Tom Mayes

Why Do Old Places Matter? Learning

Posted on: October 2nd, 2014 by Tom Mayes 15 Comments

 

Homes at Old Salem, NC; | Credit:  Usually Melancholy via Flickr,Creative Commons

Old Salem, North Carolina | Credit: Usually Melancholy via Flickr,Creative Commons

Tom Mayes, a 2013 Rome Prize winner in Historic Preservation from the American Academy in Rome is back in Washington, D.C., these days. But he hasn't stopped thinking and writing about why old places matter. His series of essays about his experiences and research continues here.

People learn from old places, and they learn information that is not accessible to them in any other way. Like most people, when I think about learning at old places, I immediately think about visits to historic sites as a school child, places such as Old Salem, in my home state of North Carolina, where I remember a woman singing a Moravian song a cappella in a vaulted and plastered room, and the taste of sugar cake served at the Moravian love feast afterward. This experience fixed in me an awareness of the longstanding tradition of religious diversity, tolerance and freedom in our country. These types of visceral experiences at old places facilitate our potential to understand—and remember—complex ideas, and are available every day at hundreds of historic sites around the country.

Historic sites like Old Salem have an express educational mission, and have developed interpretive programs that are designed to teach history, using an old place as the educational tool.1 In the earlier essay on History, I emphasized that history can be understood at the real place where history actually happened in a way that it can’t be understood through documents and books alone. Education is a traditional role for historic preservation, and is one of the main reasons expressed for why historic preservation is supported through laws and public policy. This traditional and invaluable—and undervalued—educational activity continues to be a primary reason for valuing and saving old places.2 As Callie Hawkins, associate director of Programs at President Lincoln's Cottage and Soldier’s Home National Monument put it, “Educators at historic sites put considerable time and effort into planning programs that reinforce local and national learning standards. These standards-based programs demonstrate to classroom teachers that time spent out of the classroom is time well spent. Most importantly, though, this type of informal learning environment helps cultivate in students a deep appreciation of how the past informs the present and shapes the future beyond what any textbook could achieve.”3... Read More →

About Tom Mayes

Tom Mayes is the deputy general counsel for the National Trust for Historic Preservation. In 2013 Mayes was awarded the Rome Prize in Historic Preservation from the American Academy in Rome.

Why Do Old Places Matter? Creativity

Posted on: August 13th, 2014 by Tom Mayes 6 Comments

 

Creativity--Chesterwood, the estate and studio of American sculptor Daniel Chester French (1850-1931) | Credit: Carol M. Highsmith

Chesterwood, the estate and studio of American sculptor Daniel Chester French (1850-1931) | Credit: Carol M. Highsmith

Tom Mayes, a 2013 Rome Prize winner in Historic Preservation from the American Academy in Rome is back in Washington, D.C., these days. But he hasn't stopped thinking and writing about why old places matter. His series of essays about his experiences and research continues here.

Richard Florida, in his studies and writings on the rise of the creative class, noted that the creative class is drawn to certain types of places, and he’s tried to identify the qualities of places that are attractive to creative people. One of the key ingredients of creative places, according to Florida, is authenticity. Florida says: “Authenticity—and in real buildings, real people, real history—is key. A place that’s full of chain stores, chain restaurants, and chain nightclubs is seen as inauthentic. Not only do those venues look pretty much the same everywhere, but they also offer the same experiences you could have anywhere.”1

Although Florida may have been one of the first to articulate the attraction that creative people have to certain places (which, by the way, he also says is a key measure of the possible success of a city in the future), it’s not a new concept. Many of the people who started the preservation movement in America were artists and writers, such as the people from the Charleston Renaissance who were key to the beginning of the preservation movement in Charleston. We find this overlap throughout the country. And artists’ colonies are often historic places that become tourist attractions, like Carmel, Provincetown, Ogunquit, Greenwich Village and increasingly, to many people’s surprise, Brooklyn and Detroit. All were places that creative people were drawn to because they were distinctive and interesting (and at one time cheap) —and because other creative people were there.... Read More →

About Tom Mayes

Tom Mayes is the deputy general counsel for the National Trust for Historic Preservation. In 2013 Mayes was awarded the Rome Prize in Historic Preservation from the American Academy in Rome.

Why Do Old Places Matter? Sacred

Posted on: July 18th, 2014 by Tom Mayes 1 Comment

 

Tom Mayes, a 2013 Rome Prize winner in Historic Preservation from the American Academy in Rome is back in Washington, D.C., these days. But he hasn't stopped thinking and writing about why old places matter. His series of essays about his experiences and research continues here.

The pilgrimage site Santuario de Chimayo in New Mexico. | Credit: Thompson Mayes

The pilgrimage site Santuario de Chimayo in New Mexico. | Credit: Thompson Mayes

Throughout the world, people revere old places as sacred.

On my first visit to the Catholic pilgrimage site Santuario de Chimayo in New Mexico, like many people of many faiths (or no faith at all), I was stunned into reverent silence by the palpable sense of sacredness at that old place. I don’t know if it was the altitude, the impact of coming into the dim, dusty chapel from the brilliantly sunlit skies of New Mexico, the lingering smell of incense and burning candles, the rhythmic voices of the pilgrims in prayer, the old paintings of Santos, or the sight of aluminum crutches lining the walls of the side chapel, left behind by those who believed themselves healed, but something touched me. I felt that I had come in contact with the sacred, even though I’m from a different faith.

People all over the world find old places like the Santuario moving, and actively seek to experience the feelings I had at that remarkable place. From the Wailing Wall of Jerusalem, the Ka’aba at Mecca, St. Peter’s Basilica, Santiago de Compostela, to the Shrine at Ise in Japan, Varanasi in India, and Mount Taylor in New Mexico, sacred places have been revered for thousands of years by many different cultures. The age-old experience of visiting a sacred place remains so meaningful today that millions of people continue the tradition of pilgrimage, travelling to sacred places that have also become tourist destinations.1

Bob Jaeger, president of Partners for Sacred Places, explained to me that the word sacred is often interpreted as meaning set apart, separate, different, like a sanctuary. As Jaeger says, “these are places that are viewed as different, as set apart by the community—and there is something awesome in these places, something that lifts you up and takes you out of your normal life.” Martin Gray, a photographer for National Geographic and author of Sacred Earth, listed different factors that he thinks cause people to perceive sacredness in places—visual beauty, geophysical characteristics, building materials, light and color, sound and music, aromatic substances, the awareness of centuries of ceremonial activity, collective belief, the power of ceremonial objects or relics, and others. Gray writes, “I believe that the nature of a person's experience of a sacred site may be influenced by them having what Devereux [author of a book titled Sacred Geography] calls a "multi-mode" approach to the sites, that is, by experiencing the sites from the vantage points of both knowing and feeling, both mind and heart.2 Reading this, I was struck by how similar this explanation seems to be to my own experience at the Santuario de Chimayo—and at many other old places.3... Read More →

About Tom Mayes

Tom Mayes is the deputy general counsel for the National Trust for Historic Preservation. In 2013 Mayes was awarded the Rome Prize in Historic Preservation from the American Academy in Rome.