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  • Introduction:The Place of Folklore in Historic Preservation
  • Laurie Kay Sommers (bio)

this special issue grew out of the Working Group on Folklore in Historic Preservation Policy, which I co-chaired with Michael Ann Williams. We spent 2011–2012 implementing a policy initiative grant from the American Folklore Society that sought to position folklorists and folklore methodologies within historic preservation practice and policy. We wanted, as we put it, "a place at the table"—to identify areas where folklorists' expertise intersects with preservation work and to highlight model historic preservation projects and programs that reflect folkloristic perspectives. My policy paper "Integrating Folklore and Historic Preservation Policy: Toward a Richer Sense of Place" (Sommers 2013) outlined key benchmarks in the history of folklore and historic preservation work in the United States, tactics for advocacy, lessons learned, and a blueprint for future action. We also prepared a companion bibliography and webography.1 Since our inception, we have grown from a working group of eight members to a public listserv (hp_folk) with over 50 members.

The intersection of folklore and historic preservation is not a new area of applied work, but it is one that has operated at the fringes of our field. Nearly 40 years have passed since the 1980 amendments to the National Historic Preservation Act, which prompted the American Folklife Center's (AFC) seminal Cultural Conservation report (Loomis 1983). In that time, much constructive work has emerged in arts-based cultural conservation. Far less energy has been devoted to historic preservation. A notable exception occurred during the 1980s, when folklorists were players in national policy dialogues. The AFC shaped the role of folklore in the national conversation, with projects such as the Grouse Creek Cultural Survey: Integrating Folklife and Historic Preservation Field Research (Carter and Fleischhauer 1988), the first attempt to combine architectural and folklife surveys into a single project; and Mary Hufford's integrative approach to cultural conservation and place in One Space, Many Places: Folklife and Land Use in New Jersey's Pinelands National Reserve (1986). The Folklife and the Public Sector: Assessment and Prognosis conference at Western Kentucky University, organized by Burt Feintuch in 1985, resulted in The Conservation of Culture, which included a section called "Cultural Conservation, Historic Preservation, and Environmental Resources" (Feintuch 1988). This florescence of activity culminated in the 1990 Cultural Conservation Conference sponsored by the AFC, resulting in Mary Hufford's edited volume Conserving Culture: A New Discourse on Heritage (1994). [End Page 355]

More recent publications in historic preservation underscore the need for folklorists in preservation policy development. In his book Place, Race, and Story, Ned Kaufman focuses on "storyscapes" and calls on folklorists to help craft standards and methodologies "that capture the power of stories" in what he calls "heritage conservation" (2009:5). The National Trust for Historic Preservation's 2012 conference included the session "Telling Richer Stories of Place" that sought to "link past and present, story to mission, and historic sites to the community."2 Kingston Heath has called for a "humanist approach" to historic preservation that addresses both tangible and intangible cultural resources: the lived reality, traditions, and use of a place as well as its style, construction details, form, and plan (Heath 2014:1).

The articles in this special issue provide a framework for understanding the relationship between folklore and historic preservation and illustrate models for integrating the two. They are intended for an audience of folklorists and like-minded colleagues who seek a more diverse, holistic, and community-based approach to placemaking and historic preservation. The authors—as practitioners—write from personal experience. They discuss models that work within the infrastructure of the National Register of Historic Places, and those that offer innovative alternatives. Their perspectives are both pragmatic and visionary, shaped by current thinking in folklore, vernacular architecture, creative placemaking, public history, and historic preservation. Collectively, the authors represent a continuum in the intersection of historic preservation and folklore: from Kingston Heath—dean of the humanist perspective—whose approach is shaped by American Studies and an interest in vernacular architecture; to Molly Garfinkel, a historian who works with the folklorists at City Lore—New York City's center for urban folk culture; to David Rotenstein...


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pp. 355-358
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