Preserving our Present

Posted on: July 30th, 2009 by National Trust for Historic Preservation 1 Comment

Written by Priya Chhaya

First there was the voice that everyone recognized, an activist actress, and the pop star who defied gravity with a moonwalk . Then we lost a newscaster whom everyone believed in, a jazz genius and a choreographer of the sublime and avant garde.

Ed McMahon, Farah Fawcett, Michael Jackson, Walter Cronkite, George Russell, Merce Cunningham. Individually these deaths seem fleeting—the loss of someone who defined their fields and made a place in their particular corners of the world. Together they represent an America defined by television, movies and pop culture—of innovation and radical creativity; an America whose history cannot be documented solely by the written word or the preservation of a single building (although conversations are already ongoing about making Neverland the next Graceland) but through various sources of multi media. While the National Trust for Historic Preservation and the preservation field as a whole have been thinking about America at mid-century and the associated challenges, I find myself asking myself the age old question—how will we be remembered? How can we preserve a culture that is quickly moving towards the intangible? While the homes, and structures of our past will always be important, and rightly so, how do we preserve the other “stuff” of our history to ensure a clearer vision of our own age? Is that even possible?

I know that there are some great projects out there that explore how we can do this. Some examples include the collection websites surrounding 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina (for example: the Center for History and New Media’s 9/11 Digital Archive, the Library of Congress, and Hurricane Digital Memory Bank) but I would love to see more.

Priya Chhaya is the program assistant in the office of Training and Online Information Services at the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

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National Trust for Historic Preservation

National Trust for Historic Preservation

The National Trust for Historic Preservation, a privately funded non-profit organization, works to save America's historic places.

General, Modern Architecture

One Response

  1. Charlotte

    September 3, 2009

    While reading this blog and accessing it’s associated links, I began to think of what preservation means to America, and what it should mean to our future. Part of the reason Europe is loved so, I believe at least, is that it has a preserved and engrained culture. It is this culture that gives place meaning, and those within that place an associated value to that place. When we live in a house, we don’t just dwell within the walls, we make a home. In a community we establish ourselves within it, and part of that establishment is an associated culture. Now, in order to establish ourselves, we must attach a meaning. I think that preservation of places like the first McDonald’s, and the Dome in Oklahoma, grounds us as Americans. It allows us to establish our history in our present and provides living icons of culture, even as the beings who we deemed icons pass. Preservation gives a continued sense of value to the lands that form the United States of America.