Our History is not False: Perspectives from the Revitalisation Culture

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Published in: International Journal of Heritage Studies, Vol. 16, No. 6, 2010


Two dominant themes in architectural conservation doctrine are to (1) avoid the fabrication of ‘false’ histories through the clear differentiation of ‘new’ from ‘old’ building fabric; and (2) the deprecation of subjective ways in which the perception of building fabric engenders sense of place. This study explores the cultural values of a group of citizens engaged in revitalising their historic downtown through the ‘Main Street’ program in Anderson, South Carolina, United States. This ‘revitalisation culture’ values and promotes treatments to its historic environment that emphasise the conjectural fabrication of ‘historic’ elements to existing buildings and the use of historicised design for new, infill construction. Whilst these values go against the grain of conservation doctrine, the revitalisation culture is preserving a kind of authenticity that stems from socially and culturally constructed values in an effort to maintain the ability of the historic environment to engender ‘spontaneous fantasies’, which serve to emotionally attach the revitalisation culture with its historic downtown. Ultimately, the revitalisation culture is engaging in ‘unethical’ behaviour from the perspective of conservation professionals, which begs the question of whose values deserve attention and if the field of heritage conservation is able and willing to accept pluralistic concepts of how the authenticity of historic places can and should be conserved.