Let’s Not Stumble on the Road to Economic Recovery

Posted by Edward V. Curtin on June 8, 2012 in Archaeology, CRM, History |

On May 28, 2012 John R. Roby posted a very interesting article on the bad economy’s effect upon archaeology, arguing persuasively that less budget-cutting and more support of archaeology, parks, and historic preservation is called for in the economic recovery.  He points out the devastation to archaeology programs at Parks Canada due to draconian budget measures, and informs us of the Society for Historical Archaeology’s appeal to Canada’s government to alleviate the plight of these programs.  He discusses very concrete ways in which archaeological businesses–  like businesses generally–  provide livelihoods, bolster local economies, and generate economic growth through purchasing.  He also draws attention to the economic importance of Heritage Tourism.

The last point resonates with recent news reports.  I note that in New York State, Governor Andrew Cuomo has recently worked to revive the I Love New York campaign.  It is difficult to be in New York’s Hudson and Champlain valleys and not see the connection between the region’s rich history and the promotion of tourism.  For example, Fort Edward has a great Visitor’s Center on historic Rogers Island; Schuylerville, Saratoga, and Stillwater have significant sites connected with the Battles of Saratoga; Saratoga Springs has a tangible heritage of spas, casinos and Victorian architecture, as well as a quiet spot to visit a kiosk explaining local archaeology.  Along the Hudson and Mohawk Rivers are the visible sites of the Champlain and Erie Canals.  In the North Country are the amazing Fort Ticonderoga and the sites of the 1814 Battle of Plattsburgh, the latter especially noteworthy during the current Bicentennial of the War of 1812.  In Lake George, Fort William Henry, Fort George, and the Lake George Battlefield Park provide diverse opportunities to appreciate French and Indian War history.

Archaeology has been important to interpreting many of these sites, and historic preservation–  in the broadest sense–  is responsible for them all as places tourists can visit and appreciate today.  At many of these sites it is easy to see the link between the enjoyment of history and economic development.

The recent report of the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, Measuring Economic Impacts of Historic Preservation (pdf), discusses the economic benefits of historic preservation, sees historic preservation as a “fundamental tool for strengthening American communities,” and draws attention to Heritage Tourism as a subject of measurable economic value that needs to be counted more effectively and recognized to a greater extent.

According to a recent report (pdf), the Department of the Interior supported over 2 million jobs and $363 billion in economic activity in 2010.  The recreational draw of tourists to historic and archaeological sites, along with the identification, protection, and interpretation of these sites are among the activities cited as contributing to the Department of the Interior’s positive economic effects.

European archaeologists commenting (pdf) on the global economic downturn have noted that because life goes on through crisis and recovery, we should not “refer and defer all choices and policies to the crisis” (Schlanger and Aitkinson 2010).  We Americans can also say we need to continue to find value in history and support its programs.  And as we do so, we need to understand that research, protection, and interpretation of historical and archaeological sites are significant actual and potential economic engines.

References cited:

Department of the Interior
2011 The Department of the Interior’s Economic Contributions.  Report dated June 21, 2011.  Department of the Interior, Washington, D.C.

Rypkema, Donovan, Caroline Cheong, and Randall Mason
2011 Measuring Economic Impacts of Historic Preservation. Submitted to the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation,Washington,D.C.

Schlanger, Nathan and Kenneth Aitkinson
2010 Introduction:  Archaeology and the Global Economic Crisis.  In Archaeology and the Global Economic Crisis: Multiple Impacts, Possible Solutions, edited by Nathan Schlanger and Kenneth Aitchison, pp.9-12. Culture Lab Editions, Tervuren, Belgium.

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