Topic ID #33058 - posted 7/5/2014 6:03 AM

Graduate degree in Historic Preservation


Can anyone speak to the value of a master's degree in Historic Preservation versus Archaeology specifically? This was recommended to me by a professor as a more "employable" way to study what was essentially the same subject. I assume it would be one of the "...or closely related field"s mentioned in most CRM job degree requirements, but does it really allow you to study Archaeology in depth and to do all of the same types of things?

Alternately: Is it possible to work in Historic Preservation with an advanced degree in Archaeology?

Post ID#20521 - replied 7/6/2014 5:25 PM


From what I've been told it's more valuable than your standard Anth M.A. You typically get more in depth study of preservation and planning and associated topics. Can you do archaeology with this masters? Yup. With an arch MA can you do historic pres? No.

Some former supervisors of mine have actually recommended it to me over getting an archCRM/anth masters. 

Post ID#20523 - replied 7/7/2014 8:17 AM


To answer your questions, the below links are a pretty good starting point.  The first are the SOI guidelines for an archaeologist vs. architectural historian (to get an idea of qualifications).  The second are guidelines for evaluating a site for the NRHP; generally, an archaeologist will be an expert on Criteria D, while an architectural historian will primarily be involved with Criteria C.

It's been my experience that architectural historians in CRM are harder to come by and are generally paid more than archaeologists with similar educational background and experience.  At the same time, there are more low-level opportunities in archaeology, especially for somebody at the BA-level.  It simply takes more manpower to deal with direct effects (archaeology) vs. visual effects (architecture).

There's definitely a lot of overlap between a historic archaeologist and architectural historian -- Both have graduate degrees,and do things like research deeds/family histories/etc., document extant sites like cemeteries or farmsteads, record local histories, and those kinds of things.  But generally, an archaeologist will be involved with archaeological sites, while an architectural historian is most concerned with extant structures.

That being said, over the years I've worked with several industrial and historical archaeologists who also met the SOI and SHPO guidelines for historic architecture but not the other way around.  To interpret an archaeological site based on excavation results, you'll have to have a pretty good understanding of what was there before it was destroyed.

To answer your questions in a tl;dr...

  • They're different fields with a lot of overlap.
  • A historic archaeologist may be qualified to evaluate extant architectural resources but it really depends on his/her specific training and SHPO.  More complex evaluations will virtually always be handed over to a dedicated architectural historian.
  • An architectural historian is unlikely to have much experience in archaeology.  They may integrate archaeological results into their reports but they'll leave the excavations to the archaeologists.

Hopefully, this doesn't muddy the waters too much (it's way more rambling than I expected).

Post ID#20528 - replied 7/9/2014 6:22 PM


So an architectural historian is the same thing as a historic preservationist? 

Post ID#20529 - replied 7/11/2014 11:32 AM


An architectural historian and an historic preservationist aren't necessarily same thing, but they are related. It all comes down to training. Just because someone has a degree in architectural history doesn't mean they really know how to evaluate the eligibility of a Lustron house for example or that they even know what is a Lustron. Keep in mind that the Secretary of the Interior's professional qualifications are pretty broad with numerous areas for qualification under the same heading. My undergrad was in archaeology and my master's was in HP and I'm SOI qualified as an architectural historian. However, don't expect me to give a lecture on the architectural merits of I.M. Pei anytime soon. Typically a degree in architectural history is going to be more academically in-depth, high style focused, whereas an HP degree doesn't go as in-depth into the high-style architecture and typically includes more work with "vernacular" buildings since most of the building stock is vernacular in design. With an HP degree you can expect an interdisciplinary program with some classes on architectural, social, and urban planning history and then some classes covering planning, law, historic resource evaluation and preservation, and other bureaucratic management aspects. Some programs also include a hands-on building maintenance and repair course(s). If you haven't already checked it out, the National Council of Preservation Education has a good website with a list of preservation programs. As with every field of study, every school seems to have slightly different strengths in their programs. Talk to some schools, ask about the program and the courses available, and ask them what their alumni are doing.

Can you do archaeology with an HP master's degree? Yes, but don't expect to be focusing on archaeology every day with an HP degree or leading your own archaeological dig. Leading a Phase 1 survey, maybe, but leading a data recovery project is unlikely. An HP degree that gets you qualified as an archaeologist is difficult to orchestrate, but I know of at least one person who has done it. I personally have worked on several digs since getting my MHP, but it's typically only for a few days or a couple weeks every year. 

Can you work in HP with an archaeology master's degree? Yes, but what you can do will be limited. You might be able to fill out an architectural survey form, but I wouldn't want an archaeologist writing up an entire historic architectural survey or reviewing COAs for an historic district. As KB said, it depends on training and requirements in the state.

I wish more archaeology and HP programs would work together given that it's all dealing with material culture and how we document, interpret, and manage the historic environment. 


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