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 →