There are very few things in the world that I hate. There’s utility poles (especially those that come out of nowhere when I’m walking down the sidewalk), those catchy Disney tunes that get so stuck in my head that I can’t “let it go,” and then, of course, there’s historical preservation.
When I hear someone promoting historical preservation it’s like I just noticed that they have a giant sprig of broccoli between their teeth. I’m embarrassed on their behalf for just making this observation, but I can’t quite bring myself to say anything about it because I don’t know them all that well and calling them out would probably only spread around the humiliation. So I just quietly soldier on and hope nobody else notices, even though I know that everyone else sees it too but won’t say anything for the exact same reason.
But it is time to make a stand. Someone has to point out the cruciferous vegetable shamefully lodged between the teeth of history, so I feel compelled to confess that I hate historical preservation. And here are three reasons why you should hate it too.
1. A lie
As far as I know, there is no historical preservation movement. Anyone who tells you otherwise is either lying or could use cognitive behavioral therapy.
Or maybe they are just confused about the difference between historic and historical.
In short, historic describes something significant from the past, while historical describes anything that relates to the past regardless of its import. Naturally, when you pair these words with preservation you get two similar-sounding phrases with two importantly different meanings:
- Historical preservation = preservation of everything related to the past.
- Historic preservation = preservation of significant things from the past.
This is an important distinction. We cannot save every piece of the past (historical toilet paper, anyone?) and that’s why we have to prioritize the preservation of those things that are significant to our heritage—just the historic, not the historical.
There is no organization in the world that promotes historical preservation or the preservation of everything. In fact, there are many groups that fight the disease of historical preservation—also known as compulsive hoarding disorder.
2. Bad for history
Using the phrase “historical preservation” reinforces the myth that preservationists want to save everything from the past and the absurdity of this belief really hurts the preservation movement. This myth causes preservation advocates to lose credibility, which hobbles the movement and makes it harder for us to engage with our history. After all, how can someone be taken seriously when they’re too wacky to know that some tangible representations of the past just cannot be saved?
3. Hard on the ears
Maybe it’s just me, but when I hear the phrase “historical preservation” it really grates on my ears. Like fingernails on a chalkboard or that whiny kid Caillou. The grammar is technically correct but there is just something about the phrase that is incredibly irritating.
Do you ever hear this incorrect terminology? If so, then that might be an ideal opportunity to do some myth-busting by explaining the preservation ethos of only saving the significant.
Please don’t say “historical preservation.” It’s a lie that is bad for history and hard on the ears.
Clint Tankersley is a Georgia attorney specializing in cultural heritage law. Read his bio here and don’t forget to subscribe at the top right!