A lifelong history lover, I have long been intrigued by abandoned buildings at the side of the road and the questions they inspire: when were they built, who built them, and why? At some point, someone or some people believed them worthy of their blood, sweat, tears, and time to build. Yet, now these structures lay forsaken, left to rot into oblivion, where nothing will remain to remind of the stories that echo within the crumbling walls and the lives, movements, ideas, ideologies, historical events, and evolving cultural landscapes that intertwine within the structure’s fabric and history.
I am endlessly curious about each place’s unique history and cultural heritage, from the larger regions and cities down to the small towns and individual houses. While I am interested in many fields of historic preservation, and many forms of material culture, I am especially fascinated with the stories of historic structures and passionate about investigating and uncovering what these structures’ physical fabric, and their related archival materials, can say about the people who designed, built, and used these structures and the cultures, time periods, and changes that these structures have existed through. Historic structures are some of the most personal, and yet public tangible forms of history. As homes and places of work, recreation, and worship, these places can be intimately personal to small groups of individuals, and yet as they stand, whether whole or even in ruins, their presence influences all those and the environment they are in. I want to help preserve what is still standing tall, protect what vestiges remain, and uncover and restore the memory of what is now gone, so that these tangible pieces of history and past people, cultures, and ideas, these architectural palimpsests of stone, wood, brick, and mud, located in urban and rural palimpsests of structures, streets, forests, and streams, and displaying palimpsests of ideals, ideologies, and natural, economic, and social situations, are not lost but retained for the use, enjoyment, and education of future generations.
Though I love all forms of historic architecture, a type of historic structure I am particularly interested in is vernacular architecture, which are indicative and evocative regional and local expressions of place and people, particularly people that were not or are not the elite of their societies who may leave or have left little behind in terms of archival records. Not only have these buildings often been overlooked academically, but they are now also at increased risk due to societal changes and pressures, conflict, environmental issues, and declining knowledge in traditional trades. As stated by Austrian composer Gustav Mahler, “Tradition is not the worship of ashes, but the preservation of fire.” It would be an honor and a privilege helping to preserve these structures and the ongoing traditions related to them.
I have long had an interest in sacred architecture as well. I find sacred architecture fascinating because religious structures are beliefs manifested into the built form, reflecting views on life, death, and the afterlife that govern how people live their lives and interact with each other and the world around them. These structures also depict in visual form the changes over time of singular religious belief systems, as well occasionally the evolution in a community and in general society from one religious tradition to another and the endurance of folk beliefs often unique to specific local areas. Due to this, I am passionate about preserving religious structures. While these structures may possess numerous layers of significance, from architectural significance to community significance, and sacred significance to historical significance, they may also be at risk of neglect and willful destruction due to changes in religious practice and religious persecution. Religious communities, at least in the United States, are also often wary of historic preservation and the associated laws and regulations. As with vernacular architecture, it would give me great personal and professional joy to help preserve these places.
I also have a burgeoning interest in heritage tourism. While there are certainly problems associated with heritage tourism, with negative effects including site damage and damage to the local culture and lifestyle, heritage tourism also can be a force for good when it comes to historic preservation, sustainable economic development, and education and engagement. This interest started as curiosity stemming from studying abroad in France and vacationing in Italy, where I got to see and experience firsthand tourism in places such as Assisi. Later academic courses solidified this interest through the explanation and examination of the positive and negative impacts of tourism at and for historic sites, peoples, and cultures.
A third interest I have, relating to historic structures and to heritage tourism, is international preservation. I first fell in love with American cultural heritage through my lifelong love of Virginian history and American history as a whole, and as I have gone through undergraduate and into graduate school I have become increasingly interested in worldwide cultural heritage, tangible and intangible. With so many cultures with their own unique cultural heritage around the world, I am very much interested in pursuing international historic preservation work, helping to preserve worldwide cultural heritage, both for local communities, who are the most intimately connected to the history of the area, the current impacts of said history, and the structures, sites, and objects that represent that history, and who are the ones that stand to the gain the most when it comes to the preservation of the heritage and lose the most when preservation does not occur, while also for the international community, as these objects and sites of cultural heritage are also part of global human heritage, the history of humanity, and are of interest and importance to people throughout the world.