The fight for cultural resource management in the Age of Trump

Now is the time to fight for cultural resource management archaeologyOkay. I just watched the video of the “CRM in the Age of Trump” webinar hosted by the American Cultural Resources Association (ACRA) and hearing what I already know was shocking (HINT: Conservatives are probably going to do their best to roll back cultural resource management [CRM] regulations). Since I’ve never been one to shy from a challenge, I felt motivated and mobilized after watching the video. But, it’s hard to be optimistic about the future of CRM archaeology.

If you haven’t already, you need to watch this video. Your job depends upon it:


CRM in Age of Trump – Werkheiser for ACRA 11.28.16 from Marion Werkheiser on Vimeo.

Here is a transcript:

While the near-term future doesn’t look particularly bright, there is potential for the CRM industry to grow in the Age of Trump. As an industry, it’s hard to remember a time when CRM archaeology was doing well but it is possible Trump may be a good thing for the industry. Conversely, if the Congress’ conservatives have their way they will do whatever possible to stymie environmental reviews. The Trump platform promises extensive infrastructure spending, but CRM will not benefit if the government exempts most of this work from Section 106 Review.

Our careers have always balanced on a knife’s edge. Here’s what I want to know about what’s going to happen in the next four years:

Is ACRA going to lead this fight?

The ACRA has been fighting for the cultural resource management industry alive since the 1990s. They are not alone. Other archaeology/historic preservation organizations like the National Trust for Historic Preservation, Archaeology Southwest and the SRI Foundation have long been in the fight for our right to learn about the past. In the video ACRA stated approximately 2,000 archaeologists, CRMers, professors, students, and archaeology fans of all stripes registered to watch the Archaeology in the Age of Trump webinar, which is extremely impressive. If their statistics are correct, this is equivalent to 20% of all persons employed in cultural resource management.

ACRA generated this momentum, so, hopefully, they will take the lead in our struggle. They called this meeting of the “Fellowship of the Trowel” and they have the organizational experience for this sort of thing. It only seems right for them to keep up the momentum and lead the charge

Are CRMers going to step up?

Our industry has been in peril for decades, but I’ve heard way more conversation about the efficacy/value of groups like ACRA and the Register of Professional Archaeologists (RPA) than I have heard about individual CRMers or CRM companies stepping up and advocating for our industry. It’s so much easier to talk than it is to act.

Since the Age of Trump could be disastrous for the cultural resource management industry and many of us may lose our jobs, I wonder if enough CRMers will stand up and fight? Or, will we just keep crying into our beer in some no-name city out there, lamenting how hard our job is and how bad the pay is and how clients don’t care and how CRM laws are horrible and…?

Are we going to convince our states to protect the environment?

Since historic preservation acts at the local level, I wonder how many state governments will seize the initiative to take preservation into their own hands if this is delegated down by the Trump Administration. Many states do not have historic preservation laws, including many former Confederate states that pride themselves on heritage. It will be interesting to see how many state and local governments will take up the role of the federal government if the Trump Administration absolves itself of historic preservation obligations. Will conservative states act to save their own heritage? (HINT: It won’t happen without cajoling from local communities that vote these politicians into office. More below.)

What can you do?

Here are some tips for doing your part in the war for historic preservation:

Get the word out— There are other entities that have the potential to reach an even wider audience than ACRA. Bloggers, podcasters, and archaeology teachers can reach publics beyond the CRM industry. This gives us a chance to spread the message about the importance of heritage conservation and historic preservation to a wider audience.

For example, every month between 1,600 and 5,000 people read this blog. Around 5,000 people tune in to the CRM Archaeology Podcast each month. The Archaeology Podcast Network has over 10,000 listeners each month. I haven’t done the demographic research behind the reader/listenership of these other media, but I know my readers include individuals that do not work in CRM. I know students and people interested in archaeology is a significant proportion of this blog’s readers. Getting the message out to these communities through blogs and podcasts is going to be an important part of the fight to protect CRM but even this is small when compared to the reach we all have via social media.

Most of us is connected to a massive network on social media. We mostly use this to lament about politics, show pictures of the dinner we made last night, or brag about sports teams (Go Seahawks!) We have great power in the palm of our hands and all we have to do is turn our message thread into a sounding board for historic preservation. We all need to highlight the benefits of historic preservation— Vibrant downtown districts, historic buildings, tax credits, informative archaeology projects, ect.—through our social media channels. Our social media platforms need to shine light on the social good that comes from heritage conservation. In a world with so much bad news, hearing about each victory can be empowering and delightful.

Most importantly: Our campaigns need to start at the local level and radiate outward. Highlight preservation, archaeology, and heritage projects in your community because that will have more impact on your audience. Its cool to learn about the new Mayan pyramid that was discovered in Mexico, but it’s even better to learn about how a developer saved millions of dollars because of historic preservation tax credits.

I wrote a book on social media campaigns for archaeologists. You can download it for free on my website. You can invest as much time and effort into it as you want, but I encourage you to start today.

Join forces— Historic preservation regulations provide employment for the vast majority of archaeologists in the United States. It is how most of today’s archaeology students will pay their bills after graduation. If these laws get rolled back, there won’t be much work for us in the near future. Either we all fight together now or we go extinct.

We have the potential to create a large advocacy coalition if we can band together and fight. Since Trump’s plan is to move things away from Federal control and into state governments, we will not have to fight every single battle to win the war. We just have to fight at the local level and win battles in our own state. Keep the fight local, but pay attention to what’s going on elsewhere on the battlefield for inspiration. We need to know what works and what doesn’t; however, each of us should focus on our local community because all historic preservation is local.

Cultural resource management archaeologists need to form advocacy cells with other students, scholars, professors, preservationists, developers, and government officials in their local communities. Keep your town safe for preservation by building close-knit coalitions that operate at the local level. This is how historic preservation was created. This is how it will be maintained.

Don’t give in to apathy— When facing an opponent with overwhelming forces, it is hard not to give in to apathy. Throwing your hands up in the air and saying “This is hopeless” is the easiest thing to do. They may have money, political power, and momentum on their side but there’s one thing they don’t have: A human connection.

When’s the last time you met someone who told you that they get most of their inspiration in life from an oil well? Who was ever awestruck by a suburban strip mall? When’s the last time your stories about a highway expansion moved your mother to tears? I’d venture to guess that this has never happened. Why? Because people love to hear a good story, especially when it’s about other people.

Archaeology, historic preservation, and heritage conservation are about human stories. Learning about material culture can connect us with the past and our heritage in a way that a Walmart Supercenter just can’t do. We feel alive in vibrant, diverse, older neighborhoods. These spaces have stories. They remind us of who we are as a people, which is why historic preservation laws were created in the first place.

Rolling back historic preservation laws is purely rooted in capitalist self-interest. Some out there think they will make more money by destroying the environment, including historic properties, so their argument to Congress and communities will focus on the dollars. To them, it’s all about the Benjamins and they don’t care about the intangible value provided by protected spaces. Money is important, especially if you don’t have any, but it quickly loses utility once our basic needs are met. Human beings need more than just food, water, shelter, and money to survive. We need each other. We need meaning in our lives. Hearing stories about each other is one way we build meaning. Cultural resource management should be all about crafting meaningful stories that help people in the present connect with our ancestors in the past.

Use the “human interest story” perspective when articulating why historic preservation is important. Others need to know that protecting the places that matter is part of what it means to be a human being.

Contact your local representatives— Politicians are the ones responsible for promoting and upholding laws, so it is in your best interest to know who your local representatives are. Here’s where you can find most of your representatives:

Feel free to introduce yourself with a short letter informing them of how important historic preservation laws are for your community. Highlight some of the best projects, sites, buildings in your community and let them know you care about histpres. End your letter by telling them you expect them to maintain and build upon existing historic preservation regulations. Whenever you hear about some project that is trying to skip historic preservation review, let your representatives know how you feel.

ACT— Thank you for reading this blog post, but now I encourage you to act:

  1. Join the ACRA. Put your money where your mouth is. If you can afford beer, you can afford an ACRA membership (
  2. Create a local CRM archaeology Facebook group. If there’s already one in your state/city, ask to join.
  3. Start your own social media campaign. Search Google for historic preservation news and post it to social media. Even better, start a Google Alert for historic preservation news.
  4. Find your local representative on social media and “friend” them. You need to know what their office is up to so you can either praise or condemn their actions. This can also be a channel for you to stay in contact.
  5. Hard. Now.

We need to fight a guerrilla war

“The blows should be continuous. The enemy soldier in a zone of operations ought not to be allowed to sleep; his outposts ought to be attacked and liquidated systematically. At every moment the impression ought to be created that he is surrounded by a complete circle.” (Che Guevara, Guerilla Warfare [1961])

Fidel Castro died this week. Che Guevara has been dead for decades. But, revolutions live on.

I do not condone violence but the strategies of the Cuban Revolution provide a roadmap for how we will need to organize in order to fight for historic preservation, heritage conservation, and cultural resource management archaeology. We will have to relentlessly harass those who want to end historic preservation while constantly gaining the trust and support of local communities by highlighting how our industry benefits from preservation.

Heritage, community, and economics should be our talking points. The built environment, landscapes, historic buildings, and archaeology sites all contribute to the stories of our rich heritage across the country. These stories are not always nice, but they tell the tale of how we have become who we are. Histpres is rooted in community as the regulations prioritize preservation at the local level. Preservation grants, tax benefits, and character all operates within local communities. It is the economic benefits of historic preservation that we need to stress in addition to the human-interest stories. Older, diverse, interesting neighborhoods and communities contribute more tax dollars, retain value, and generate character better than new strip malls, subdivisions, and Trump Towers. We can connect with a historic neighborhood in a manner that can’t be done in a neighborhood of prefabricated homes.

As the ACRA webinar’s host Marion Werkheiser said, historic preservation advocates span the political spectrum. Donald Trump receives an unstated amount of tax benefits from historic preservation on his real estate. He is not alone, which means we can find advocates in the unlikeliest of places.

Now is the time to fight for historic preservation. Enough reading. Do something now.

Write a comment below or send me an email If you’re interested in joining the fight or helping others do so.


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