Treating historic properties has the capability of changing their physical history, and, as a result, the way they will be remembered, studied, and interpreted by future generations. If historians, architects, administrators, and practitioners could agree on treatment philosophy, methodology, and terminology prior to work, the long-term consequences of treatment could be better predicted and managed.
The Secretary of the Interior is responsible for establishing professional standards at the national level and for providing advice on the preservation and protection of all cultural resources listed—or eligible for listing—in the National Register of Historic Places. This includes properties that contribute to historic districts; properties that are individually listed; and National Historic Landmarks, those properties deemed to have “exceptional significance in American history.”
This paper focuses on the philosophical and ethical framework that underlies the Secretary's Standards for the Treatment of Historic Properties and the four distinct, but interrelated, approaches to their treatment—Preservation, Rehabilitation, Restoration, and Reconstruction. Four National Register buildings were selected as examples to show how the Standards are applied during project work to achieve differing practical and interpretive ends, and, in so doing, reveals some of the more problematic and challenging aspects of treatment.