Careers in Historic Preservation

Back in 2003, I had my first encounter with paint analysis. The Paul Dunbar House museum in Dayton, Ohio, had been restored by a number of professionals including, as it was described to me then, a “paint archaeologist.” I thought that was pretty cool. I mean, how many paint archaeologists could there possibly be? I knew that I wanted to be the expert on historic ballrooms and dance halls, an interest that had started years earlier, but I had no idea how to make that happen.

Fast-forward through graduate school for a Master of Science in Historic Preservation, and I’m now the owner of my own historic preservation consulting firm. To a large degree, I’ve created my own niche in the preservation profession by focusing on building organizational capacity and financial stability in the organizations and individuals who own, manage, and advocate for our historic built environment. There are plenty of other people out there documenting and fixing buildings, I reasoned, and I saw a great need on the human side of the equation. That’s not to say that I don’t or won’t do the more traditional work of a consultant – survey, designation, etc., all of which I enjoy tremendously – but I don’t seek out that work right now.

One more anecdote and then we’ll get to the good stuff: Earlier this year, I met a grad student who was passionate about cemeteries. She’d been a “below-ground” archaeologist and was now studying “above-ground” resources, and saw cemeteries as a way to be able to work with both. But she thought she would have to compromise in order to get a job. I suggested that she should put all of her energies into becoming an expert on cemeteries, if that’s what she truly wanted to do. She could develop a resume, portfolio, and reputation in that area and make it her life’s work. I hope she is doing that. She got so excited about the possibility!

Well, along the way, I’ve met many other people who work in this field and share my passion for our built heritage. While I’m not an expert on careers in historic preservation, I’ve been asked about careers in preservation, so here you go.

First of all, there are a lot of different ways to work in preservation, and not all of them require a special degree. Many government agencies, charitable organizations, and for-profit firms have openings for people with different skills and abilities. Some positions, however, require candidates to meet the Secretary of the Interior’s Professional Qualifications Standards, also known as 36 CFR 61 after the section of the Federal Register where they’re found.

For more information about 36 CFR 61, look here:

People who work in historic preservation include historians, architectural historians, architects, structural engineers, city planners, craftspeople such as carpenters or masons, non-profit managers and staff, museum staff, museum exhibit designers, archaeologists, cultural resources specialists, photographers, conservators, material scientists, facilities managers, Main Street program managers, marketers, graphic designers, lobbyists, writers, educational program developers, GIS users, living history interpreters, and much much more.

Where can you find job postings in preservation and learn more about what the different opportunities require? Try these links.

Preservation Directory

Association for Preservation Technology

PreserveNet (Cornell University)

American Association of Museums (also look for a state museum association where you live)

University of Mary Washington jobs listing

University of Vermont job board

Also: Check out the HISTPRES website!
I’ll be happy to answer questions, if I can. Just post a comment.

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