Putting Preservation on the Road: Protecting Our Overlooked Automotive Heritage in the Twenty-first Century
Date: October 20-22, 2016
Location: Historic Vehicle Association Research Laboratory, Allentown, Pennsylvania, USA
The Historic Vehicle Association (HVA) and the Historic Preservation & Community Planning Program at the College of Charleston are pleased to announce the following call for papers for an international conference on the preservation of automotive heritage.
For much of the twentieth century heritage preservation primarily focused on sedentary objects (i.e., 1906 Antiquities Act in the United States, 1919 Historic Sites and Monuments Board in Canada, etc.). While some countries have studied and documented vehicles for preservation and/or conservation, their official recognition as landmarks or on registers of official distinction has largely been overlooked. This is most apparent within the field of automotive heritage. For example, within the United States there are over 90,000 separate listings for buildings, sites, structures, districts, and other objects on the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP). Vehicles on the NRHP include historic ships, railroad locomotives and streetcars, equipment related to the space age, and so forth – but not a single automobile or similar vehicle related to this form of transportation. This is also the case for the approximate 12,500 sites on the Canadian Register of Historic Places. Individual automotive vehicles by themselves are not listed as contributing elements – just the stationary buildings and sites. Considering that there is a precedent for both, such as moving ships and trains as well as stationary buildings and places on automotive heritage, the question becomes “why not automobiles?” Hence the newly-created National Historic Vehicle Register (NHVR), which can be used as a tool to carefully and accurately document the most historically significant automobiles, motorcycles, trucks, and commercial vehicles, as well as recognize the dynamic relationship between people, culture, and their means of transportation. The NHVR was developed by the Historic Vehicle Association (HVA) in partnership with the U.S. Department of the Interior in March 2013 to explore how vehicles important to American and automotive history could be effectively documented. Using Historic American Engineering Record (HAER) standards, this project is the first of its type to create a permanent archive of significant historic automobiles within the Library of Congress (see https://historicvehicle.org/national-historic-vehicle-register/).
The issue of overlooking historic vehicle preservation becomes further exasperated when we consider that none of the accredited programs in historic preservation and heritage conservation (more than sixty with the National Council of Preservation Education, a dozen with the National Roundtable of Heritage Education, among others in various countries) offer permanent coursework on the subject, let alone any other form of training or directed study. This is significant when we consider how much of our global economy, landscape, built environment, culture, and way of life across the world has been affected by the automobile. The NHVR is an important starting point in our efforts to study the role of automobiles in the formation of our cultural landscapes, but there is much work that must follow. Automobiles have been designed no less than buildings or furniture to engage with broader cultural phenomena, to answer – and indeed to inspire – human needs and desires that are inseparably intertwined with time and place. Furthermore, cars have been interpreted and re-interpreted by human beings in complex ways that often go beyond the intentions of their designers; they are cultural products not only of broad and powerful impact, but also of great complexity, and as such they must be contextualized in historical research if they are to be understood. Just because automobiles move should not be the disqualifying reason for not studying them. Indeed, we have lost much of our automotive heritage due to this lack of awareness, especially when considering that in the United States alone, prior to 1930, there were over 2,600 different automotive manufacturers. Today we are left primarily with the “Big Three” and a handful of minor manufactures. Not all pre-1930 companies were based in traditional places of manufacture Michigan, Bavaria (Germany), or Turin (Italy). For instance, South Carolina had its own independent companies, such as Anderson, during the 1910s and 1920s. Other countries too, whom we don’t normally think of as having their own homegrown auto industry, at one time did. Among these are the nearly forgotten Canadian manufactures Derby, Gray-Dort Motors, and Russell Motor Car Company. This local and regional heritage has largely been forgotten.
Suggested presentation topics may include, but are not limited to:
- Case studies of regional and local automotive culture and heritage, including those viewed through the lens of ethnic/regional studies (American studies, Canadian studies, material culture studies, studies of nomadic peoples, etc.)
- Considering if there is a world automotive heritage, whether UNESCO or ICOMOS should be encouraged to get involved, and the role of FIVA (Fédération Internationale des Véhicules Anciens) as part of this.
- Innovative ways to add the preservation of automotive heritage to the educational curriculum within colleges/universities, high schools, and technology schools.
- Make better known the NHVR as an appropriate alternative to the NRHP for cars, trucks, motorcycles, and other vehicles: If “this place matters”, then by extension, there is the argument that “this car matters” too.
- Using HAER/HABS techniques for studying and documenting historic vehicles, as well as exploring innovative techniques and tools through the use of new technologies
- Reevaluating listed historic places and sites, as well as considering new places where buildings and landscapes (etc.) are tied with vehicles and people, in a more comprehensive designation that ties together the NHVR and NRHP, where both building/structure and car/vehicle elements are equally contributing.
- Case studies of best practices related to preservation, conservation, restoration, adaptive reuse, and reconstruction of automobiles and associated material culture.
- Recognizing important designers of automobiles in the same manner as architects.
- Vernacular automotive design and use vs. haute design and auto racing preservation, in order to better understand the cultural meaning of vehicles for ordinary people in their everyday lives.
- The approaches of allied fields in the preservation of automotive heritage, such as public history, archaeology, museum studies, cultural resource management, design/architectural history, etc.
- Automobility and the environment, such as the rehabilitation of historic automobiles, and its relationships with energy efficiency, embodied energy and so forth in transportation (“is the greenest car one that has already been built?”)
- Establishing standards for the proper treatment of historic vehicles so as to define what is appropriate preservation, rehabilitation and restoration. This can include the U.S. Secretary of the Interior, as well as the Standards and Guidelines for Conservation in Canada, among others, as well as qualification standards for the people who work on them. The Turin Charter (2012) can serve as a template for such standards in a similar way to the Athens (1933) and Venice (1964) charters do for buildings.
- Preserving historic vehicle trades, maintenance and materials to prevent them from becoming a dying vocation through the preservation of automobiles in a manner similar to building trades professions. The way we once built and maintained cars is a fading practice, akin to traditional building trades (carpentry, plastering, etc.), especially when you consider that it is now standard for cars to no longer have an oil dipstick, let alone other DIY maintenance accessories.
- Analyzing the contributions of automotive preservation heritage events, auto shows, museums, etc. to the economy and tourism – information that is not always fully included in Main Street programs and other economic development initiatives related to preservation planning.