Educating the public about the benefits of preservation and the role of the federal government in promoting preservation has long been one of the core missions of the ACHP. The law establishing the ACHP (NHPA; Public Law 89-665) directed the agency, among other things, to “encourage, in cooperation with the National Trust for Historic Preservation and appropriate private agencies, public interest and participation in historic preservation,” and “encourage, in cooperation with appropriate public and private agencies and institutions, training and education in the field of historic preservation.” A later amendment clarified that the ACHP should also “inform and educate Federal agencies, State and local governments, Indian tribes, other nations and international organizations and private groups and individuals as to the Council’s authorized activities.”
Beginning in 1971, the ACHP prepared an annual printed report on its activities and historic preservation issues and made it available to the public. By the late 1970s, the reports were getting quite lengthy, and a number of the reports in the 1980s and 1990s included themed, extended written and photo essays on such subjects as preservation economics, conservation of historic towns and cities, rural preservation, and federal property management. The reports also included annual and multi-year assessments of the National Historic Preservation Act, the national preservation program, and the challenges and opportunities facing U.S. historic preservation and the ACHP.
Beginning in the 1980s, the ACHP worked with the White House, the Department of the Interior, and others on two rounds of Presidential and National Historic Preservation Awards for the 20th and 25th anniversaries, respectively, of the 1966 NHPA. The first awards were presented in conjunction with the Interior Department’s Take Pride in America campaign, a national public awareness campaign designed to encourage the public to protect and use the natural, historical, and recreational resources of the public lands wisely. When the Preserve America Program was created, there were several additional years of Presidential Awards from 2004-2008, and recognition for federal preservation achievement and partnership activities were given by the ACHP Chairman or through partnerships with the National Trust and the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
In the early days of the ACHP, communications were handled by the executive director, his deputy, and an assistant. Special studies and publications were handled by a policy office and contract assistance. A separate Communications and Publications function, including the capability to produce high quality publications and handle press inquiries, was created in the 1980s. Annual reports and other information were regularly made available to the media, and public inquiries were addressed along with press outreach on major preservation cases, ACHP meetings, awards, and other activities of potential public interest. In 2002, a Communications, Education, and Outreach office was created along with a parallel ACHP member committee.
Currently an ACHP website (www.achp.gov) provides extensive information to parties involved in historic preservation, including students, as well as the interested public. In addition, the ACHP has developed several social media outlets to share information and announcements in a timely manner.
Beginning in 2004, the Preserve America Program became a principal vehicle for reaching out to the public about preservation. With a logo and associated slogan of “Explore and Enjoy Your Heritage,” the collection of community designations, volunteer recognition, awards, and other events and activities have presented many opportunities to reach out to the public and encourage broad interest and involvement in preservation. Local and regional news media have also highlighted the associated national recognition from the White House, members of Congress, and others. Two successful “spin-offs” from the program were the creation and sponsorship of the annual History Teacher of the Year Award by the Gilder-Lehrman Institute of American History, and the development of local Preserve America Youth Summits begun in Colorado and now co-sponsored by the National Park Service and other parties in several locations around the country.
In 2006 as part of the Preserve America Summit conference in New Orleans, an expert panel focused on the issue of “Building a Preservation Ethic and Public Appreciation for History.” The panel’s recommendations included boosting the effectiveness of history teaching and use of historic properties as interactive teaching tools, as well as more active ways to engage young people in preservation in their communities. Toward this end, the ACHP developed a youth service learning initiative. This was originally begun as a pilot program by the ACHP in 2009 in cooperation with the Journey Through Hallowed Ground National Heritage Area (from Monticello, Virginia, to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania), Harpers Ferry National Historical Park, and the Harpers Ferry public schools.
To further “spread the word” about preservation to young people as well as schools and local communities, as part of the 40th anniversary of NHPA, the ACHP created a “Newspapers In Education” insert for local newspapers that highlighted the national historic preservation program along with examples of significant preservation actions being undertaken in communities across the United States. The History Channel was a partner with the ACHP in this effort, and the insert became the basis for an ACHP print and online publication titled “Preserving America’s Heritage—An Overview of the National Historic Preservation Act.” These inserts were followed in 2012 by the creation of Section 106 Success Stories, an online series designed to better inform the public of how preservation and the Section 106 historic preservation review process works in practice across the nation.
The ACHP has made a point to reach out to communities and on-the-ground preservationists through publication of its Citizen’s Guide to Section 106 Review in English and in Spanish. This publication is made available in print and on the ACHP’s website and is the most popular of the agency’s guidance.
Educating the public about the benefits of historic preservation, of course, is an ongoing endeavor. The ACHP conducts much of its outreach through its online media, although it continues to be involved in events and a variety of regular awards designed to publicize and honor individuals and organizations who have significantly advanced historic preservation in local, state, and national communities. With the dramatic rise and accessibility of digital technologies, including social media, the ACHP is working to connect with more Americans of all ages and backgrounds to underscore the benefits and sense of community, cultural identity, and civic pride that historic preservation embodies.
(Note: For additional information about the Preserve America Program, current awards activities, and training and education, see other sections of this website as well as the ACHP’s main website at www.achp.gov)