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Tuesday, September 01, 2009

What Is the National Historic Preservation Act About? Part IV: Two Legacies of CRM

Charles Robert McGimsey III, he of the fortuitous initials, was in the late 1960s the director of the Arkansas Archaeological Survey. He like others was dismayed at the rampant destruction of archaeological sites, particularly in the Mississippi Alluvial Valley, where federally assisted agricultural land leveling was doing exactly that to a fantastic array of burial mounds, temple mounds, village sites, and the like. Unlike others, Bob wasn’t willing just to wring his hands; he tried to do something about it.

Bob is writing and publishing his memoirs, which speak for themselves. For those who want to follow the twists and turns of the course Bob and his colleagues pursued in promoting passage of the “Moss-Bennett Act,” that’s where to look. Suffice to say that Bob and many others in the archaeological community decided that what was needed was an amendment to the Reservoir Salvage Act of 1960. This amendment would require all agencies to be alert to archaeological data their projects – including those they assisted or licensed – might destroy, and either to recover those data or finance NPS to do so. It took about five years of difficult, foot-slogging legislative work, but the “Moss-Bennett Act” (named for its sponsors in the House and Senate) was finally enacted in 1975.

Note that work on Moss-Bennett began some years after the enactment of NHPA, and more or less coincided with issuance of Executive Order 11593. Some people – notably, I recall, Larry Aten in NPS – suggested pretty strongly that archaeologists would do better to work on relating themselves to NHPA than to promote a separate piece of legislation, but the archaeological community was not to be deterred, and went its more or less separate way.

I say “more or less,” because there was a lot of communication between the NPS historians and architectural historians working on NHPA implementation and the archaeologists working on Moss-Bennett. NPS even funded conferences to bring the parties together, and at one point offered McGimsey the Departmental Consulting Archaeologist’s job. McGimsey declined, as I recall, because he was not promised sufficient autonomy; archaeology would be expected, in theory, to lie down with history, architectural history and the like in the meadow of a coordinated historic preservation program on which the sacred cow of the National Register would graze.

McGimsey and his colleagues were also reaching out to agencies to encourage them to be more responsive to archaeological concerns, in anticipation of the enactment of Moss-Bennett. Notable among these was the Corps of Engineers, which had been sensitized to environmental and archaeological concerns by a series of court cases and high-profile public controversies. The Corps was setting up a NEPA program, and had hired Richard Leverty, a tough-talking but thoughtful environmental scientist, to organize things at its headquarters. Leverty and McGimsey got along well, in a Nixon-and-Kissinger sort of way, and began to bring other agencies into the discussion. Leverty was another bridge to the NPS historic preservation program, since (though he didn’t much like to) he had to interact with that program as well.

Meanwhile, the Three Executeers – Aten, Young, and Reeves – detailed by NPS to proselytize the agencies to comply with Executive Order 11593, were spreading their message of “hire archaeologists in your NEPA programs,” with a considerable degree of success. The Forest Service began bringing archaeologists on board, first in its regional offices, then on the Forests and in Headquarters. The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) reluctantly followed suit, as did Fish and Wildlife, the Bureau of Reclamation, and others. And as agencies began to contract for environmental studies under NEPA, the nascent environmental impact assessment companies with which they contracted often included archaeologists in the ostensibly “interdisciplinary” teams assembled to do the work.

Prior to the 1970s, there had been a mere handful of private companies doing archaeological contract work; there simply wasn’t any market. With the enactment of NEPA and issuance of Executive Order 11593 – which the Three Executeers and a few of us outside government loudly insisted required the conduct of archaeological surveys to find and consider places eligible for the National Register – the market grew exponentially. It also helped that states – notably California with its California Environmental Quality act (CEQA) -- were enacting “little NEPAs” that required environmental impact analyses of many non-federal actions. A number of university and museum archaeological programs jumped into contracting, but the need quickly exceeded their capacities, and contract work (as interpreted by the agencies and regulated industries) tended to impose strictures with which academics found it hard to live. At the same time, firms devoted solely to environmental impact work were developing, either as stand-alone entities or as branches of architecture and engineering firms – and they began hiring archaeologists.

By about 1973-74 there was a near-critical mass of archaeologists doing impact assessment work, and some of us began to cast about for something to call ourselves. Although archaeology was very much what most of us wanted and intended to do, as we worked under NEPA and the Executive Order we were forced – at times – to think about old buildings and such, so “archaeology” seemed an insufficiently embracing term. No one wanted to be said to be doing "historic preservation," because (a) most of us were prehistorians, (b) we didn't preserve much -- we just dug it up; and (c) "historic preservation" was something that blue-haired ladies in Boston did. Indy Jones hadn’t whipped into view yet, but we were already immersed in the stereotype. At the same time, “natural resource management” was getting a good deal of new funding in the agencies (thanks mostly to NEPA), while there were still questions about whether agencies were authorized to fund archaeology. A term paralleling “natural resource management” seemed in order.

There is uncertainty about where the term “cultural resource management” came from. Lou Wall, later head of the ACHP’s Denver office but in the early ‘70s working in NPS with the National Register, says he invented it to describe places that were eligible for the Register but not yet on it. My own impression is that it was dreamed up by archaeologists in the American Southwest; the term first appears (to my knowledge) in a few unpublished reports out of Arizona and New Mexico in 1973-74, and then burst on the scene with publication of the Proceedings of the 1974 Cultural Resource Management Conference, Federal Center, Denver, Colorado, edited by Bill Lipe and Lex Lindsay and published by the Museum of Northern Arizona. I was at the 1974 conference, which was extended at the airport by a blinding snowstorm that snarled traffic for some days. I celebrated the event with a bit of doggerel (with apologies to Robert Service):

A bunch of the boys were whooping it up
In the Denver Airport bar,
While the snow piled high, and the planes wouldn’t fly
In the winter of Seventy-Four.
The talk turned ‘round, as it often did then,
To the new thing they called “preservation.”
But like the relations of our excavations,
Some of us had reservations.
“Old ladies in tennis,” we grumbled and grumped.
“Don’t want to be likened to THEM!”
Then one of us brightened; he said “Don’t be frightened!”
“We’ll call what we do CRM!”

Calling archaeology-under-the-environmental laws “cultural resource management” neatly made the equation with natural resource management, and it avoided the implication that we were a bunch of brandy-sipping elitists saving old houses in New England. The fact that equating “cultural resource” with “archaeological site” left most of culture out in the cold concerned no one – except, after a bit of reflection, me.

So “cultural resource management” – CRM – burst on the scene in about 1973-74. And in 1974 the other CRM – McGimsey -- achieved his goal as the Moss-Bennett Act was passed. In the next segment we'll look at how all this led to the archaeologization of Section 106 review, and the misunderstanding of NHPA’s central purpose.

1 comment:

Giovanna said...

Hi Tom, after 33 years in this business I'm finally working on my PhD (at U Mass Amherst), altho still working full time. I've been researching through all my old CRM library so I can write my CRM "Field" statement (like one area of "expertise") and poking through some Internet info and find your Blog. How terrific. I burst out laughing reading your 1974 Denver airport ditty. One point of info is that in 1974 there were already a small handful of universities offering a concentration in "Cultural Resource Management," such as Idaho State University (ISU) and Arizona State (and possiblly also Washington State as I recall). I went to ISU in 1974 for that CRM "terminal" degree, getting my MA in 1976. All this to say that I agree with you re your historic take on "CRM" and can confirm that the term "CRM" must have come out of the southwest in the early '70s since ISU's CRM M.A. program started at least in 1972. I think I was in the 3rd class there. Hope you are well. Call me some time. I'm still fighting the good fight. all best, Giovanna (Peebles), still in Vermont after all these years....