Dana Bogart Cress, M.A., Architectural Historian, BGSU History B.A. Alumna 2012
I was a junior at BGSU when I changed my major from Social Studies Education to History. My parents had the stereotypical worries about my majoring in History. An education degree has an obvious end goal of a teaching job, but the history field is an open ended path with a range of specialties. I was fortunate enough to sample several of these specialties through my undergraduate and graduate careers, and my career goals became more refined with each new experience.
Following graduation from my History M.A. program, I entered into two years of AmeriCorps service in the Ohio History Service Corps as a Community Surveyor. In this position, I completed comprehensive neighborhood architectural surveys and house histories for Piqua, Ohio. I was also introduced to the fields of historic preservation and cultural resource management (CRM). After what seemed like hundreds of resumes later (don’t get discouraged!), I obtained a career in cultural resource management at a consulting firm as an Architectural Historian.
Personally, I see CRM as the more corporate side of historic preservation. Historic preservation is typically focused on advocacy, while CRM concentrates on the permitting process within federal preservation legislation. In 1966, Congress passed the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA). This act mandated that anybody using federal funds for new construction must investigate the project’s potential the effects on historic sites. This legislation obviously came as a direct result of preservation activists in the 1960s reacting to Eisenhower’s Federal-Aid Highway Act. In order to construct these massive highways, city planners often targeted older sections of cities, which they viewed as “slums”, and demolished entire neighborhoods. The NHPA safeguards against widespread demolition of historic properties.
This movement to protect historic buildings culminates to my day-to-day job. Essentially, I work with clients who use federal funding in some capacity for development projects to ensure they follow federal preservation laws. These clients can range from energy companies, state transportation departments, and community development groups. My duties comprise of several stages of work to produce a report that is sent to the appropriate State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) for review. I complete extensive background research on the project area to determine the unique historical narrative, as well as determine which structures may be historic by comparing modern aerials to historic maps. I then get to travel to the site and do an intensive walking survey of the area, photographing and documenting historic properties for National Register of Historic Places (NRHP) potential. To be NRHP-eligible, a property must have high architectural and historical integrity, so these are always exciting finds on my trips. My documentations and historic research are compiled in to official reports for the client and SHPO. If I determine any NRHP-eligible properties are in the project area, I have to evaluate the potential
adverse effects and include my recommendations in the report to the state and federal agencies involved. The clients use my reports to either revise their projects to avoid historic sites, or to identify appropriate mitigation measures.
The process seems very jargon-y. Despite this, I enjoy being an Architectural Historian consultant, knowing that I am applying preservation standards to projects not inherently preservation-minded, as well as identifying previously unrecorded historic sites that are eligible for the NRHP.
I know that sometimes majoring in something that seems as intangible as history can feel daunting, but keep in mind that there are several careers for aspiring historians. I recommend trying different subfields of history and taking advantage of internships to explore these possibilities. Volunteer positions and class projects can translate into experience that can be used to find a great start to a career path.