We know that people like historic buildings, places, and landscapes. Quantitatively, we also know that everyday people--across the planet--spend large sums of money engaging in heritage tourism. In surveys, the majority of people support saving historic buildings and places. Yet, most people do not self-identify as “historic preservationists”. Why?
We also know that people like natural or "wild" places; in fact, many of the reasons that people like historic places seem to also hold true for natural places as well. As a concept, "conservation" has very similar goals for historic and natural environments. Yet, historic preservationists and environmentalists don't often work effectively together. Why?
What if we were to conserve all human-experienced environments under the common concept of "place"? A focus on "place conservation" recognizes that nearly all environments have some combination of cultural and natural elements and that everyday people don't separate the two into discrete concepts when experiencing a place.
The tools available to officially identify places that are “historic” and “not historic”, such at the National Register of Historic Places, only consider the professional values of art and architectural historians. Yet, the primary beneficiaries of historic places are everyday people. Their values are not part of this official process. Why not? What happens if we modify these tools to accommodate the values of more stakeholders? How can this happen?
These are the basic questions upon which my teaching and research are largely based. More specifically, I am interested in how people perceive, value, and interact with historic environments and how this experience is similar to the experience of natural environments. I use social science research methodologies, such as ethnographies, survey research, and phenomenology to answer these questions because, fundamentally, I believe that historic preservation is an endeavor that benefits people.