Field School Final Exam

During the last week of field school, Travis often joked about what would or would not be on a final exam.  Exam?!  Were we really going to have an exam?  We didn’t really think we would, but lo and behold, Travis presented us with an “exam” on the last morning, which was matching clever phrases to each site that we visited.  (No, it was not collected.)  We also had course evaluations, reminiscent of the last days of college classes. If in fact we did have a real final exam and let’s say it was an essay about what I gained from field school, it might go something like this:


Often I find myself believing that I have my career path planned out exactly how I want it; I’ve finally figured out what would be the perfect job for me in terms of diversity, enjoyment, challenges, and satisfaction.  Before attending field school at Poplar Forest, I had decided to pursue architectural restoration or building conservation.  However, I am willing to admit, that I often interweave these two terms despite knowing the difference.  I thought that a project such as the Kenmore restoration or the Poplar Forest restoration would be something that I’d love to do everyday.   In these past two weeks, I have since changed my mind.


These two weeks have provided me with a base for constant preservation thinking and pondering.  I have sat awake at night thinking about the large multi-year restoration projects such as Monticello, Montpelier, and Poplar Forest.  Then I thought about the smaller projects like restoring my own home someday.  And I thought about all of the other facets I love about historic preservation and acknowledged that restoration is only one piece to the puzzle.


An extensive restoration project, while admirable and incredible, is not something I would want to undertake.  Perhaps, I am, at this point, quite daunted by the knowledge required to accomplish such a task.  Another part is that I cannot imagine doing the same job for 20 years (this could, however, be quite affected by my wanderlust personality.)   But, the biggest part is that I cannot “settle” (aka decide) to follow one path in historic preservation.  Sometimes, I think that this might hinder my potential success, but success is all subjective anyway. 


So what do I want to do with my preservation life?  I want to be the roots of a community in a non-political sense.  I love to talk, write, and teach preservation. But at the same time I want to do preservation. I want my job to involve the theories of quality of life, sense of place, and incorporating historic preservation into the community.  Perhaps this is a bit of advocacy and I’m alright with that, though you may not see me on the steps of Washington D.C.  Kerry Vautrot and I have great plans to work together and involve our ever growing network of preservation friends.  We want to be self employed consultants but do the above things. 


This remains quite a puzzle, but currently I can imagine a community preservation center in which we can serve as consultants for historic preservation projects or direct the community to those who need someone in our network.  Perhaps we’ll take on National Register nominations, Historic Structure Reports, architectural conservation investigation, and then plan community events, preservation camps for school kids, and many more things.  By developing a plan for this form of “business” we would be able to incorporate everything we love about preservation, helping anyone in the community, and bringing preservation to everyone. 


Granted, this is another plan in its very beginning stages.  I thought of this the other night, probably wired on coffee and on a preservation induced high.  Two significant field school events helped to trigger this round of ideas.  First we visited Point of Honor in Lynchburg, which is a city run house museum that hosts community events as well.  The restoration is not perfect, but I could just imagine it as a great place to visit and have events and learn about Lynchburg.  That same evening we visited another house, Rivermont House, which Travis and one of his preservation friends have saved from demolition and restored the outside (basically on their time and energy.)  Travis mentioned that it could serve as an architectural resource center.  It sounded wonderful.  Every county (give or take) should have one!


At some point I noticed the difference between nationally / worldly significant historic site restoration project vs. more locally significant projects and then of course, the differences in restoration and rehabilitation.  For me, I believe it would be more rewarding to work on a smaller scale and be able to do part of everything that goes into restoring/interpreting/running a historic site while educating the public through more than just exhibits. I realize that larger sites do this as well, but I’d like to start small and see where I go. 


Again, this is a vague plan but it is my current dream that I’d like to follow and develop as I learn and experience more in the preservation field.  And I credit the weeks at field school to this latest update.


The second aspect for which I am grateful to field school is the ability to once again talk and work with new people from different backgrounds and interests, but all who are interested in the world of preservation.  We had wonderful conversations whether about quality of life and suburbia or architecture or restoring houses.  The combination of the site visits, projects, and people has allowed me to step into preservation theory and be content to sit and think about historic preservation and what I would like to do in the years after graduate school.   And field school has reminded me what I know, but more importantly, how much I have to learn and how much I want to learn. 


One thought on “Field School Final Exam

  1. Jesse Adams-Doolittle says:

    Take on the world O’Shea, we’ve got your back. I just knew that you’d have posted something eloquent here to cap off the two week stint with Mr Preservation-Restoration himself. Your energy is inspiring, and a self-centered nation needs inspirational preservationists to initiate much-needed introspection. Align your oral histories with restoration knowledge, and you’ve got a way to tie people to the “old stuff” that they like so much, not to mention the ability to help them answer the question that so often goes unasked; just what exactly to do about it.

    PS Daniel Bluestone at UVA, if you ever want to talk to him for any reason, let me know and I will put you in touch, or just email him. Either way, he’s a goodie. Also, check out
    It’s a freelance historic house research group here in town that could be the beginnings of what you talk about doing. The managing partner, Scott, is a great guy and would also be willing to talk to you about anything (plus his wife is a Mary Wash Hist. Pres. Grad). I haven’t done any work for them yet but I hope to soon. Hope all is well in NC.

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