Saturday, January 19, 2013

An Interview with Meagan and Laura, Preservation Professionals, Part 2

For part 1 of this interview, click here.

Aaron: Both of you are on Linked-In, I believe I’ve seen you on Twitter a few times… you guys are already starting to expand your brand a little bit, so the website is on the ups. I’m glad to see that.

Meagan: I don’t understand Twitter, but I’m trying to participate in the National Trust’s Twitter Chat, You basically write something intelligent, and then edit it down into nonsense! We think in the future, if we have a better discussion board, I could get all my bloggers together, maybe in a video chat, and try to expand and connect people. We’ll probably be more involved in the future with media and the internet.

Aaron: What is your favorite part about your job? This could be working with the National Trust, this could be working in preservation, working in archaeology, anything like that. What is the best thing about what you do?

Laura: So, I’m an archaeologist for the National Park Service at San Antonio Missions, and I think the best part of my job, and why I always wanted to work for the NPS, is that you have a really captive audience. It’s not just an archaeologist out in the middle of the forest exploring a site! There’s always people who are really interested in history and archaeology who I can talk to. That’s my favorite part about my job.

Aaron: What about you, Meagan?

Meagan: My favorite part about being a preservationist is community activism. That there are people whom are mounting their own grass-roots campaigns and starting their own projects. You know, getting off the couch and thinking of something to do with a building; buying a building, saving a building, developing re-use plans because the city won’t pay for one on their own. I guess what’s interesting to me is getting to the point where the preservation can happen. You can’t redevelop the building until you know that it’s not going to get demolished. Just continuing to educate through positive events as well as protests about the importance of the building to individuals, to community groups, to elected officials. Just organizing that, and being a part of something. That’s why I run the blog; I love that I can put something online and a couple of thousand people will see it.

Aaron: Is there some project you’ve always wanted to pursue, but couldn’t because of a lack of time or budget? If you had a blank check and as much time as you wanted to do whatever project you wanted, what would your project be?

Meagan: One, it’s not always money, it’s a lot of hard work. Hist Pres is something we wanted to do, so we did it. I don’t necessarily use money as a retardant to my imagination. What I would do, I would love to own an historic building, I would love to live in it, I would love to have that building host my businesses. I would also like to host community meetings, or other events, with kind of an open-door policy. Either a small-business incubator, or a place where community groups can meet. Just to be a hub for community revitalization in a city. That might not be something that I would have to do on my own; in the future I would like to be a Main Street manager, like the manager of a business improvement district, or a community association that’s very active. But if I don’t ever find that job I would love to buy a building. It’s pretty simple, but I would love to do it.

Aaron: Maine is selling lighthouses, from what I hear! In your opinion, since preservation and/or archaeology are largely hand-on kinds of jobs, how important is the internet to the field as a job hunting tool, a source of industry-relevant information, and as a tool for public outreach? Let’s start with your website. I think that your website sort of answers that question, but go ahead and give me your thoughts, if you would.

Meagan: What we’ve found is that the majority of jobs that we post are not hands-on jobs. A lot of the jobs are education and interpretation, management, research… they’re not necessarily as hands-on as graduate schools will lead you to believe. And also, there are specific degrees in material conservation; honestly, chemists do a lot of that work. But [the internet] is essential for jobs, and also for ways to get involved. Laura had mentioned to me before we started that the internet is the only way to apply for government jobs. And a big majority of preservation jobs are government jobs. As an activist tool, I point to Egypt.

Aaron: That’s the example on everyone’s mind, I think.

Meagan: And actually, Buffalo’s Young Preservationists, which I am a part of, we started a Facebook but we also have a smaller community that gets emails and an even smaller one that gets texts. So I think that the internet fuels our ability for direct contact, but what I do in terms of advocacy is publishing at a national level.

Aaron: Let’s go to the second part of that. What do you think of the internet as a source of industry-relevant information?

Meagan: Well, the government sites for preservation, like the Advisory Council, is not a good website and is not updated regularly. Previously NPS was not very good; they’ve since updated. Statewide it varies; some states have searchable databases for National Register properties, some do not. I do not see the internet as the way to get the best preservation information; but preservationists still say to look at the National Park Service preservation brief. They haven’t been updated since, I don’t know. Before Laura was born! You know, the only membership, really is Forum,and that’s paid. So… I don’t know, really. There’s some great websites out there. I think that Preservation Directory filled a need as the preservationist’s telephone book. And Preservation Nation has a great blog and they’re updating their main website. Ever since their new outlet program kicked in, it will be a lot more about connectivity and getting people together. But it terms of technical information I would point to Association for Preservation Technology, and if you’re a conservator the AIC, etcetera, etcetera. I would still got to the professional organizations for real information.

Aaron: And what do you think of the internet as a tool for public outreach?

Meagan and Laura: NUMBER 1!

Aaron: A resounding number 1.

Meagan: There’s a couple of things I learned about advocacy through the internet. It’s really important to focus on your website; one. And then social media, because there are people who don’t have accounts, and they have ads, and they take down posts… I don’t put a lot of stock into fad social media. I think your website should be a representation of the best work your company or initiative can do.

Aaron: One last question for both of you. Do you have any advice for history professionals who want to do what you do?

Meagan: What do we do?!


Aaron: That’s up to you to decide! From what you’ve told me it sounds like, between the two of you you do pretty much everything.

Meagan: If you’re interested in historic preservation, I would suggest, if you’re still in school, seek out courses in architectural history or public history. Then, wherever you are, look for regional organizations that have a docent training program. Learn your downtown, learn about one specific building, but in a lot of cases you’re trained in the stock information to say to visitors. When I was working with Buffalo Tours, they had some very talented historians who in their own research came up with something, and then created a tour that became an official tour of Buffalo Tours. So if you’re interested in historic preservation, the good thing is there’s usually something happening. A friend of mine in Buffalo officially considers herself an activist historian. If a building is going to be demolished, she does all sorts of research. She’ll reach out to descendants who are still alive. She has the ancestry, genealogy and the research background to get involved. Laura, what do you think?

Laura: If you’re already a professional and not [in school]… I guess there are some classes that you can take that provide a little introduction to historic buildings. Like if you were a history professional focusing more on… non-building history!

Meagan: Well, you could try to find a certificate program, like the National Council for Preservation Education. Or you could find a docent program. Or there is one national organization called the Institute for Classical Art and Architecture, and they have a lot of classes but they’re very expensive. Depending on how much you put into it, I think there’s a way to learn about it. So, 1; seek out academics, 2; get involved.

Aaron: Sounds like good advice to me. Ladies, thank you very much for agreeing to sit down and go through all of these questions. You’ve given me a ton of information; I think I may actually be able to get two posts out of this!


HistPres. Web. 19 Jan. 2013.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

An Interview with Meagan and Laura, Preservation Professionals

Meagan Baco is a Historic Preservation advocate currently working in Washington, D.C. Laura Burghardt is an archaeologist working at the San Antonio Missions National Historical Park. Since graduating from the College of Charleston and Clemson University, the two have started, a website dedicated to Historic Preservation jobs and emerging professionals. Through a complicated linkup involving Skype, smartphones and Google Hangout, we were able to sit down one night and have a surprisingly audible conversation about their work and interests.

Aaron: I’m speaking with Meagan Baco and Laura Burghardt, and we’re talking about Historic Preservation, archaeology, and the internet. Good evening to both of you!

Meagan and Laura: Good evening!

Aaron: Let me start out by saying thank you both for agreeing to talk with me tonight. Can both of you tell me a bit about yourselves and your entry into Historic Preservation?

Meagan Baco: I guess I'll start. I was always interested in Historic Preservation, and before I went to [graduate] school I had a degree in “Urban Planning lite,” as I like to call it; an environmental design program. So then I went and I got my Master’s and met Laura. She had this great system of finding jobs and she used to send me jobs sometimes. So we decided to be entrepreneurial and see what we could figure out. We knew that the internet was obviously very important; none of our friends had a portfolio website, so we made our own portfolio website on iWeb and got our own domain names. And that was really the start.

Laura Burghardt: I think it was also a lot of frustration with the only available preservation job website being Preserve Net and Preservation Directory, which post really rarely and usually they’re jobs for people with a lot of experience. To find entry-level jobs, you had to check so many different websites; museum job sites and architecture. They were all in different places and it took a lot of work to get all of them together. To my mind, that was one of the biggest advantages to making our website, was that people could go to one space to find all of these jobs that are relevant and not just preservation jobs but jobs that are related enough to preservation so that if you had a background or interest you would be interested in those jobs.

Aaron: You mentioned that you had a system for finding jobs. Can you tell me a little about that?

Laura: I sought out websites that might post preservation-related jobs.

Meagan: Like state websites or SHPO (State Historic Preservation Office) websites. Once we found a place that had a job post, Laura bookmarked it.

Laura: At this point, I have more than 100 websites that I go to; I open them all in tabs. I go through all the new jobs that they’ve posted and look through each one to see if it’s relevant, if people who are interested in preservation would be interested in it. That’s how we find new jobs to put them in one place for people to find.

Meagan: So it’s not so much of a system as a lot of work! Laura usually does that over the weekend, because of work. So Laura will give me a pretty long list of jobs, and I will enter them into the back-end of our website and set an expiration date. So on a daily basis I’ll go through, check the expiration date, and post things that are going to expire in the next couple of days. It’s really the boring stuff that we do. I post like 5 or 7 every other day, and answer all the emails. I get every preservation newsletter I can sign up for, and I check those for opportunities and jobs. And then if I see something on Facebook or I get an e-newsletter about an awesome project, or a project that needs help, or a project that’s completed, I ask them to submit a blog, and so I manage the weekly blog. We’ve been doing that since last October, and it’s really one of my favorite parts of the job, and I think it’s really starting to come into its own. And we like that; we don’t want to be just a jobs board.  This next group of website improvements that we’re trying to raise money for we’re going to try to communicate what your projects are, trying to connect people nationwide who are doing interesting projects, or who need help, etc. Trying to connect people, to make it more of a hub than just a jobs board.

Aaron: How did both of you get drawn into Historic Preservation? What made you decide that you wanted to go into this field in the first place?

Laura: People ask me this a lot! I really don’t have a good answer, other than that I was so interested in the past; I used to play pioneer with my sister. That’s how I got interested in it. I think the reason I went more into Historic Preservation instead of History is that I like the historic aspects of conservation, and working on buildings.

Meagan: Laura, didn’t you know what school you wanted to go to before you went to it?

Laura: Yeah, when I was in high school I already knew that I wanted to get a Master’s in Historic Preservation. I flew through undergrad; I was so, so excited to get to Charleston.

Meagan: Laura’s exceptionally organized and plans ahead better than a lot of people do. In high school she was already thinking about grad school. It probably does come from whenever, in your childhood when you figure it out; it took me a lot longer. When I was a teenager I was into the environment and environmental sciences and that’s what I wanted to go to school for. But I didn’t really want to go into science, so I was going to go to school for either geology or geography. Geology is a lot of memorization, and geography is already settled. So, not much to do there! I ended up going to school for urban planning and realized that my favorite places were all historic places. So, that’s how I got involved. I took a year off between undergrad and grad, and my brother was living in Charleston so I looked up “Historic Preservation Charleston.” He said I would love it there. I applied to the College at Charleston and Clemson University Joint Program, and I went to school.

Aaron: Why would you say historic preservation is important?

Meagan: Well, there’s just so much in historic preservation. You can technically say what Laura does is historic archaeology, which I would say is almost historic preservation. Where she works, with the Park Service, she’s literally digging up new history to explore. Or you could be an architectural historian, doing more in the research library. You could be a preservation specialist; rebuilding or redeveloping a building. Or you could be a preservation advocate, which is what I am. I research, aggregate and promote historic preservation and related projects – all to make historic places, official or not, more appreciated, and better used. All of those things are quests for knowledge and education; it’s learning something new, it’s sharing it, and it’s exploring and investigating the importance of our lives, and other people’s lives. I think that not too many things are permanent, and I think that even fewer of them are of importance. To me studying how we used to live, and the craftsmanship… there’s importance to that. Someone laid that brick, someone designed that building. It’s just kind of amazing how disrespectful we are to a building that shows any sign of age.

Laura: That’s why I think that archaeology and historic preservation are so related. They deal with things that people left behind, and even though the people are gone, these are the things that are left; the archaeology and the buildings.

Aaron: It’s kind of a question of time periods, isn’t it? One of you deals with the older stuff, the stuff that’s been abandoned for some time, and the other deals with structures that were constructed more recently, that are still livable, by modern standards.

Meagan: I hadn’t thought of it that way, but yeah! Laura digs up the buildings and I try to make sure they don’t become those ruins!

Aaron: Can you describe a typical day managing your website?

Meagan: It’s a system where Laura looks up the jobs and I get the email and I input them all. And then I post them every day as they are set to expire. And then I go through my newsletters. What’s different about our website from other sites is that we don’t post everything. Preserve-Net probably posts everything that gets submitted to them; so does Preservation Directory. What we provide is a lens that says this is a job you’re probably qualified for, that seems interesting, and hopefully you’re getting compensated for. I try not to post a lot of volunteer positions. I post a lot of things that are events and professional development and webinars so people can develop their own career while they’re looking for work. I think that’s a situation that a lot of people are in. That’s the daily of the website, and we keep track of all of our expenses; we’re a business. We have to do the taxes; that’s a learning experience. We’re a registered LLC (Limited Liability Company), that’s a pain!

Aaron: And you’re both collaborating on this even though one of you is in, I believe, Buffalo, New York, and the other is in Texas?

Meagan: Laura’s in Texas and I’m in Washington D.C. now. Actually, the website never existed when we lived in the same place.

Aaron: What is it like collaborating over the web like that?

Meagan: Laura and I know each other pretty well, and we’ve been running it for a while. I’d say it’s pretty easy. If, one week, someone’s really busy and isn’t going to get to it… text each other. Call each other.

Aaron: At this point you’ve gotten past the trial period!

Meagan: Yeah, things are actually looking up. I think we’ve gotten the site to the point where it’s attractive to businesses and school to put some attention into it, in ads and sponsored narratives and things like that. It’s always going to be free. But we also do career consultation service; we’ve helped over 50 people with that, and that’s something we both enjoy doing. But we don’t want to keep making money on the unemployed. But they’re usually in school, and $75 in the great scheme of things is usually just a great night out. But we’d like to get some more partnerships that bring in money so that we can filter that back into improvements to the website. We don’t make any money on the website.

*     *     *     *     *

Due to the huge amount of information that Meagan and Laura were able to provide me with, part 1 ends here. Come back next week to read part 2. If you can't wait that long, please voice your displeasure in the space below. It won't make any difference in the long run, but you'll feel better.


HistPres. Web. 9 Jan. 2013.

PreserveNet. Web. 9. Jan. 2013.