Massachusetts Daily Collegian

UMass and Hancock Shaker Village create new Historical Preservation and Design graduate program

By Mike Toomey

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The University of Massachusetts Amherst is joining forces with Hancock Shaker Village, a National Historic Landmark in the Berkshires, to offer a new graduate program in Historic Preservation and Design starting in the fall of 2010. The program offers prospective students the unique opportunity to enliven traditional coursework with onsite experience at the historically rich village.

Hancock Shaker Village was founded in 1783 by a community of Shakers, who practiced a unique form of Protestantism. Today, the village consists of 20 buildings and has been rigorously maintained since its inception by experts in historical preservation.

“When the HSV museum opened it was a leader in the preservation movement,” said Ellen Spear, president and CEO of HSV. “And this was before the country passed the 1976 Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for Historic Preservation.,”

The Standards for Historic Preservation were passed to ensure comprehensive care and upkeep for the nation’s historic treasures.

Prospective students of the program gain from both its synthesis of academics and real-world experience, as well as the opportunity to learn from a culture that embraced sustainable practices. The Shakers embraced alternative energy sources from water to wind power, and maintained self-sustaining farms and well-designed buildings, many of which still stand today.

“The Shakers’ pragmatism and economy never overtaxed the environment, as far as using too much – they were always considerate of the environment and their surroundings,” said Stephen Bedford, the Historic Preservation and Design program director and a 20-year veteran of architectural history.

“There’s a lot to learn from the construction of these buildings,” said Bedford, “and the program is a great way to expand knowledge about building in general, as well as how to care for and preserve historic buildings that have different needs than modern ones.”

Before finding it a home at UMass, Bedford shopped the curriculum to a number of institutions without success.

“This program came to be largely through the commitment of myself and Ellen [Spear] to the curriculum we had created, and it wasn’t until we found an institution with both the resources and interest to really get this on its feet,” said Bedford.

Bedford worked hard to assemble a faculty of some of the field’s most esteemed experts, including UMass professors Max Page and Marla Miller. Page is an architectural historian and Miller is an historian specializing in early American culture and women’s labor. Joining them is Robert Adam, one of the leading preservation educators in the country, whose expertise is bolstered by his long career in restorative carpentry.

Both Spear and Bedford expect the Historic Preservation and Design degree program to also interest working professionals involved with buildings and structures; architects, engineers, carpenters and masons.

“Like many graduate programs – and this is very important in today’s economy – this is something you can complete without leaving your job, it meets intensively twice a week,” said Bedford.

Joel Martin, dean of the College of Arts and Humanities said he is enthused that UMass is pairing real-world skills with its academic offerings.

 “I think it’s exciting to connect our excellent academic programs in historic preservation at UMass Amherst with an important historic site in New England because it will connect theory and practice in a powerful way. Students will be able to integrate what they learn in courses with work in the field and gain important insight into the real world challenges associated with a historic site,” he said.

Michael Toomey can be reached at [email protected]

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