Preservation Inspiration: TED Talks

Inspiring thoughts, compelling stories, and a strong voice, all in 20 minutes or less. That’s a TED talk, which are growing in popularity. Not surprisingly, some of these have preservation origins or connections. For your Monday, here are some TED talks worth listening to and sharing.

Do you have any others? What’s your Monday inspiration?


PresConf Recap: People of Preservation

Sessions, site seeing, photographing buildings, fun events, educational and inspiring speakers – the NTHP and Indianapolis put together a fabulous experience for the 2000+ preservationists and friends

October 30 – November 2, 2013. There’s much to say and much to share, and PiP will cover the conference in segments: people, sessions, events, buildings, and travel. First up: PEOPLE.

Historic preservation is place. It is buildings. But most of all, it is people. Preservation wouldn’t be anywhere without its people. Attending the National Trust for Historic Preservation conference in Indianapolis, IN this past week provided the strongest examples of just how important people are to preservation. It is inspiring to meet preservationists who have such diverse jobs and niches, yet who are all working to further the preservation cause.

New Media, New Audiences panel:

New Media, New Audiences panel: Dana Saylor, Julia Rocchi, Kaitlin O’Shea, Kayla Jonas Galvin, Michelle Kimball, Meagan Baco. More about this social media session to come, but these inspiring women standing with me are just some of the people to which I’m referring.

I’m grateful to live in and participate in the social media sector of preservation. After years of knowing fellow preservationists through blogs, Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook, finally I had the chance to meet so many passionate people. If you’re one of the social media crew: I probably hugged you – that’s how happy I was to meet you. How interesting it is to have this network across the country (and the world, in some cases), to build these relationships and to know what each other is working on in the field (and some outside of work) even before we meet. We are non-profit employees, government employees, self-employed individuals, writers, artists, photographers, and advocates with projects ranging from one building to an entire city to the entire field of preservation. What an honor to meet everyone. Some of the social media crew includes:

Beyond the social media crowd and network, it’s wonderful to know accomplished preservationists, students, and locals. The Preservation Conference is the place where you can talk to any preservationist; you already have the common ground of preservation, so just strike up a conversation. I was lucky to speak with Stephanie Meeks, President of the NTHP; Vince Michael of the NTHP and the blog Time Tells. I met a 16 year student who has already written a National Register nomination for a Rosenwald School (and it’s been accepted). And this is just the beginning. Everyone is sincerely excited for the field, for each other, and it’s a motivating, inspiring experience. Mix everyone together and you’ll be on a preservation high! The annual preservation conference is one of the best ways to be reinvigorated and inspired. I look forward to future conversations and conferences.

Preservation Inspiration

After lazy, warm summer days, getting back into the swing of school or a more demanding pace of professional work can seem daunting. Even for those who see preservation as a lifestyle – much more than just a job – the more relaxed feeling of summer is hard to bid adieu. Hopefully you’ve all adjusted to your new school schedules and are excited for the work September brings, in the classroom or the office. In any case, a little inspiration can go a long way, yes?

This leads to me ask: What inspires you? What gets you excited for your schoolwork, your job, your volunteer activities? What reminds you that historic preservation is a field meant for you (or any field, if you work in another)?

Do you have a favorite quote? Maybe hearing success stories inspires you to keep going and keep believing in preservation. Or is the start of a new school with everyone full excitement what gets your preservation zest going?

One of my favorite quotes is still by Margaret Mead, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world. Indeed it is the only thing that ever has.” I’ve seen this quote applied in many different scenarios, but to me it has always said that everyone and everything can make a difference. As preservationists, we care about our built environment and our quality of life in the past, present and future.

And, of course, a certain flock of flamingos provides plenty of inspiration, too. So what is your go-to inspiration? Care to share it in the comments? And while we’re talking a faster pace of work and more seriousness of work, do you have anything you’d like Preservation in Pink to discuss? What topics interest you in preservation?

City Hall in Montpelier, VT. It is also home of the Lost Nation Theater. A multi-use building with many historic details intact provides good preservation inspiration.

Your Thoughts

Preservation in Pink readers,

I would like to collect your favorite thoughts, sayings, or quotes relating to historic preservation. Simply, is there one phrase or line that always reminds you of preservation? A wonderful quote, perhaps? A saying that you have? It doesn’t have to be said by a famous author – something you’ve written would be much better!

Spring is taking a while to arrive in the northeast, it’s around midterm time or a semester crunch for many students, it’s almost tax day, it’s raining — whatever your trouble may be right now, a collection of sayings to make a preservationist smile would make an excellent springtime collaboration.

For instance, my favorite quote, one that always makes me smile and one that gets at the essence of preservation is:

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world. Indeed it is the only thing that ever has.” – Margaret Mead

So what about you? What is your inspiration? What do you keep pinned above your computer, on your bulletin board, or at the end of your email? Leave a comment below, please.


P.S. Remember when Izzy was this big? Well, now this kitten, who likes to help me with my work, takes over my workspace. She’s giant!

Historic Preservation Quotes

Do you ever find yourself looking for a good, inspirational quote pertaining to historic preservation one that will offer extra motivation when necessary or easily offer an answer to why does historic preservation matter?  To my knowledge, no one has created one of those small gift books that you can find in stationery stores and drugstores.  Let me know when you find it. In the meantime, the South Carolina SHPO created a collection of such historic preservation quotes.  Some of the quotes paragraphs excerpted from classic texts, whereas other are short, sweet, and to the point.  Take a look, you’ll find one that you like. Click here for the pdf link.

Two quotes from the collection:

It has been said that, at its best, preservation engages the past in a conversation with the present over a mutual concern for the future.

William J. Murtagh, Keeping Time: The History and Theory of Preservation in America (New York: Sterling Publishing Co., Inc., 1988), p. 168.  

 The past is not the property of historians; it is a public possession. It belongs to anyone who is aware of it, and it grows by being shared. It sustains the whole society, which always needs the identity that only the past can give. In the Grapes of Wrath John Steinbeck pictures a group of Oklahoma farm wives loading their goods into an old truck for the long trip to California. They did not have many possessions, but there was not room for what they had.

“The women sat among the doomed things, turning them over and looking past them and back. This book. My father had it. He liked a book. Pilgrim’s Progress. Used to read it. Got his name in it. And his pipe—still smells rank. And this picture—an angel. I looked at that before the fust three come—didn’t seem to do much good. Think we could get this china dog in? Aunt Sadie brought it from the St. Louis fair. See? Wrote right on it. No, I guess not. Here’s a letter my brother wrote the day before he died. Here’s an old-time hat. These feathers—never got to use them. No, there isn’t room …. How can we live without our lives? How will we know it’s us without our past?”  (Steinbeck).

These are not members of a historical society. They had never seen a museum or a memorial. They were just people, asking a poignant and universal question: “How will we know it’s us without our past?” We do not choose between the past and the future; they are inseparable parts of the same river.

Dr. Walter Havighurst, Quoted by Carl Feiss in U.S. Conference of Mayors, With Heritage So Rich (New York: Random House, 1966), p. 1-2. 


Some people are natural storytellers.  You can’t help but smile when they are speaking, sharing stories from their past or just spinning yarn. Folks like this are often rooted where they grew up, knowledgeable in local history and the old ways.  They are invaluable sources and have often never imagined that people would be interested in what they have to say.  Oral history and the love of primary sources for researchers have proved otherwise. 

Most of the people I meet who are native to rural North Carolina, I meet through my work on the Overhills project, whether during interviews or meetings relating to Overhills. Johnny is one of the people whom I have met. Johnny grew up in the Harnett County – Cumberland County areas of North Carolina and knew Overhills for his entire life. He and his brother worked on Overhills and Long Valley Farm and loved it dearly. He still takes care of Long Valley Farm, which is going to become part of the North Carolina State Parks.

Johnny is a true storyteller. He is a delight to be around and hear. Johnny can talk for hours about the old ways of tobacco farming. He states that he is not an expert, though he does know a lot because his Daddy was a tobacco farmer.  In the fall and spring, Johnny still slaughters his own pigs and makes sausage and bacon and pork.  People drive by his house and stop to take pictures and ask about what he is doing because their grandparents used to do that.

Clearly he is a sponge of information and a fountain of knowledge; I think I could talk to Johnny for days and never get tired of listening. I can imagine walking tobacco fields and listening to him teach about farming and telling stories of local history.  He is animated, as nice as can be, a true Southerner, and down to earth. I do think his carefree attitude and smile is contagious. I hope everyone knows someone like Johnny, whether as a friend or as a resource.

I find inspiration in unexpected places and become reinvigorated by random people.  Johnny reminded how important my work is to so many people who loved Overhills dearly. Sometimes we underestimate the value of people as research resources, often favoring an actual document over someone’s spoken words. However, what we forget is that a newspaper article was written by a human being just as fallible as the rest of us. Personally, I tend to trust the spoken word over a historic newspaper article.  Comparing historic documents such as bills, telegrams, letters, receipt, etc. to newspaper articles, I have found many inaccurate statements in the articles. If my colleague and I weren’t searching through the Overhills documents, a future researcher could very well believe the inaccurate article over the primary documents. Hopefully our end report and project will correct any misconceptions.

Of course, the stories that people tell could just be stories mixed with fact and fiction. But for all of the otherwise-unknown details that living storytellers provide, from building locations to personal anecdotes and characteristics, to stories about those who have passed, to former road names and lessons about the old ways of occupations, the few inaccuracies are well worth the trouble and confusion. If we are only to rely on research and the “facts” via documented history, then we will find ourselves with an unfortunate gap in history.

People like Johnny help me to remember the importance of community connections and the value of reaching out to find history in unlikely places. And it’s even more fun when they are natural, entertaining storytellers.  Don’t always take the word of a newspaper article. And make sure to listen to and really hear people like Johnny. 

Thank you…

“…for reuniting people with their past, for preserving America’s hometown history…”

In the mail the other day, I received a postcard from Arcadia Publishing with the above text.  It brought a smile to my face, offering an extra this-is-why-I-do-what-I-do moment, something that is always appreciated in the beginning of the week. I thought all of you fellow preservationists, historians, archaeologists, etc. would appreciate it just as much.

Happy Birthday, part 3

And the wishes continue…

Happy Birthday to Elyse Gerstenecker!  Elyse shares my love of road trips (though she is way more hard core) and cheesy roadside architecture.  But she doesn’t drink coffee. Bummer.

And a special happy birthday to my mom, Linda O’Shea!  My mom takes the credit for me finding historic preservation, which is credit I’ll give to her.  She instilled my adoration of historic buildings, abandoned houses, and appreciating the past.  My mom has a preservationist’s heart indeed.  She continues to love all of our preservation efforts and continues to encourage me with things like this:

Wherever all of this takes you, it will always be of your own making and not something you “just fell into” like so many other people’s careers.  I think this was the perfect field for you; this mixture of the past and the future can be a very fulfilling combination. 

And my mom even fuels the flamingo thing by buying me plastic flamingo lawn ornaments, a flamingo crossing road sign, and converse sneakers with flamingos all over them. (I’m not kidding.)

Here is photograph of me, my mom, and my sister Sarah on our big road trip two summers ago.  We are in the Black Hills of South Dakota with Mount Rushmore in the background.  Now that was a road trip.

Black Hills of South Dakota

Black Hills of South Dakota

A little help…

As I begin work on the next issue of Preservation in Pink I look back on one of my favorite emails.  This email alludes to quality of life and sense of place, but it is important to remember that buildings, landscape, history, folkore, planning – all pieces of preservation fall under quality of life and sense of place.  This is why the topics addressed here;  it’s all connected.  The author of this email wrote to me during one of those periods of time when my non-preservation major friends just didn’t understand (or respect) what I wanted to do.  Here is something that continues to keep me motivated.

“I think a lot of people take the past for granted. everyone has this live for today attitude, but what’s the point of living for today if it won’t mean anything to you tomorrow? This is the reason why the world’s in the shape that it’s in. No one cares about anything anymore, except immediate satisfaction. That’s kind of a loaded statement – not everyone, just a lot of people, probably most. I won’t go off on this tangent because you’ve heard it all before. but we need people like you in the world. People to remind us of the values of past generations and our own heritage, people to tell us that things can be better, people to stop the Wal-Marts and the Best Buys. Otherwise, this world would be one giant corporate mass and everything that our grandparents and great- grandparents worked so hard for would be completely lost. I feel like they are ashamed of the state of the world right now. Because of you, I’ll never give Wal-Mart another cent of my money and lately I always consider whether or not I can buy something from a small business before I buy it from a corporation. Maybe I’m just one person, but that makes a difference, and that’s because of you. Without people like you, what will happen to the countrysides and the small towns and the independent business owners? Isn’t that the american dream? The self made man or woman? I worry that it might not exist soon. We’re watching a way of life fade away, and we need people to protect that because people like me don’t want to live in a world of Starbucks, McDonalds and Wal-Mart. Thank you for doing what you do. Trust me, your major is important, even if everyone doesn’t think so.”