide system for historic preservation in the United States. Congress enacted the Historic Sites Act as part of the New Deal, promoted by President Franklin D. Roosevelt and his administration, which acknowledged the inherent worth of American culture and the need for its preservation. Within the NPS, the Historic Sites Act strengthened the agency’s mission to document, educate, interpret, and collaborate with others in interpreting the nation’s history.

To this end, the Historic Sites Act established an “Advisory Board on National Parks, Historic Sites, Buildings, and Monuments,” now known as the “National Park System Advisory Board” (Advisory Board). Originally composed of a group of “conservation-minded individuals” (e.g., academics, museum curators, archivists, etc.), its members counseled the National Park Service at a time when the field of historic preservation was a nascent concept and few precedents existed for how the Historic Sites Act should be implemented.

The NHL Program continued to evolve and expand its outlook incorporating new scholarship in the fields most closely associated with historic preservation—archeology, ethnography, architectural history, and history—and explored the past in new ways, through such lenses as class, ethnicity, folklore, gender, race, sexuality, vernacular architecture, and landscapes. Over time, these shifts have enlarged the universe of nationally significant themes, contexts, and topics in American history in a way that would have not been conceivable in the early days of the program. They have permitted the recognition of resources that once might have been overlooked.

Published in 1985, The Historic Sites Survey and the National Historic Landmarks Program: A History, documents the establishment and evolution of the National Historic Landmarks Program within the context of early preservation efforts and the maturation of the field of preservation.

The Historic Sites Survey and the National Historic Landmarks Program: A History (1985). Available for
download (accessible PDF 5.6 MB).

Last updated: August 1, 2019