Decisions about which older buildings, structures, and places should be conserved are fundamental to the practice of architectural conservation. Conservation professionals use the interrelated concepts of integrity, authenticity, and historical value to determine which historic places are worthy of importance. Traditionally, these concepts are predicated on preserving the object rather than conserving the meaning and values associated with the object. In other works, the goal is to benefit the object and not the people who value the object. This method, which has roots in antiquated nineteenth-century Western scientific traditions, deprecates the importance of people, processes, and meanings in how places are valued and conserved. Thus, conservation professionals produce “objective” meanings for other conservators, but not for everyday people. The net result is a failure to understand how local populations actually value their historic places.
A recent movement in architectural conservation is to emphasize the role of contemporary social, cultural, and personal meanings in valuing historic places and the processes in which places develop these values overtime. This pluralistic perspective recognizes that different populations and cultures will have diverse ways of valuing historic places. Ultimately, for places such as Iraq, we have very little, if any, data to support conservation decisions that understand and respect local cultures and tradition. The danger is in applying traditional, Western, concepts that still dominate the conservation profession to non-Western contexts. There is a tremendous learning opportunity to engage in the cross-pollination of ideas from the perspectives of the Western and Eastern traditions and to learn how the citizens of Iraq value their cultural heritage. This information, once gathered, can then inform how to best approach the conservation of Iraqi urban centers.
Wells, Jeremy C., "Valuing Historic Places: Traditional and Contemporary Approaches" (2010). School of Architecture, Art, and Historic Preservation Faculty Publications. 22.