This presentation is part of the Proceedings of the Maritime Cultural Landscape Symposium, October 14-15, 2015, University of Wisconsin-Madison
Barbara Wyatt: Greetings and thank you for being here. My name’s Barbara Wyatt and I’m a historian with The National Register and The National Historic Landmarks Program. In this brief talk I’ll explain my reasons for helping to plan this symposium. I’m going to touch on three aspects of this symposium that I consider of great importance to preservation in general and The National Register Program in particular. These aspects are represented by the words concept, collaboration, and results. Let me explain.
First the concept. My interest in MCL springs from a landscape perspective. I’m not a Maritime historian nor an archeologist, but I am a landscape architect doing what I can to promote the incorporation of landscapes into the development of context and evaluations of significance for all properties. By this we can better understand resources within their evolving environmental context and their many layered cultural context. Current research on Maritime cultural landscapes as a category of archeological and historic districts came to my attention within the framework of The National Register Landscape Initiative. The concept of using a landscape approach to understand the areas that encompass terrestrial and marine components, and studying them as a landscape continuum within the evolving natural environment and layers of cultural development struck me as eminently reasonable.
Although broadly based on the work of Christer Westerdahl and others, including people in this room, the MCL concept seems to descend from a broader cultural landscape approach put forth by cultural geographers beginning with Carl Sauer, who’s perspectives on landscape, although not intended for historic preservation purposes, are influencing an analysis of the significance and integrity of what we might consider historic landscapes. Studies involving MCLs are contributing to the development of a methodology that has enormous scholarly implications but also a practical…practical implications for cultural resource management in the United States. Could this be a harbinger for more widespread acceptance of a landscape approach in general? This is what I hope is possible and why I wanted to learn more about the MCL approach from you who are working in the field and how the work you do might apply more broadly to non-Maritime landscapes.
The landscape approach to understanding cultural resources is not new, but it is becoming better understood by the preservation community and has been used for a number of years by The National Park Service to inventory, interpret, and manage cultural landscapes in national parks. The National Register may soft pedal the concept in its landscape bulletins, but the rural historic landscape bulletin essentially present a landscape approach to evaluation as to the battlefield and design landscape bulletins and others to a certain extent. Simply put, the landscape approach is a holistic means of considering the unique cultural traditions and distinctive physical resources of a place.
It can be a key to achieving an understanding of the development and significance of a place and it’s individual components. Several federal and state preservation programs are on board with this more holistic approach to the study of cultural resources. The US Army, for example, states this in a guidance document titled Guidelines for Documenting and Evaluating Historic Military Landscapes: An Integrated Landscape Approach. I quote, “Recently the Army has emphasized the need for integrated cultural resources management. This is a cultural landscape approach to planning and management whereby the military installation is viewed as an integrated landscape of natural and cultural resources and processes including military operations. Rather than a strictly compliance driven approach to cultural resource management, the Army is moving toward a comprehensive integrated planning concept.” Wow! That sounds so reasonable.
Through The National Register Landscape Initiative, webinars, and you can find the 50 plus presentations on The National Register website, I learned about the work of NOAA, BOEM and several tribes and their application of the Maritime cultural landscapes approach broached by Westerdahl and further explained by others, including Ben Ford, and the many contributors to his book, The Archeology of Maritime Landscapes. The participating agencies and tribes, though, were not simply interested in leading The National Register into new realms of conversation, but in beginning a dialogue that could lead to the development of guidance, it could address tricky questions about the compatibility of the concept with national register conventions including boundaries, integrity, and areas of evaluation.
This leads to the next aspect of this symposium that attracted me, collaboration. Through the NRLI, The National Register of Landscape Initiative webinars, participants achieved an understanding of the remarkable range of landscape research, context development, and registration concepts being developed by various federal and state agencies, tribes, and the academic community. The National Register staff receive summaries of some of this new research through national register nominations, however, we need more in depth engagement to achieve a comprehensive understanding of research methodologies and conclusions so that the guidance we provide is based on current research and practice.
This symposium presented an opportunity for such engagement among federal and state agencies with each contributing ideas and resources. It would’ve been difficult for any one of us to pull this off alone. Times have changed since passage of The National Historic Preservation Act. Everyone was desperate for guidance in the early years and NPS was in a position to develop and dispense guidance based on its understanding of best practices. All programs have matured, and today we need to tap the contributions of other agencies in other programs within NPS to develop new guidance and update old. Such collaboration is a means of broadening perspectives, sharing the cost load, and developing a more widely understood and accepted product.
As we move forward in updating and possibly expanding our guidance documents the National Register Bulletins, I envision a collaborative approach that perhaps can be based on the model we’ve developed for this symposium.
That leads to the last word, results. Exchanging information and listening to each other’s perspectives is a stimulating experience, but we need more than a good conversation. The exchange could be more fruitful if we have plans to take those conversations to another level of understanding, and that is exactly our plan for the information exchange here. On Friday some of us will meet to assess what we’ve learned, what it means to our programs, particularly the National Register, and how we can move forward to develop these ideas into constructive and acceptable guidance.
From my personal perspective, I am watching this process carefully to see how the process we’re engaged in here from concept to collaboration to results may be a new model for getting the work done that has been elusive. In these lean times, NPS needs to do more with less, and that leaves little room for the task of updating bulletins. It is my hope that the process we’re all engaged in here will foster a better understanding of the place of MCLs in the National Register program and lend a broader understanding to the landscape approach in general. Understanding conceptually and practically how to consider resources within these constructs has a potential to benefit resource evaluation and protection and help define a new definition of best practice.
This may be something we all want to consider moving into the next 50 years of the National Historic Preservation Act. Thank you so much for being here and please enjoy this gathering.