Encoded heritage : data practices and racial equity in historic preservation, Texas, 1953–1999

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2023-08-07

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Conrad, Joshua Morris

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Abstract

In the history of historic preservation in Texas, and nationally, the creation and keeping of architectural surveys, inventories and historical registers have been key components of the process to identify and document historic places. However, while these heritage data practices have been called "the Alpha and the Omega" of preservation, little research has been done to foreground and critically analyze these data practices, especially those of federal, state and local preservations over the last half of the 20th century as America’s national preservation efforts professionalized and matured within the midst of concurrent turbulent battles for civil rights and racial equity. This dissertation uses an interdisciplinary approach that merges GIS analysis, data studies and archival research to critically analyze how preservationists since 1953 in Texas competed for and collaborated on the production of authorized heritage data as acts of both knowledge gate-keeping and knowledge gate-breaching. This research finds that while earlier state data practitioners in Texas excluded or distorted Black history, later state practitioners starting in the 1960s developed new data techniques, architectural ontologies and, importantly, local collaborations with underrepresented communities that led to increased racial equity and representation in the state data repository of historic sites. Ultimately, this dissertation provides a critical methodological framework for decoding and interpreting legacy heritage data within its social-technical contexts of creation that can be adapted to the study of heritage data practices around the world.

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