This lecture is part of the National Council for Preservation Education meeting held July 15-16, 2014 in Natchitoches, Louisiana.
From Theses to Capstone Experiences: Engaging Students in Community-Based Preservation by Rebecca J. Sheppard and Catherine Morrissey, University of Delaware
Historic preservation has long focused on the importance of preserving buildings and landscapes, but in recent years a paradigm shift in the field placed a new priority on working from the ground up with a grassroots approach. Preservation professionals increasingly seek to connect with the communities that own, occupy, and use these historic resources; to establish what the communities want to preserve, as well as why and how they value their places, instead of dictating these values from the top down. To be successful in the preservation world, students need to learn to navigate these situations, and develop skills that will allow them to effectively communicate with the public. Yet, typical preservation students spend much of their time in the classroom, learning what to preserve and developing a broad range of technical and technological skills, but finding limited opportunities to engage with an actual public about why to preserve. This paper explores the first two years of the capstone experience in the University of Delaware Masters Program in Historic Preservation, and the ways in which it encourages students to consider the role of a community in preserving its resources.
Four years ago, in response to alumni feedback and a recognition of shifts within the field of historic preservation, the University of Delaware launched a new MA in Historic Preservation. Unlike the earlier MA in Urban Affairs and Public Policy with a Concentration in Historic Preservation, which required a thesis as the final element for the degree, the new masters program requires a two-semester capstone experience. The Delaware model places a high priority on practical experience, balancing formal coursework with participation on real-world projects through research assistantships or course credit, and through the second-year Capstone. We specifically designed the Capstone to encourage students to engage with a specific community to explore questions of preservation, while creating a set of individual portfolio pieces to help with job-hunting. This paper compares the experiences of the past two years, which involved two rather different approaches–one focused on a single site (Penn Farm, New Castle, Delaware) and the second focused on an entire town (Mauricetown, New Jersey). In both cases, students coped with real clients and publics, choosing individual projects geared to their own particular interests as well as community priorities. They learned not only the technical side of preservation, but also the human side, one that is increasingly more critical to the profession.