November 2, 2022

Eight Books for the Preservationist in Your Life

  • By: Priya Chhaya

Sometimes finding the right gift for someone who loves saving old places is not as easy as you think. True, the LEGO Farnsworth House is always a fun option, but if you were smart, you bought that for them last year.

In June 2022, we pulled together a a list of books to read by the beach and on the porch during the hot summer months. That list was for the preservationist who is the traveler, the history lover, the life-long learner, and the romantic, with books related to how we connect with place and our own identities.

Now, as we head into the holidays, we wanted to provide some additional titles that will further invigorate, inspire, and maybe expand the perspective of the preservationist in your life.

View of the Library of Congress Reading Room archway.

photo by: m0122 via Flickr CC BY 2.0

Interior of the Library of Congress Reading Room.

Historic Real Estate: Market Morality and the Politics of Preservation in the Early United States

By Whitney Martinko
Recommended by Sarah Marsom, Heritage Resource Consultant

“Let's look to the past to help us understand what preservation can and should look like in the future. Whitney Martinko's book Historic Real Estate: Market Morality and the Politics of Preservation in the Early United States tells the story of preservation before Ann Pamela Cunningham founded the Mt.Vernon's Lady Association and provides a much-needed context for how early American colonists chose to capitalize on everything from Indigenous sites to Ben Franklin's childhood home. This book should be required reading for anyone working in historic preservation.”

All We Can Save: Truth, Courage, and Solutions for the Climate Crisis

Edited by Ayana Elizabeth Johnson and Katharine K. Wilkinson

Climate change is a critical priority for historic preservation, not only because of the role old buildings play in sustainability, but also due to the threats faced by historic sites all across the country. For anyone who is doing work in this space, All We Can Save provides an important roadmap to saving one particular historic place—our Earth.

Released in 2021, this anthology includes the writings of 60 women and girls leading the work for climate action. As described by the editors, “intermixing essays with poetry and art, this book is both a balm and a guide for knowing and holding what has been done to the world, while bolstering our resolve never to give up on each other or our collective future.” These voices are essential to the broader movement, and this book is worth reading for anyone working to save historic places to ensure we have a sustainable future.

A pale cover with an architectural plan.
A yellow toned cover with a sun behind blue lettering.

Radical Roots: Public History and a Tradition of Social Justice

Edited by Denise D. Meringolo

Like so many of the recommendations in this list, this anthology brings together a multitude of voices around a central topic, this time focusing on the ways public history—in which preservation is broadly included—is future-focused, committed to the advancement of social justice and engaged in creating a more inclusive public record. This edited anthology brings together perspectives from a variety of allied fields including a look at grass roots preservation and place-based education.

As Denise D. Meringolo describes in her introduction, “the authors assembled here have identified precedents, antecedents, and contemporary examples of what we have loosely termed radical public history…Taken as a whole, the essays suggest that examples of radical public history become more visible to researchers and practitioners alike when we invert our understanding of professionalism, placing less emphasis on the outcomes and products of historical inquiry and more emphasis on social networks, political goals, practices, and habits of mind that distinguish public history from the larger discipline.”

While you can purchase the book, this text is also available from Amherst College Press in an open access format.

All That She Carried: The Journey of Ashley’s Sack, a Black Family Keepsake

By Tiya Miles

For anyone in the preservation field interested in telling the full American story, All That She Carried is an important one to add to your “to read” list. In this book, Tiya Miles provides what is on the surface a close object study, one that only further emphasizes the silences in the historical record. But what makes this book special is the way in which she offers a method and a means to recognize those stories within systems that have been built to keep them hidden.

For preservationists, it is a beautifully written, emotionally weighty, and brilliantly poetic book that, if we extrapolate, emphasizes why it is imperative to continue to push the boundaries of how and why we save historic places. Taken a step further, it provides an argument about re-assessing standards and practices that make it harder to preserve these stories for the future. All That She Carried received the 2021 National Book Award for Nonfiction.

A multicolored cover with bright neon shapes.
A white cover with green leaves framing the text.

Main Street's Comeback: And How It Can Come Back Again

By Mary Means
From Briana Grosicki for Preservation Leadership Forum

“If you are unfamiliar with Mary Means, let me tell you she is the best kind of visionary. She’s been called the Queen of Main Street, a pioneer, and an award-winning innovator. She possesses a skill not all visionaries have—the ability to execute. In Main Street's Comeback, she not only talks about the ideation of the Main Street Approach but the steps she has taken in her career to lead, mentor, and acknowledge the contributions of others along the way. She laid out the path and thousands of us are following.“

Historic Preservation Theory: An Anthology

Edited By: Jorge Otero-Pailos
Recommended by Rhonda Sincavage, director of content and partnerships at the National Trust

This anthology of historic preservation includes almost 100 texts that cover over three centuries of preservation theory. The book, as described by the description, “offers classic texts from influential thinkers and schools of thought from the United States, the Cherokee Nation, China, France, Germany, Haiti, the United Kingdom, Russia, Algeria, Norway, Sweden, Palestine, Austria, India, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Spain, Italy, Greece, Egypt, Mexico, Brazil, Australia, and more.” What makes this book unique is that it includes first-time English translations of works, along with introductory pieces by the editor to provide broader contextualization.

A book cover with blue on top and green on the bottom. The image in the center is of a busy main street.
A gold and brown book cover.

Storytelling in Museums

Edited by Adina Langer

Storytelling in Museums is a collection of case studies that examine essential questions for public history and preservation practice. That is, whose stories are we sharing, how is the power to share those narratives wielded (and by whom), and what impact do these stories have on—specifically through the lens of museum work—practice at every step of creation.

Taken individually, each article provides a single narrative on storytelling within the bounds of the museum walls, but collectively readers are provided a glimpse into the challenges and promise of inclusive storytelling and the ethical considerations that should be a part of every level of anyone doing inclusive storytelling in the years to come.

A black book cover with white lettering. There is a mosaic portrait in shades of tan of a human face.
A maroon book cover with yellow lettering.

The Women Who Changed Architecture

Edited by Jan Cigliano Hartman

The Women Who Changed Architecture includes a series of in-depth profiles on over 100 women in architecture accompanied by incredible images of their work across the world. From names that are more familiar to others that might surprise you, this book provides insight into the role women continue to play in designing iconic buildings across the world. It's an ideal gift for the preservationist who loves the stories behind the buildings they are working to save. Katherine Flynn, former assistant editor for Preservation magazine, contributed 37 profiles in this book.

By purchasing any of these products using the links on this page, you'll be supporting the National Trust. Check out other ways you can support preservation as you shop, travel, and play.

Donate Today to Help Save the Places Where Our History Happened.

Donate to the National Trust for Historic Preservation today and you'll help preserve places that tell our stories, reflect our culture, and shape our shared American experience.

While her day job is the associate director of content at the National Trust for Historic Preservation, Priya spends other waking moments musing, writing, and learning about how the public engages and embraces history.

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