#PastForward Recap: Emerging Professionals

Days of good sessions and good conversations at the National Preservation Conference left me with too many thoughts and take-aways for one post. And, I’d like to continue conversations that we started at the conference. Rather than overwhelm all of us, I’ll take it one post and one conversation at a time. Interested? Read on, and join in for the comments, whether you attended the conference or not.

Leading the Emerging Professionals session. Photo from the NTHP.

Leading the Emerging Professionals session. Photo from the NTHP.

From the conference program.

On Wednesday November 4, I had the privilege of leading the Emerging Professionals session at the National Preservation Conference (known as #PastForward). The session was divided into three parts or three topics, in this format: short talk about the topic, room discussion of topics/questions, smaller group discussions, back together for larger points and then move on to the next topic. A packed room (standing room only!), everyone in attendance was engaged and chatty. We had a great time.

The three topics were: Engaging Millennials; Technology & Historic Preservation; & finding a career in Historic Preservation.

To sum up the main points of the discussions:

  • Emerging does not mean young; it means new in the field.
  • The discussion of a need (or not) for division of age in the field remains current.
  • Embrace social media – not necessarily all of it, but some platform because that’s where everyone is.
  • To find your career: volunteer, intern, expand your skillset beyond preservation, talk to others about how they got to where they are.

For further discussion: The topic that I would like to continue is along the lines of age division in historic preservation. As I’ve discussed on PiP previously (here and here), the term “young preservationist” seems unnecessary and like it’s creating more of a divide than should exist for the good of preservation.

Yet, that is my experience living and working in Vermont. People in other locales feel that the only way for the younger generation of preservationists to be heard is by creating a separate group of preservationists who want to tackle different issues than the older generation of preservationists.

That makes sense. A large population can sustain separate groups working towards the same overall goal (read: historic preservation) with various methods. However, what I cannot understand is the prevalent use of “young” in the names of groups. And the age requirements. Emerging professionals is more dynamic and flexible. Open for interpretation, it can be anyone new to the field. As we know, some people start historic preservation careers at any age.

So, I ask: if you are in favor of the use of “young preservationists” or “young professionals” with an age requirement (under 40, under 35 – whatever it might be), what happens you cross over the that age limit? Will you be kicked out on your 40th birthday? So much for happy birthday!

Or, will we all just naturally age out of the young preservationist group?

I’m curious, truly, since the use of “young” seems new in our field. And it seems to me, that “young” is creating more of a divide in a field that needs all of the love and unity that it can get! When is “young” appropriate? Should we rename our groups? Is it effective to use “young” in the title of a group? Or does it create more of a divide?

Tell me what you think! Are you part of a “young preservationist” group? Would you keep the name? Change the name?

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9 thoughts on “#PastForward Recap: Emerging Professionals

  1. Deb at The Front Door Project says:

    Interesting topic! Since I’m an old Emerging Preservationist I would vote for using “Emerging”! The word “Young” implies inexperienced, and let’s say someone is 30 or 35 and has been in the field since college graduation. Is that really inexperienced anymore? In some ways those “young” people may be more savvy in certain areas than “old” people due to technology, etc. Or I would ask – is there really a need for the division at all? Isn’t a Preservationist a Preservationist? Skills, education and experience may vary but they are all Preservationists.

  2. Daniel says:

    I think you’re right on about the “emerging” v. “young” distinction. I could also see the argument that maybe there doesn’t need to be a distinction at all, by any name, but I know for a lot of people it has to do more with a change from “traditional” preservation to a “new” preservation that’s (ideally) more thoughtful when it comes to representation of diverse histories, placemaking, and accessibility to a less technical audience.

    In my grad school cohort we had a pretty even split between 20-somethings and people in their late 30s, but we were all coming out into the profession at roughly the same level, and it never felt like the older students were any different from the younger ones (I was right smack in the middle, more or less) in terms of their vision for what goals preservation should be working toward. We obviously weren’t totally monolithic, but generally we were all pretty like-minded, despite our age differences.

    I would also second your advice to broaden your skills outside of preservation stuff. Most people naturally have other skills, so that’s a great place to start. But even in the most preservation-y jobs that I can think of, having some knowledge of planning, landscape architecture, design, communications, or something else can really make you a more appealing candidate. And yes, Internships, internships, internships. Particularly NCPE Internships if you can get one, because they have a wide-range of jobs and also have a small stipend, which really helps!

    Anyway, I’m sorry (selfishly) that I missed this session; it sounds like it was great!

    • Kaitlin says:

      Interesting, traditional v. new. I often hear “purist” for traditional. Do you think the majority of the field is the new version of preservationists or those are just the louder ones?

      • Daniel says:

        Hmm, I don’t know! I like to think that, ideally, it’s a healthy mix. I for one really value placemaking and historic preservation’s role in it, but I also appreciate using correct architectural terminology when talking about specific things, or when writing something ‘authoritative’ about historic architecture (which is I think what gets me labeled as a ‘traditional’ or ‘purist’). I totally understand how, without definition, a more ‘professional’ vocabulary can come off as exclusionary though, which is an issue (but one that’s easily solved through definition / explanation).

  3. Susie says:

    Interesting topic and good comments! I think this division is created by the fact that historic preservation as something you can get a degree in is relatively new. In my workplace and prior experience, many of the older preservationists/architectural historians don’t have HP degrees because they didn’t exist; they have parallel degrees in public history or something similar. So “young” isn’t necessarily by age, but by how recently they joined the field. I think this distinction will fade as these emerging professionals become the main professionals in the field. And I agree, “emerging” is a good word!

    • Kaitlin says:

      That is a good point, Susie. Preservation programs were not as plentiful a few decades ago, and before that there weren’t any. And maybe “young” will fade it. It will be interesting to see as we age. 😉

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