Events & News

Time Flies: Ten Easy Ways to Remember

October 14, 2011 | by Anthony C. Wood, Founder & Chair
Article from the Fall 2011 Newsletter

As part of the gala celebration of the Historic Districts Council’s 40th Anniversary, the Archive Project co-sponsored with HDC a program capturing the story of HDC’s founding. Fortunately, several of the individuals present at its birth were on the program to share their memories. With such interest in the history of HDC, I excavated my old files and discovered in draft form a brief history of the organization written in 1991 by Joe Rosenberg, former Chair of HDC. I called Joe to try and learn more about the origins of this document. Although both of us were active with HDC in the early 1990s, neither of us could remember why that history was written (perhaps for the Council’s 20th Anniversary?) and Joe had no recollection of writing it. Fortunately his name was on the document.

Time truly flies when one is doing preservation! Before you realize it, you’ve been involved with a preservation organization for a decade, then two, and for some, even longer! All of those things we didn’t write down at the time – either because they were fresh in our mind or because they were current events and we felt that we didn’t need to record them – suddenly become foggy memories of what have now become historic events.

Because demolition is the ultimate deadline, money and time are in short supply, and our natural instinct is to preserve the history that was made by others, not the history we are making ourselves. Preservationists are notoriously bad when it comes to documenting their own stories. Despite other pressing demands on our time and limited resources, there are a number of basic things that preservationists and preservation organizations can do to better document their history—as they make it! None of these tips are brain surgery, yet it is surprising how often we don’t think to do them. Here are ten easy things you can do to advance the cause of preserving preservation’s history:

1) Fully identify any material (printed or otherwise) that you generate. Make sure to include the name of the organization, the date, and where appropriate, the name of the author.

2) Photo-document every event/activity and immediately date and identify the event and the individuals in each image. Because it is now so easy and inexpensive, consider videotaping in addition to still photography.

3) Be diligent in keeping minutes of official meetings, filing them together in one place, and storing them in a safe location (physical or virtual).

4) Maintain a master list of all board members and staff of your organization, denoting terms of their service; also try to keep updated contact information.

5) Keep a master chronology of every event your organization produces.

6) When projects (whether advocacy or programmatic) are completed, stop and do a quick “memo to the file” recounting the activity, including a chronology.

7) Develop a system that makes your organization’s files (both physical and electronic) easily accessible to your colleagues (present and future).

8) Ensure that your digital material is being archived. The more you communicate virtually, the more care you must take to keep a historic record of what you have generated. Hard copies may still be the best way to preserve blogs and websites over time.

9) Be sure to save interesting preservation ephemera (buttons from campaigns, flyers, etc.), properly identify these items, and be sure to keep them in a safe place (out of floodable basements, etc.)

10) Inculcate in any preservation organization with which you are involved an “archival” mindset so that its organizational culture becomes one of preserving its own history. This includes reaching out to anyone in your organization who has or may have a cache of preservation papers at risk in a basement office (or other perilous location) to work with them to properly secure those papers now as well as plan a permanent home to secure their future.

None of the above activities will break the bank or require a full-time staff person. What they do require are changes in how preservationists think and act. They challenge us to recognize that the work we are undertaking today is going to be of interest to the preservationists who come after us. Preservation as a movement needs to have a healthy-enough ego to appreciate that its history is just as important as the history of the individuals, organizations, social movements, and events that we all work so hard to document, preserve, and celebrate. If we don’t preserve preservation’s history, who will?



Above: Wood moderates HDC's Fortieth Anniversary panel, including (from left) Barwick, Gruen, Nowve, and Binger; Courtesy of HDC