University of Maryland community members discussed the significance of historic preservation and the intersection of civil rights and land conservation during a book talk in the architecture library on Monday.

The talk highlighted historic preservation lecturer John Sprinkle’s third book, Heritage Conservation in the United States: Enhancing the Presence of the Past. The book, released in 2023, follows American historic preservation over the last 50 years.

The book discusses the recognition process of sites connected to African American history and how those recognitions altered the criteria that mandated American preservation practices.

“There’s nothing you see … that’s not somehow been affected by humans. And everything has a past,” Sprinkle said at the talk.

The book talk, hosted by the architecture, planning and preservation school’s historic preservation program, allowed community members to learn more about the history of American preservation and ask the author questions on the subject.

[UMD community members celebrate launch of new AI institute]

The library hopes to inspire a sense of community and allow students to think about different topics within historic preservation, according to Cindy Frank, branch manager and subject librarian for historic preservation.

“I hope they sort of stop and think a little bit about how the issue of race has impacted our federal mandates and protocols when treating historic preservation properties and deciding what’s valuable,” Frank said.

Sprinkle offered the audience a brief overview of his previous two books that looked into the origins of criteria for the National Register of Historic Places and the interactions between the historic preservation movement and the land conservation movement.

For his third book, Sprinkle said he wanted to explore the new preservation’s hardships and historic preservation processes in the first generation, highlighting the stories that were often overlooked.

There had been discussion about how only three percent of the listings in the National Register of Historic Places represented certain minority groups, Sprinkle said.

“Where did that come from, and how did that come to be,” Sprinkle said. “I needed to tell … the story of the first generation and what was called the new preservation.”

For Sprinkle, one of the biggest issues was visibility and representation within historic preservation, he said.

Cedar Hill, Frederick Douglass’ house, was one of three African American properties recognized as a national park unit during the new preservation era, according to Sprinkle.

“There was definitely a lack of representation of ethnic folks within the body of the properties owned by the National Park Service, and not surprisingly, within the larger view of things going forward,” Sprinkle said.

[Student art installation raises awareness about missing and murdered Indigenous people]

Not only is there a lack of representation in the recognition of places by the National Register or the National Park Service, but also in the data maintained for historic sites, according to Sprinkle.

From 1966 to the 1980s, the form one would fill out to register a site did not include a space to indicate ethnicity, Sprinkle said. This reveals significant problems with how data is kept regarding historic sites, he added.

Sprinkle also discussed the “no adverse effect through data recovery” regulation during the first generation of new preservation. This allowed archeological sites to be dug up, and the information uncovered would make up for the damage done to the site.

Many of the archaeological sites that the federal government spent money to dig up were associated with low-income communities and people of color, he said.

“We don’t want to knock down the historic houses because they’re important, but we can put roads through half of the historic archeological sites and prehistoric archaeological sites all the time. And that’s really what happens,” Sprinkle said.

For historic preservation graduate student Ericka Kauffman, historic preservation is everywhere and highly valuable.

“Everybody has their own heritage and history,” Kauffman said. “There’s much more work that needs to be done to make it a more equitable field.”