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"Historic Preservation Philosophy and Ethics: Refers to the underlying philosophy that provides the basis for any preservation plan; 'why should it be done this way?'"

Glossary of Selected Index Terms, National Trust Library, University Libraries, University of Maryland, College Park, Maryland.

"The fact that we cannot give a clear and simple answer to the question 'Why do we take care of our cultural heritage?' is a major problem in our conservation work on both a national and international level. By neglecting to maintain the philosophical basis for our work as conservationists, we not only place international co-operation at risk, but also our work involving the cultural heritage on a national level may cease to be taken seriously by politicians — even in the rich nations of the Western World.

"The application of all kinds of sophisticated technology or the re-introduction of traditional craftmen's techniques are of little use in conservation if we cannot first decide what we should preserve. And to do that, we need to make use of words: we must define, we must explain, we must persuade, we must convince. An object is not part of the cultural heritage until it is perceived and interpreted as such.

"Attempts to define the cultural heritage fall into three categories:

  1. Delimiting definitions based on specific categories of objects and involving an institution able to judge each case.
  2. All-inclusive definitions, which fail in that what is not included at the time can easily be regarded as excluded.
  3. Potential definitions, again presupposing the existence of a professional institution to make the necessary evaluations.

There are various reasons for our dilemma, all equally important. Our cultural heritage possesses a complex of values, all answering our various needs, yet incapable of being appraised simultaneously, as they are sometimes in mutual opposition. But the important thing is we acknowledge the necessity of being able to formulate our reasons. These fall into four categories:

  1. Negative reasons based on the situation where the conservation of the cultural heritage does not happen.
  2. Paradigmatic reasons involving specific groups in the population with a strong interest in preserving or strengthening their own identity.
  3. Metaphorical reasons relying on the use of parallels to describe what cannot be expressed in simple terms.
  4. Utilitarian reasons (the largest and most difficult group) ranging from regarding ancient buildings as an economic resource to symbolic and abstract values."

Myklebust, Dag. "Preservation Philosophy — The Basis for Legitimating the Preservation of the Remains of Old Cultures in a Modern World with New Value Systems". Old Cultures, New Worlds, ICOMOS 8th General Assembly and International Symposium, October 10-15, 1987, US/ICOMOS, Washington, DC, Vol. II, p.729 (abstract).

"Cultural property consists of individual objects, structures, or aggregate collections. It is material which has significance that may be artistic, historic, scientific, religious, or social, and it is an invaluable and irreplaceable legacy that must be preserved for future generations."

Preamble, The Code of Ethics and Standards of Practice, American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works, 1999. [Italics added.]


Hawkins, Dominque M., AIA. Historic Structure Reports and Preservation Plans [download PDF format file], New Jersey Historic Preservation Office, pp.26-27.

"PART II. Treatment and Use Treatment Philosophy [1 to 3 pages]

Treatment Philosophy
Statement of recommended treatment philosophy[s], and boundaries as appropriate, including an appropriate period significance for the resource
Advantages and disadvantages of alternative treatments
Statement of potential impacts of recommendation
Rationale for proposed treatment recommendation
Substantiation for treatment philosophy
Plans or elevations delineating boundaries of areas of treatment if more than one treatment is proposed
R = minimum recommendations; O = optional elements

In both HSRs and Preservation Plans [PPs], the treatment philosophy should be a concise statement of the importance and recommended treatment with substantiation based upon accurate historical information and existing conditions, and supporting the interpretive goals of the property if applicable.

This section should also state the potential impacts of the recommendation and explore the advantages and disadvantages of alternatives as appropriate to justify the recommendation All recommendations should maximize retention of historic character, minimize the loss of historic fabric and meet the [Secretary of Interior] Standards. Typically, the best recommendations are those which necessitate the least disturbance of existing fabric. If dramatic changes are proposed, particularly in a restoration or reconstruction project, documentation and physical exploration supporting less invasive recommendations should be presented.

Specific references should be provided describing how the remaining features support the recommendation, with references to existing conditions photographs. In an HSR, the recommended treatments can include preservation, rehabilitation, restoration, or reconstruction of an area or feature. A Preservation Plan, however, usually recommends preservation or rehabilitation of an area or feature.

Typically, most projects are a combination of treatments designed to make a property usable for a modern function. If more than one treatment is recommended for a property, sufficient information should be provided to substantiate the recommendation, and the boundaries of each area of treatment specifically described. Annotated plans or elevations may be necessary to delineate areas of treatment."


Berkhofer, Robert F. "A Point of View on Viewpoints in Historical Practice," in A New Philosophy of History, edited by Frank Ankersmit and Hans Kellner. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1995.

Denslagen, Wim. "Restoration Theories, East and West." Transactions, Association for Studies in the Conservation of Historic Buildings 18 (1993): 3-7.

Downer, Robert S., Jr, Alexandra Roberts, Harris Francis and Klara B. Kelley. "Traditional History and Alternative Conceptions of the Past," in Conserving Culture: A New Discourse on Heritage, edited by Mary Hufford. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1994.

Earl, John. Building Conservation Philosophy. Dorset, England: Donhead Publishing Ltd., 2003.

The book is designed especially for students approaching the subject for the first time but may well be found stimulating by practitioners. No easy formulae are offered. What conservators, have to nurture, the author insists, is an inquiring and self-critical frame of mind enabling them to proceed from comprehensive knowledge of the buildings for the time being in their care, via logical argument, to defensible, if not inevitable, solutions.

Fawcett, Jane, ed. The Future of the Past: Attitudes to Conservation, 1147-1974, New York: Watson-Gupthill Publications, 1976.

Fitch, James Marston. "The Philosophy of Restoration: Williamsburg to the Present." In Evolution of the Restoration Process: New Directions Symposium. Washington, DC: The American Architectural Foundation at the Octagon, 1992.

Jokilehto, Jukka Ilmari. "A History of Architectural Conservation: The Contribution of English, French, German and Italian Thought Towards an International Approach to the Conservation of Cultural Property." D.Phil., Thesis, University of York, 1986.

Jokilehto, Jukka. "The Debate on Authenticity." Newsletter, International Center for the Study of Preservation and Restoration of Cultural Property 21 (July 1995): 6-8.

Lowe, Setha A. "Cultural Conservation of Place." In Conserving Culture: A New Discourse on Heritage, edited by Mary Hufford. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1994.

Lowenthal, David and Marcus Binney. Our Past Before Us: Why Do We Save It? Temple Smith, London, 1981.

Lowenthal, David. The Past is a Foreign Country. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985.

Madsen, Stephan Tschudi. Restoration and Anti-Restoration: A Study in English Restoration Philosophy, Universiteforlaget, Oslo, 1976.

Megill, Allan. "‘Grand Narrative' and the Discipline of History," in A New Philosophy of History, edited by Frank Ankersmit and Hans Kellner. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1995.

Miri, Ali A. Philosophy and Principles of Preservation in Practice, CRM, No. 7, 200 [Download PDF file from this site.], National Park Service.

Mondale, Clarence. "Conserving a Problematic Past," in Conserving Culture: A New Discourse on Heritage, edited by Mary Hufford. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1994.

Murtagh, William J. Keeping Time: The History and Theory of Preservation in America. New York: Sterling, 1990.

Parker, Patricia L. "What You Do and How We Think." Cultural Resource Management Bulletin 16 (special issue - Traditional Cultural Properties, 1994): 5.

Skarmeas, George Christos. "An Analysis of Architectural Preservation Theories: From 1790 to 1975." Ph.D. diss., University of Pennsylvania, 1983.

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