#DismantlePreservation Part II
01 July 2021 – Sarah Marsom
Editor’s Note: This post is part of a series of reflections from winners of NCPH awards in 2021. Sarah Marsom won honorable mention in Excellence in Consulting for her projects Crafting Herstory and #DismantlePreservation. This is part two of a two-part Q&A about #DismantlePreservation (part one was published on June 24, 2021).
History@Work: People from all walks of life and sometimes divergent perspectives contribute to historic preservation—the public, archaeologists, historians, historic preservation specialists, government officials, architects, real estate agents, and more. What do you think are the upsides and downsides to this dynamic?
Sarah Marsom: Historic preservation is a movement that includes a wide variety of cultural resource professionals but also volunteers and advocational preservationists. This creates infinite ways preservation can be done and plentiful opportunities for people to advocate for the past. People can choose a specialty based on his/her/their interests and become a champion for preservation as a heritage site interpreter, architectural conservator, historic tax credit consultant, or something that has yet to be imagined into existence.
This diversity is a strength of the movement, but it creates silos. These silos are most obvious when looking at the composition of a conference’s attendees. You can also see the negative impacts with repetitive conference content, hoarding of resources, limited knowledge sharing, lack of collaborations, etc. Connecting avocational and professional historic preservation practitioners to knowledge and resources is key to the movement’s growth and success. Dismantling the silos is integral to breaking away from circular conversations on the future of the preservation movement.
History@Work: What is the “(un)official 40 under 40 list”? Who is on it, and why?
Sarah Marsom: Despite these issues, there are many people doing interesting work in the cultural resource field. The #DismantlePreservation: (un)Official 40 Under 40 list is comprised of people and groups who work in cultural resources in a wide variety of settings such as parks, museums, nonprofits, government, consulting, development, and more. These people are doing inspiring work; they are people from whom we can all learn. They are part of the future of the historic preservation movement.
This list was intended to be a showcase of the diverse spectrum of people working in cultural resources and preserving the past. For example, House of Tulip in New Orleans “is a Community Land Trust launched in the summer of 2020 to create housing solutions for trans and gender-nonconforming (TGNC) people in Louisiana.” Adesbah Foguth runs Native Power Rangers to highlight “Indigenous park rangers working to decolonize federal, state, and public lands.” And Ty Ginter founded D.C. Dykaries as “an oral history and memory mapping project that aims to document lesbian spaces in Washington D.C..” These are just three of the incredible groups and individuals on the list. They are shifting the ways we view the built environment, cultural landscapes, and other pieces of the past.
This list is not the definitive guide to next-generation preservation leaders; it is a selection of people that I encourage you to follow, connect with, and learn from. These are simply people who I think are badass—badass defined as someone who is encouraging conversations, reconceiving the constructs in innovative ways, and inspiring/supporting others through the work they do. This was not an easy list to make, because there are A LOT of people doing interesting work in preservation. But making this list was important to me so we could end 2020 with something empowering and inspiring.
History@Work: What do you think we do well in the field, and what do you think we need to improve on? Why?
Sarah Marsom: Since working and volunteering at Riordan State Park, I have worked for the government, nonprofits, and as a consultant, which has allowed me to see a range of preservation perspectives.
The Good: Preservation professionals have done and continue to do a wonderful job at assessing building materials and methodologies to preserve and/or restore these materials for the long-term health of a structure/object. Whether it is experimenting with new materials and their compatibility with old materials or finding ways to conserve graffiti, preservation professionals successfully continue the conversation, which is important as we expand the types of structures/objects we preserve.
Room for Improvement: The field could improve its external communications. This ranges from the language we use (ex: acronyms are a language barrier to avocational preservationists in particular) to the ways we disseminate information. You’ll notice that few State Historic Preservation Offices use social media, that organizations often do not post consistently, or that verbiage will be utilized that implies a baseline level of knowledge. When working for a neighborhood nonprofit, my boss’s background in journalism impressed upon me the importance of not assuming anyone knows anything about the topic I am communicating about and that people may have missed the information the first time around. Therefore, you should not be scared of reusing topics and presenting them in new ways.
History@Work: If someone wants to dismantle preservation in their community or in their lives but isn’t sure where to start, what are your tips for them?
Sarah Marsom: Recognizing the need to reconsider and dismantle preservation is the first step! Next, consider looking into the resources below. Absorb:
- Dive into the Anti-Racist Historic Preservation Resources List.
- Listen to, attend events hosted by, and/or read articles (and other information) distributed by groups such as Latinos in Heritage Conservation, Asian and Pacific Islander Americans in Historic Preservation, Black in Historic Preservation, Black Landscape Architects Network, and Indigenous Archaeology Collective.
- Read Historic Real Estate: Market Morality and Politics of Preservation in the Early United States by historian Whitney Martinko to understand how the structures developed historically so you understand how to dismantle them today.
- Who do you engage with in your historic preservation work? Are you always talking to the same people or partnering with the same organizations? Who are you not talking to in your community?
- How do you support others? Are you as an individual or organization sharing information that does not have a direct benefit to you? Are you supporting individuals or organizations that are pushing for the change you want to see in the world with your time, money, or expertise? Have you recommended a place that tells stories that have been historically excluded from the larger narrative to a family member, friend, or colleague?
- Of/By/ For All has free resources that can help you ask questions like this and assess your individual or organizational historic preservation practice.
There are short-term actions we can take to encourage change, but dismantling preservation is a long-term goal. I would love to hear suggestions from all of you on how you are working to dismantle preservation!
History@Work: What’s next for Dismantle Preservation?
Sarah Marsom: #DismantlePreservation is coming back July 26-30, 2021! This year’s unconference will work to continue pushing cultural resource conversations in a range of directions. We will strive to feature exclusively current students and recent graduates (up to 2-ish years out from highest degree, certification, or educational intensive pursued), but people of all educational backgrounds are encouraged to submit an idea.
In addition, the #DismantlePreservation initiatives will continue to be intertwined with my advocacy efforts to help preservation practitioners develop labor equity to ensure people want to enter the field, grow as practitioners, and have fulfilling careers. In 2020, those efforts meant advocating for people to reconsider the field’s hiring process with a specific emphasis on labor equity/salary transparency. To date, four job boards and one virtual preservation community space have implemented policies that require compensation information in order for job listings to be shared. In 2021, I’m researching how cultural resource field internships (hours, pay, types of organizations offering them, academic credit requirements) operate to better develop strategies to help support and cultivate emerging professionals. There will also be a 2021 DismantlePreservation: (un)Official 40 Under 40 list.
History@Work: Thanks so much for chatting with us! We look forward to seeing how Dismantle Preservation evolves.
 Priority will be given to recent grads, but feel free to submit an idea even if you obtained your highest degree more than 2-ish years ago. An educational intensive does not have to be something hosted by an academic organization. Some examples of what qualifies: Victorian Society in America’s summer schools, City of San Antonio’s Wood Window Restoration Certification, or the ARCUS Fellows Program.
~Sarah Marsom is a heritage resource consultant working to empower the next generation of community advocates and increase representation of lesser-known histories. Her work has been featured in Curbed, Traditional Building Magazine, and the National Parks Service’s LGBTQ America Theme Study, among other publications and podcasts.