Subtopic: Historic Preservation Studies  

For students who love history and architecture, becoming a professional in the Historic Preservation field could be a wise career choice. Professionals in this field protect the world’s architectural, cultural and historical heritage at a time of constant change.

Careers in this field include preservation planning at the local level and for the federal government, historic house museum work, architectural conservator, public historian, resource interpreter, historic site administrator, preservation architect/craftsperson/engineer, and working for the National Park Service, which oversees the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP). The NRHP coordinates and supports public and private efforts to identify, evaluate, and protect America’s historic and archeological resources. Learn more about the work of the NRHP at https://www.nps.gov/nr/.

In addition, this field offers opportunities in non-profit careers. This includes working for private foundations and organizations that advocate for historic preservation of a built environment that is deemed historically worthy.  

The United States’ first historic preservation ordinance was in Charleston, South Carolina in 1930 to protect this city’s historic buildings. In 1925, efforts began to protect the historic buildings in the French Quarter in New Orleans, which led to the nation’s second historic preservation ordinance. 

Interest in Historic Preservation grew in the early 1960s after the demolition of the magnificent Pennsylvania Station concourse in New York City. This raised public awareness about the importance of preserving the built environment. In 1965, a Landmark Law was passed in New York City to create the Landmarks Preservations Commission. This agency gave the government power to designate historic buildings and neighborhoods, and save them from demolition. This law helped lead to the preservation of Grand Central Terminal and St. Bartholomew’s Church.

In 1966, the passing of the National Historic Preservation Act gave the federal government the power to designate historic districts through the U.S. Department of Interior under the auspices of the NPS. Historic districts in the U.S. are a group of properties or sites that have been designated by a local and/or federal agency to be historically or architecturally significant. There are now over 2,000 cities that have ordinances that provide guidelines for how historic property owners must handle any structural changes to either the building’s interior or exterior. Cities and towns have established Historic Preservation Commissions to preserve, protect, and promote historic resources through preservation, public education, and heritage tourism.

Education Requirements

Masters of Science programs in Historic Preservation require students to be highly knowledgeable in the history of architecture (primarily in the United States through the early 1900s), preservation planning and policy, restoration design, theory, and building materials conservation.

Students from many undergraduate majors go on to study Historic Preservation at the graduate level. Among the prominent undergraduate majors for people interested in this field are architecture, art history, and science. These are students who often get into preservation because of their interest in the building materials conservation side of the field.

Prominent MS programs in Historic Preservation, which usually emphasize a studio based education, give students a broad grasp of cultural heritage issues, law, and policy. This is coupled with honing evaluation and documentation skills, as well as improving communication and interpretive capabilities.

Courses teach students about adaptive re-use of historic buildings, architecture preservation planning, and preservation policy analysis. The design studio is utilized to develop student teams that produce creative design solutions to building projects that pose challenging historic preservation issues.

Students learn about vernacular architecture – a category of architecture based on local needs, construction materials, and reflecting local traditions. In addition, they learn about the documentation that is needed and the process that must be followed to nominate a building for the National Register of Historic Places.

Employment Opportunities and Salary Range

According to PayScale.com, an Executive Director of a non-profit Historic Preservation advocacy organization makes an average annual salary of $56,993. An architectural historian makes an average salary of $40,000 a year. Additional information about PayScale’s report can be found here - https://www.payscale.com/research/US/Industry=Historic_Preservation/Salary

Glassdoor.com reports that a Senior Director at the National Trust for Historic Preservation (NTHP) makes a salary ranging from $124,000 to $133,000 a year. Additional salaries at the NTHP include a Program Manager making an average of $57,848 a year, a Director making $91,578 to $102,984 a year, a curator making between $60,000 to $65,000 a year, and an architect making between $64,000 and $68,000 a year. To learn more about the Glassdoor report, go to https://www.glassdoor.com/Salary/National-Trust-for-Historic-Preservation-Salaries-E22451.htm

PreserveNet provides preservationists with a comprehensive data base about professional opportunities. You can learn more about PreserveNet at http://www.preservenet.cornell.edu/index.php

People who go into this field often find it very rewarding, as they help to provide the greater community with a connection to another place and time.  Historical Preservation professionals find it fulfilling to save the buildings, neighborhoods, and downtowns that provide the unique character that make our cities and towns special and memorable.

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