Topics in Preservation & Public History

These seminars explore ideas related to public history and historic preservation. Themes of the course touch on history, architectural history, art history, cultural landscapes, cultural heritage, and material culture.

Spring 2024 // HSPV 6200 Revolutionary Approaches to Philadelphia's Black Heritage

Instructed by Amber Wiley


This seminar is a deep dive into Black heritage sites in Philadelphia, with the purpose of developing documentation and historic context around these underrepresented and threatened community assets ahead of the Semiquincentennial of 2026. The class grows out of a series of conversations between the Center for the Preservation of Civil Rights Sites (CPCRS), Black heritage stewards, architects, planners, creatives, and cultural producers in the city. To date, there has been no systematic investigation into Black historic assets in Philadelphia.


Many of these sites are in areas that are experiencing new development and gentrification. As the 2018-2023 Statewide Preservation Plan for Pennsylvania noted, “There is little diversity in the historic and archaeological resources that reflect Pennsylvania’s diverse ethnic and cultural history. In particular, African American resources in Pennsylvania are greatly underrepresented in National Register of Historic Places listings, by Pennsylvania Historical Markers, and in the CRGIS database of identified historic properties maintained by PA SHPO.[1]  It is critical to protect, preserve, and elevate these histories. 

This class forms the first part of an asset-based cultural heritage and tourism initiative by CPCRS. In partnership with our local stakeholders, we will engage in archival research, document buildings, conduct interviews, map resource locations, investigate creative approaches to storytelling and stewardship, and create public-facing content to share with city and state-level stakeholders. Visits to archives, museums, and heritage sites are required and essential for success in classrooms and assignments.

[1] Pennsylvania State Historic Office and Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission. 2018-2023 Pennsylvania’s Statewide Historic Preservation Plan: Community Connections: Planning for Preservation in Pennsylvania, 49.


Downtown Selma

Spring 2023 // HSPV 6210 Heritage and Social Justice 

Instructed by Randy Mason and Brent Leggs
Offered in collaboration with Tuskegee University
Kwesi Daniels and Taurean Merriweather


This course explores connections between heritage, historic preservation (and related design, planning and artistic practices), and the pursuit of social justice. The central propositions of the course are: (first) that heritage (and its conservation and design) and social justice (and its applications to many professional and practical domains) are both reparative practices; and (second) exploring connections between these two realms is a worthwhile and even urgent pursuit.

Engaging with scholarship, advocacy and organizing work, research on specific places, and contemporary design practices, the course will frame several overarching questions: How can historic preservation and other design and humanities professionals contribute to more equitable and just societies? How can our professional work be organized to result in greater equity, access, and social justice? How can heritage conservation and other design fields be deployed as means of repair to address longstanding and widespread injustices?


Historic Preservation Studio

The Preservation Studio is a practical course making architectural, urban and landscape conservation operations, bringing to bear the wide range of skills and ideas at play in the field of historic preservation.

Fall 2022 // Core Second Year HSPV 701-201

Instructed by Randy Mason and Brent Leggs


In Fall 2022, two groups of second-year students in Weitzman's Department of Historic Preservation were devoted to working in depth on Black heritage places - The Tanner House in the Strawberry Mansion neighborhood of Philadelphia and Downtown Selma, Alabama. 

class at site

The Tanner House
Philadelphia, PA

// Read about the Tanner House Studio in the Philadelphia Inquirer

Preservation philosophy:

"Reimagine the Tanner Ancestral Home, whether it be through consideration of the existing structure or not, as a place where the significance of the house includes but also expands beyond Henry O. Tanner’s legacy, ensures the presence of the house and its history for current and future generations, and includes the context of the Strawberry Mansion neighborhood in order to tell the holistic story of the house, its inhabitants, and its context."

We unanimously propose to shift the recognition of the National Historic Landmark information (both signage and nomination) from the focus on Henry Ossawa to expand that significance to the achievements of the entire Tanner family, and the context of the neighborhood as it contributes to the achievements of the Tanner family."

// Learn more about the ongoing efforts to save the Tanner House

Downtown Selma
Selma, Alabama

The purpose of this studio was to support the revitalization of downtown Selma in order to sustain its values for all its residents and as a national place to commemorate civil rights history with preservation at the core. The studio proposed a reactivation of downtown Selma while recognizing the city’s heritage and reckoning with the history of racial injustice. The vision for Selma’s future includes the implementation of sustainable and equitable development, and the expansion of historic interpretation. Students proposed that this could be accomplished through multi-level collaboration in order to increase the capacity of preservation efforts. The preservation strategies should protect the character of the built environment and feeling of downtown Selma while serving Selma’s residents and tourists alike.


Fall 2021 // Core Second Year HSPV 701-201

Instructed by Pamela Hawkes and Randy Mason


The Preservation Studio is a practical course making architectural, urban and landscape conservation operations, bringing to bear the wide range of skills and ideas at play in the field of historic preservation. In Fall 2021, second-year students in Weitzman's Department of Historic Preservation were devoted to working in depth on two heritage places - Paul Robeson House & Museum in West Philadelphia, and the Peacock Tract neighborhood & Loveless School in Montgomery Alabama.


Paul Robeson House
Philadelphia, PA

Students in Professor Pamela Hawkes’ studio created a Preservation Plan for the Paul Robeson House and Museum, located at 4951 Walnut Street in West Philadelphia. The twin rowhouses at 4951 and 4949 Walnut Street are significant in their historical connection to Paul Robeson and the West Philadelphia Cultural Alliance (WPCA). The WPCA seeks to capture Robeson’s spirit and his life’s work by making the rowhouses a place where art and activism come together to inspire the community.

group of people in front of building in field

Peacock Tract Neighborhood
Montgomery AL

Highway construction purposefully destroyed big swaths of Peacock Tract on Montgomery’s west side in the 1960s-70s. Students are explored ways of using historic preservation to advance equitable redevelopment in this historically Black neighborhood. The principal focal point of the work was the Loveless Elementary School, a 1923 public school presently abandoned but in reasonably good condition. Henry Loveless was a Black businessman and community leader in Montgomery.


Advanced Studio: Reckoning With Civil Rights Sites

HSPV 705-001 

Instructed by Randy Mason and Brent Leggs
Spring 2021


This advanced research/studio course explored the presence of civil rights issues and stories, their heritage, and opportunities for reckoning at the scale of the site and the landscape. We will ask how sites of civil rights struggles, triumphs and other legacies should be recognized, interpreted, preserved, managed and otherwise made visible? What particular issues attach to civil rights – and specifically Black – heritage places? How must the practices and policies of historic preservation adapt to serve the public interest in recognizing the historical and cultural significance of civil rights in telling the whole spectrum of American stories?

For their final projects, students workshoped preservation plans for the Marian Anderson Historical Society and Museum in Philadelphia and The St Pauls Missionary Baptist Church and Armstrong School in Macon County, AL in collaboration with colleagues at Tuskegee University’s Department of Architecture.


The course drew on several professional and scholarly fields, including history, preservation, management, and design. It consisted of lecture/seminar sessions to outline and examine issues, case studies to understand contemporary responses and best practice, and practical workshops/studio exercises applying and exploring professional tools for designing, preserving and otherwise sustaining two particular heritage sites in different stages of development.

The goals in the practical studio work are twofold: creating compelling and practical pitches identifying opportunities and needs for the sites and their stewards); framing the design, preservation and management of these heritage sites holistically.