The National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA)

The following may be a bit dry, but I love this stuff (i.e. I’m a huge CRM legislation nerd) . . .

What is the NHPA?

A major piece of cultural resource management legislation that provided laws for the protection of cultural resources and identified the need for increased public knowledge of cultural resources was the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA). The Urban Renewal Program launched by the Kennedy administration increased the destruction of natural and cultural resources (King 1998:15). City slums, which were once historic centers, were destroyed in the name of progress. As King (2000:16) notes, federal agencies “damaged or destroyed stuff that people valued because it embodied their history. . .This was sometimes necessary; the old often, maybe usually, had to make way for the new.” First lady Johnson coordinated a program during the Johnson administration to create a comprehensive report on historic preservation needs. The report recommended that Congress should create a national historic preservation program, outlining the legislative provisions in the National Historic Preservation Act (King 1998:15).

Signed into law by President Johnson on October 15, 1966, the National Historic Preservation Act established a process for preserving United States historic heritage, including historic properties. Congress declared in Section 1(b)(1)(3) that “ the spirit and direction of the Nation are founded upon and reflected in historic heritage. . . historic properties significant to the Nation’s heritage are being lost or substantially altered, often inadvertently, with increasing frequency” (United States Congress 1966:1). Government agencies would now have a compliance process that forced them to think and plan before inadvertently or purposefully destroy a property of significance on public lands. Such properties include both prehistoric and historic archaeological sites and historic buildings. Section 106 of the Act provides the specific compliance process for any Federal undertaking. As for public education, the Act sets provisions to not only protect and preserve significant properties for the benefit of the public, but also endeavors to involve the public.

NHPA and Public Outreach

Did you know that there is language in the law to provide education and outreach to the public? The language of the National Historic Preservation Act is explicit in stating the importance of preserving historic heritage for the public before it is lost through “progress.” The Act also states in Section 1(b)(2), “the historical and cultural foundations of the Nation should be preserved as a living part of our community life and development in order to give a sense of orientation to the American people” (United States Congress 1966:1). Therefore, “the preservation of this irreplaceable heritage is in the public interest so that its vital legacy of cultural, educational, aesthetic, inspirational . . .will be maintained and enriched for future generations of Americans” (United States Congress 1966:1). In order to pique public interest in historic heritage, Section 101(3)(G) states that designated State Historic Preservation Officers (SHPO) have the responsibility to provide the public information, education, training, and any technical assisted needed in historic preservation (United States Congress 1966:7). Section 401 describes the necessity of a coordinated National initiative to promote research, provide training, and distribute information on preservation (United States Congress 1966:43). Consequently, education is crucial for the public to understand the preservation process.

The Act does make provisions for public involvement during the Section 106 process to voice concern of the potentially negative effects of an undertaking on a significant property. Section 110(2)(E)(ii) of the Act notes that consultation with the interested public, including Indian tribes, is necessary in the identification and evaluation of historic properties (United States Congress 1966:21). SHPO developed education programs on historic preservation, as well as the National initiative to promote training in historic preservation, have the potential to provide the public with the necessary information to become a major voice during the Section 106 consultation process.  The public has every right to demand a role in the compliance process and expect the government to hear their voice, due to the process outlined by Section 106.

King, Thomas F.

2000 Federal Planning and Historic Places: The Section 106 Process. Altamira Press, New York.

United States Congress

1966 National Historic Preservation Act of 1966:16 USC 470, October 15, 1966. Washington, D.C. U.S. Government Printing Office.

Links:

https://www.nps.gov/history/local-law/nhpa1966.htm

 

A (Very Brief) History Leading Up to Current CRM Legislation

Interest in academic archaeology in service of the government and public in the United States can be traced to Thomas Jefferson in 1799 (Schroeder 2009:169). While president of the American Philosophical Society, Jefferson asked the organization to record antiquities before such artifacts were lost to future generations. Examples of both government and civic preservation include the protection of ancient earthen mounds throughout the Midwest (Schroeder 2009:172). The Ohio Company designated ancient mounds and earthworks in Ohio as important public places for preservation. However, unlike modern legislation in cultural resource management, government intervention was minimal until the 19th century and the pressure placed on the government by the concerned public over destroyed historic and prehistoric ruins. As Schroeder (2009:172), “most of the earliest efforts at preservation were accomplished by communities, civic groups, and other organizations exerting efforts to assure the protection of ancient monuments.”

During the 19th century, with the growing popularity of antiquities collections, European museums tended to focus on craft demonstration in order to generate a greater interest in antique material than the cultural aspect of material culture. However, American museums and preservation societies focused on material culture as opposed to artifact demonstrations, especially with historic houses (Anderson 1982:292). By the mid-19th century, Americans were keen on historic preservation efforts. This effort was rooted in the need to preserve what civic leaders and middle-class professionals considered to be traditional American beliefs and cultural values. Groups like Sons of the American Revolution and Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities hoped to create a sort of shrine to the past, idealizing of the nation’s founding fathers and influential sites from the American Revolution (Durel 1986:230). Historic houses, such as George Washington’s home of Mt. Vernon, provided tangible access to the past, demonstrating a need for continued preservation of historic places and presenting history to the public.

Three major exhibitions brought Indian antiquities to the forefront: the Columbian Historical Exposition of 1892 in Madrid, Spain, and the 1904 World’s Columbian Exposition of in Chicago and the Louisiana Purchase Exposition in St. Louis, Missouri (Thompson 2000:210). The exhibitions displayed the material remains of recently excavated regions of the American Southwest. The display of Indian antiquities romanticized the American west and generated a demand for Indian antiquities and art. Growing interest in archaeological materials led to looting of ancient ruins in the American southwest with the discovery of monumental ruins such as the Mesa Verde Cliff dwellings in Colorado (Hutt et al. 1992:19). Railroad construction during the mid to late 19th century, “facilitated long-distance shipping of goods, including large, fragile collections of archaeological materials, which previously had been transported in wagons” (Hutt et al. 1992:19).

Public concern with the destruction of antiquities and the growing professionalization of anthropology provided a role for the government in preservation and archaeology. For example, Casa Grande in southern Arizona was the first federally preserved prehistoric archaeological site in 1892, due to petitions to Congress by supporters of preservation (Schroeder 2009:172). The need for federal legislation was brought to the forefront by archaeologist Edgar Lee Hewett. Knowing key members of Congress and professional societies, Hewett was appointed a member of the American Anthropological Association (AAA) to work towards creating antiquities legislation (Thompson 2000:236). Hewett’s work the AAA helped establish the language of the Antiquities Act of 1906 and the groundwork for future cultural resource management legislation. And the rest is history.

Important Cultural Resource Legislation in the United States

  • Antiquities of 1906
  • Organic Act of 1916
  • Historic Sites, Buildings, and Antiquities Act of 1935
  • Reservoir Salvage Act of 1960
  • National Historic Preservation Act of 1966
  • National Environmental Policy Act of 1969
  • Archaeological Resources Protection Act of 1979
  • Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act of 1990

References Cited

Anderson, Jay

1984 Time Machines: The World of Living History. The American Association for State and Local History, Nashville.

Durel, John W.

1986 The Past: A Thing to Study, a Place to Go. In Public History: An Introduction, edited by Barbara J. Howe and Emory L. Kemp. Robert E. Krieger Publishing Company, Malabar.

Hutt, Sherry, Elwood W. Jones, and Martin E. McAllister

1992 Archaeological Resource Protection. The Preservation Press, National Trust for Historic Preservation, Washington, D.C.

Schroeder, Sissel

2009 Thinking About a Public and Multidisciplinary Archaeology. Reviews in Anthropology 38: 166-194.

Thompson, Raymond Harris

2000 The Antiquities Act of 1906 by Ronald Freeman Lee. Journal of the Southwest 42(2): 197-269.

A Brief History of the Antiquities Act of 1906

Click Here to listen to the ARCH365 episode on this topic through the Archaeology Podcast Network. You can also download the episode from iTunes.

There’s quite a bit of history that led up to the creation and implementation of the Antiquities Act, starting with the general interest of the American people in the past. While president of the American Philosophical Society, Thomas Jefferson asked the organization to record antiquities before such artifacts were lost to future generations. Examples of both government and civic preservation include the protection of ancient earthen mounds throughout the Midwest (Schroeder 2009:172). The Ohio Company designated ancient mounds and earthworks in Ohio as important public places for preservation. However, unlike modern legislation in cultural resource management, government intervention was minimal until the 19th century, when pressure was placed on the government by the concerned public over destroyed historic and prehistoric ruins.

By the mid-19th century, Americans were keen on historic preservation efforts. This effort was rooted in the need to preserve what civic leaders and middle-class professionals considered to be traditional American beliefs and cultural values. Groups like Sons of the American Revolution and Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities hoped to create a sort of shrine to the past, idealizing of the nation’s founding fathers and influential sites from the American Revolution (Durel 1986:230). Historic houses, such as George Washington’s home of Mt. Vernon, provided a window into the past, demonstrating a need for continued preservation of historic places and a place presenting history to the public.

Three major exhibitions brought Native American antiquities to the forefront: the Columbian Historical Exposition of 1892 in Madrid, Spain, the World’s Columbian Exposition, also known as the Chicago World’s fair, of 1893 in Chicago and the 1904 Louisiana Purchase Exposition, also known as the St. Lous Worlds Fair, in St. Louis, Missouri. These exhibitions displayed the material remains of recently excavated regions of the American Southwest. The display of Indian antiquities romanticized the American west and generated a demand for Indian antiquities and art. Growing interest in archaeological materials led to looting of major sites in the American southwest such as the Mesa Verde Cliff dwellings in Colorado (Hutt et al. 1992:19). Railroad construction during the mid to late 19th century, allowed for the long-distance shipping of large fragile collections of archaeological remains—making it easier to send hundreds of thousands of artifacts across the united states.

Public concern with the destruction of antiquities and the growing professionalization of anthropology created a role for the government to step into. For example, in 1892, supporters of preservation sent congress petitions to protect and preserve Casa Grande, a prehistoric structure in southern Arizona. It became the first site to be protected by the feds. The need for federal legislation was brought to the forefront by archaeologist Edgar Lee Hewett. Knowing key members of Congress and professional societies, Hewett was appointed a member of the American Anthropological Association (AAA) to work towards creating antiquities legislation (Thompson 2000:236). Hewett’s work the AAA helped establish the language of the Antiquities of 1906 and the groundwork for future cultural resource management legislation.

President Theodore Roosevelt signed the Antiquities Act, on June 8, 1906, establishing a basic federal policy to protect and preserve cultural resources on public lands (Green 1998:123). The Antiquities Act created criminal sanctions to prosecute looters, the act allows the president to create historic scientific and national monuments, and the act established a permit system to examine and excavate archaeological sites on federal lands, meaning no work can be undertaken without a permit (Hutt et al. 1992:21). Consequently, the Antiquities Act protects “any historic or prehistoric ruin or monument, or any object of antiquity situated on lands owned or controlled by the Government of the United States” (United States Congress 1906:1).

Without the antiquities act, archaeologists wouldn’t have the current legislation that backs-up our work and the public wouldn’t have the amazing national monuments like Bears Ears in Utah. The antiquities act is a crucial piece of cultural resource legislation in the United States, which shouldn’t be overlooked, overshadowed by economic incentives, or overturned by those who do not understand the importance or preserving and protecting the past for future generations.

Links:

-If you are interested in my cited sources, you can find the associated book on Google. Feel free to message me if you would like the full reference or suggestions on further reading.

-NPS: https://www.nps.gov/archeology/tools/laws/antact.htm

-Legislation: https://www.nps.gov/history/local-law/anti1906.htm