Introductory remarks by
Symposium Chairman, W. Brown Morton III
Prince B. Woodard Chair of Historic Preservation
Mary Washington College Department of Historic Preservation
In the Book of Exodus, God says to Moses, “Moses, Moses, Take off your shoes for the place you are standing is Holy Ground.”
How’s that for effective interpretation for you?
– There was no sign.
– There was no brochure.
– There was no Web Page listed as WWW.Burningbush.God. Since then, in Egypt, as in the rest of the world, the interpretation of historic resources has passed into less authoritative hands…yours and mine.
Now, at the end of the twentieth century, the explosion of global tourism as an economic necessity, and the proliferation of electronic toys for communicating instantaneously with one another has produced a crisis in cultural resource management.
Integrated mass marketing of the global heritage is blurring the distinctiveness and character of historic resources.
The clearly obvious adverse affects of activities that result in a loss or dilution of integrity such as:
– excessive wear and tear of historic fabric,
– inadequate management of transportation facilities,
– inappropriate visitor services,
– intrusive advertising displays,
– poorly designed and implemented interpretive programs, as well as
– disregard for the sensibilities of resident populations,
presents us with an important opportunity to ask new questions about how the world preservation community goes about the business of tourism and interpretation.
Looking for a rough analogy for the crisis I perceive in historic preservation management, I, for one, mourn the loss of integrity that has occurred in the world of sport because of the demands of commercial television.
Healthy athletic competition, sportsmanship and the sheer beauty of the game well played for the sake of playing well alone has become a grotesque spectacle of sound and sight bites, meaningless statistics endlessly recalculated, insane salaries, and the vulgar display of designer sportswear labels worn on the outside of everything the camera comes to rest on.
I see a parallel between contemporary sports management and the excesses of contemporary cultural resource management.
The sheer economics of mass tourism as a form of mass entertainment are, in my view, poisoning the water in the well itself Fragile and irreplaceable cultural resources are being treated more and more as stage properties on a theater set rather than being what they really are: the original text of the play.
The first loser in heritage-as-entertainment rather than heritage-as-education is, of course, the resource itself This is because every inadequately conceived intervention to re-present a historic site to the public, no matter how well intended, frequently destroys earlier and irreplaceable historic fabric and traditional settings. Consequently, the integrity of the resource, over time, slips further and further from our grasp.
The biggest loser, however, is ourselves, and all who will follow us seeking to know the truth of such a place.
A challenge I bring to this symposium for us to consider is a fundamental shift in concept about w we are doing what we do in the arena of historic resource interpretation and cultural tourism.
This concept has a fancy name: euthenics. Euthenics has been defined as “the science of improving the condition of humans by improving their surroundings.” In contradistinction to environmentalism, which is “the science of improving the surroundings of humans by improving the human.” ‘
I understand euthenics in my own heart and mind as working to insure successful human development by preserving for people a cultural context of integrity that nurtures them
I think of euthenics as an exercise in servanthood. I believe, from my socks up, that historic preservation must always be the servant of a higher and more noble goal than itself. And this goal, for me, is to encourage successful human development.
I want every person on this planet to have the chance to burst into full bloom as a human being.
I believe this means helping people to keep their “story” together and to understand and appreciate the historic resources that represent that story.
I believe that historic preservation has a central role to play in this endeavor of encouraging human wholeness, precisely because place has something to do with how we all turn out.
I believe that there are certain environments that encourage and sustain successful
human development better than others.
I want to help people preserve places where respect and human dignity are possible, where celebration is possible, where shared remembering is possible.
– The Wal-Mart parking lot isn’t it.
– A neighborhood wracked by drive-by shootings and drugs isn’t it.
– An historic urban settlement that has become a sleazy caricature of its former
self isn’t it.
‘ Peter Bowler and David Godine, The Superior Person’s Book of Words. (New York: Dell Publishing Co., Inc.,1990).
I wanted to cry the last time I walked the tawdry of the Vieux Carrée. How much it has changed since I first was there forty years ago.
My friends, I call us to new levels of servanthood. I call us to new levels of leadership.
– For what they have been.
– For what they are.
– For what it can be.
My friends, let’s take off our shoes…before there is only asphalt and ignorance left to touch with the bareness of our feet.