Martinko on Historic Preservation

By Jeremy Dibbell

University of Virginia doctoral candidate and 2009-10 MHS short-term research fellow Whitney Martinko’s article “Progress and Preservation: Representing History in Boston’s Landscape of Urban Reform, 1820-1860” has been published in the June issue of The New England Quarterly. Martinko’s article is a fascinating re-evaluation of the roots of historical preservation in America: she argues that while preservation in the modern sense of retaining historic structures as such did not come into fashion until after the Civil War, antebellum Bostonians found other ways to “preserve the historic fabric of their city even as they directed its transformation into a modern metropolis.”

Working with MHS Curator of Art Anne Bentley, Martinko examined artifact data sheets relating to several pieces in the Society’s collections: an exterior pediment from the Foster-Hutchinson mansion, donated to the MHS for use as a pedestal; an early daguerrotype of the Old Feather Store; a round wooden box made from the remnants of a seventeenth-century house on Tremont Street, and several other items. Martinko suggests that these artifacts, along with other materials such as historical guidebooks and popular literature which drew on the historical culture of the city, reveal that Bostonians of the early 19th century “preserved the historic landscape in two ways: by recognizing buildings as historic while appropriating them for contemporary use, and by representing them [in artwork, photographs, prose, &c.].”