Redefining Historical Significance: Toward New Possibilities for Preservation at Madison’s Sugar Castle
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In this thesis, I claim that the National Register of Historic Place’s current criteria for historical significance, which are models for most state- and city-level landmark designation criteria, can limit understanding of the past. By constraining what historical significance means, these criteria affect how official histories are written. As a result, official histories often do not align with the stories and values that local people attach to historic places. They ignore the meanings associated with the land surrounding historic buildings and with personal experiences that persist in memory. I argue that the national criteria must be amended to include cultural landscapes and collective memory. These additional criteria for significance would let preservationists choose from a wider range of stories about places like Garver in order to convey more meaningful official histories and propose new, creative approaches to preservation.