The Rise of the Heritage Priesthood or the Decline of Community Based Heritage
In October 1996 the United States Department of the Interior sent a cover letter for a lengthy document to state historic preservation officers and copied "tribes, professional organizations, and other interested parties." It symbolized to me the history of the preservation movement in the last 30 years. It is only an accident that this document prodded me to question the growing authority of the heritage professional in North America. Unchecked it might soon infect the rest of the world. The document's title seemed innocent enough?"The Secretary of the Interior's Historic Preservation Professional Qualification Standards." The introduction was less so. Although it concedes that the protection and preservation of "America's important historic and cultural" properties depend on citizen participation, it states without apology that "certain decisions must be made by individuals who meet nationally accepted professional standards." It does not leave citizens the option to decide whether or not to obtain "professional input." Is the priesthood of professionals now to be formally placed between the people and their past? Professionals no longer advise or counsel? they decide. Important cultural decisions can now be only made by professionals. The document then goes on to establish the criteria and bureaucratic processes for the "consecration" of the 11 chosen professions.