Theses Master's

William Sumner Appleton and The Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities: Professionalism and Labor

Morache, William

This thesis project seeks to explore professionalization in the history of preservation through the work of the Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities and its founder, William Sumner Appleton. Appleton is credited with advancing preservation toward a professional system of organization and a more scientific method in the treatment of resources. While SPNEA’s efforts successfully documented, managed and preserved old New England houses, this system also created a division of labor between the preservation professional and the restoration laborer. Through SPNEA’s development of a professional approach to historic structures, Appleton separated labor from craft at a time when labor (and immigrant labor particularly) was a prominent issue in the Boston social and political landscape.

Through case studies of several early restoration projects, this project will show how Appleton specifically alienated the product of restoration from the restoration work itself. In these restoration projects it is clear that Appleton did not seek to develop any system of preservation education or technical training. Through contract bidding, the utilization of multiple general contractors, and general lack of interest in the workmen involved in various house restoration projects, Appleton and SPNEA separated the tradespeople of restoration projects from the professional actions of preservation.

Appleton’s deliberate decision to isolate preservation professionalism from restoration trade-work was a way to isolate his cause from social concerns surrounding labor. This is interesting in the context of the period. While organizations like the Society of Arts and Crafts, Boston valued the arts and crafts as a way to elevate the craftsman, SPNEA institutionalized a method of preserving houses through funding and management, while failing to contribute to the development preservation trade work.

Considering the longstanding credit to SPNEA in the development of a professional approach to the field of preservation, this social isolationism and alienation of labor in the restoration process explains why the connection between the Arts & Crafts and preservation movements did not coalesce in the same way as in nineteenth-century Britain. This scientific, object-oriented approach also contributes to the persisting view of preservation as elitist and isolated from social issues.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Historic Preservation
Thesis Advisors
Otero-Pailos, Jorge
M.S., Columbia University
Published Here
September 17, 2014