By Jason Yots
So, I had this bright idea to develop an Introduction to Historic Preservation course that would be offered at a local college or university. After a bit of research, I created a course description and found a great textbook. I then began approaching local institutions about developing and adopting the course. At first, there wasn't much interest, but then I gained an introduction to a small local college through a family member and received a very positive response. Over the course of the next several months, I worked with the host department chair to develop a syllabus, I read and re-read the text book and I designed field activities that I thought would provide some context for the topics that were introduced in class. Last spring, the department chair decided that the class was ready for a test run and the college opened registration for the Fall 2009 semester. And no one registered. Well, that's not exactly true. Two kind souls registered, leaving twenty-three spots open. Despite a bit of a flurry during the first week of classes, the class enrollment remained low and we decided to cancel the class.
I was, of course, disappointed that the class did not survive, but I was mostly just embarrassed that I proposed an idea, imposed on the department chair and then fell on my face. I had attempted to throw a party in honor of historic preservation and my invited guests had to wash their hair that night.
Those emotions were soon supplanted by frustration. But it wasn't frustration born of the failure of the class, as much as it was frustration with the reality that Buffalo - a college town of sorts and a virtual living laboratory of historic structures - still does not have a regularly offered Introduction to Historic Preservation course, let alone a broader historic preservation curriculum. So what, you ask? Well, perhaps, except that historic preservation presents for Buffalo (and small upstate NY cities like it) a tangible and immediate economic development strategy, if only any one knew what the heck it is. Ask most people about their perception of historic preservation, and they'll likely respond with images of elitism, obstructionism and misplaced nostalgia. After all, historic preservation does not square neatly with the manifest destiny so many Americans pursue and treasure. Consume the frontier, and the past be damned.
With the Introduction to Historic Preservation class, I was hoping to introduce to a few dozen young people (OK, a dozen would have been plenty) to the philosophies that shape historic preservation, to the economic development that flows in its wake and, perhaps most importantly, to the meaningful career opportunities that lay within its inter-disciplinary folds. In short, I really just wanted a handful of young people to hear the story of historic preservation, and then decide for themselves whether they might be able to find a satisfying place within it. In the process, maybe Buffalo would have a few less ex patriates and a few more hands for the cause.