Critical Matters: Knowledge Production in Preservation Practice

On July 16, 2022 Amber delivered the closing plenary lecture for the National Alliance of Preservation Commissions Forum National Conference while recovering from a bout with COVID. Due to these circumstances, she delivered the keynote virtually to an audience in Cincinnati, Ohio.

NAPC’s FORUM is the only national conference focused on the issues facing local historic preservation boards and commissions. Held on a biennial basis, FORUM includes dozens of educational sessions and discussion panels, mobile workshops and tours, and five days of non-stop networking for commission staff and volunteers representing local, state and national organizations and government agencies.

Integrity. Significance. Standards. The 50-year “rule.” In the realm of preservation practice, these policy tools are often presented as objective and fair. Procedural routine, rather than intellectual and methodological rigor, shape our current landmark nomination system. The tenets preservationists abide by validate this system, cementing myths about historic value that benefit a select few. While preservation in the last 30 years has expanded beyond what could have been imagined when Ann Pamela Cunningham gathered together a group of women to preserve Mount Vernon, systemic inequity pervades the field. This talk employed a Black feminist lens to interrogate the frameworks that create and perpetuate intellectual bias in the preservation field. It engaged scholars such as Audre Lorde, bell hooks, Patricia Hill Collins, and Saidiya Hartman to amplify subjugated knowledge in relation to Black historic sites, with the intention that these approaches be considered for all historic sites, but especially those associated with dispossessed, oppressed, and marginalized people.