Video: “Local Preservation 101” by Eli Pousson (Baltimore Heritage) , an Ignite talk for the Openlab Workshop Unconference, December 1, 2015, in Crystal City, VA.
Published on Jun 30, 2016

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Transcript

LOCAL PRESERVATION 101

Eli Pousson, Baltimore Heritage

@elipousson

Hello. My name is Eli Pousson, and I work for a small nonprofit in Baltimore Maryland dedicated to historic preservation advocacy and heritage education. I'm here to introduce the local preservation school, explain why I think Open Source matters to historic preservation, and invite you to get involved as a student, a teacher, or maybe both to what is historic preservation.

Preservation is inspired by the idea the important stories are found not only in museums and libraries. Important stories are everywhere around us. They are in parks. They are in public art. They are in buildings and neighborhoods, and key is that good stories about places are really about people. Historian Eric Sandweiss explained it neatly. The history of a city street means little if it's not tied to the story of the farmer who sold the land, the developer who bought it from him, the families who campaigned for it, who paid the men, who laid the asphalt for the children who rode their bikes on it. So over fifty years ago a group of civic minded activists and historians founded Baltimore Heritage. And in 1960 were fighting with mimeograph newsletters against highways and urban renewal, and now we're fighting for neighborhood revitalization with social media.

But in most American cities saving places starts with education. Planners of public agencies teach coworkers. Volunteer docents at historic sites teach neighbors, and nonprofit advocates like me teach everyone we can. We teach why old buildings are important, and what we can do to fix them up.

And so, you know it can be tough sometimes to feel like you're making a difference. You know have you ever wondered what you get when you cross a program director, a volunteer manager, and a janitor? The typical situation in most non-profit organizations.

One of the most important lessons that we've learned at Baltimore Heritage is that free digital tools are key to overcoming the limits of a small staff and budget. Open source projects like WordPress and Omeka empower us to connect with our neighbors. If we had relied solely on costly proprietary tools we could spend twice the money with half the impact. The good news is that we're not alone, but the bad news is that many volunteer and professional preservationists still struggle to learn the new tools and approaches they need to achieve their own goals.

So the local preservation school is based on the idea that historic preservation succeeds when we can empower people to save the places that matter to their block, to their neighborhood, to their city. The local preservation school is for people who want to save historic places to teach and learn together. There are many excellent online resources available on preservation, but they're often overwhelming. Especially for volunteers who do this work on evenings and weekends. Our goal is to provide these volunteers with openly licensed self-guided lessons designed to teach the knowledge and skills people need to save historic places.

And so this is built on local knowledge because historic preservation is not just a job for experts or professionals. You may be one of the thousands of volunteers working to restore a park, revitalize a main street business district.

The local preservation school is for you and your neighbors. A place to find new resources, and a place to share your knowledge. So we're committed to creating open educational resources that are accessible to beginners not overwhelmed by jargon or requirements for expensive software. This incidentally is a children's librarian in Kensington that my kids go to when we visit my parents.

Historic places should not be boring. Taking full advantage of the web means that we can make it easy for interested learners to share their progress whether they are crafting the perfect caption for a Throwback Thursday photo, or making an interactive map of vacant buildings on their street.

So why make this open? Open educational resources reduce barriers to access, ensure educators have the rights to retain, reuse, revise, remix, and redistribute educational resources without having to ask permission.

So with funding from the National Park Service, and plans to adopt a variety of public domain resources as the basis for this project, it couldn't exist without this kind of public support, and we want to pay it forward by dedicating nearly all of our work on this project to the public domain under a Creative Commons zero license.

So how can you join the local preservation school? And so we're inspired by the myriad of open source efforts that create an open invitation for people to get involved and share their time and talents to make something bigger and better than they could ever create alone. And so we opened the school at the beginning of October, and we're working to launch her first course in January.

The power to tell your own story is fundamental to saving historic places. And with Explore Baltimore Heritage 101, we plan to teach Baltimore residents, students, and scholars how to research and write about Historic Places in their communities.

But at this point we still have a lot more questions than answers. We are collecting ideas for lessons and mapping out topics that we'd like to cover. If you’re interested in learning about preservation, teaching about preservation, or you just love older towns and cities we’d love to talk to you about the local preservation school.

And you can even watch me work on this on Twitter. I'm inspired by a phrase from the 1966 with Heritage So Rich that writes the past is not the property of historians it is a public possession. It belongs to anyone who is aware of it, and it grows by being shared. I’ll end by asking you submit a poll request on Github. Share a question a link, or a comment on Twitter, with the #localpast. Give me a call and say hello. We want to work with you and your neighbors to make a local preservation school into a resource for communities across the nation.

Thank you.