The Harrison Goodall Grant for Innovative Historic Preservation offers graduate students and enterprising professionals the opportunity to undertake a focused pursuit that makes a meaningful contribution to the field of historic preservation. Without an advanced degree, it can be difficult to solicit support for passion projects. Understandably, there is a certain amount of reticence on the part of organizations to give money to individuals that don’t have a track record. This had been the case with my interest in the impacts of sea level rise on coastal cultural heritage and historic structures. I first became interested in the interplay between the two in 2009. If I had merely wanted to write papers summarizing other people’s work, I wouldn’t have need financial support, but I wanted to explore and innovate on my own ideas.
As global sea levels increase so too will the number of historically significant landscapes that are threatened due to sea-level rise. Because of this, historical preservationists will require more information to contend with the threats posed by climate change and rising sea levels. These threats will have a far greater impact on Low Elevation Coastal Zones (LECZ) areas. The US ranks third for land mass classified as LECZ and has tens of millions of people living within these regions. Many of these areas have had high population densities due to the concentration of marine fishery resources, ease of transportation, and agricultural associations with river deltas. These areas have acted as catalysts for the evolution of various societies and cultures and contain a concentrated stratification of cultural heritage deposits.
In a previous project, two colleagues of mine, Mike Routhier and Gopal Mulukutla, and I developed a framework for the assessment of the susceptibility of coastal New England’s cultural heritage sites, using aerial LiDAR, new and existing GIS datasets, National Register of Historic Places building submissions, Geographic Positioning System (GPS) data, and water-level data loggers. Additionally, we investigated regional geological and hydrological systems to better understand the dynamic interactions between tidal estuaries, coastal aquifers, and the effects that tidal movements and storm surges may have on these systems.
Oddly enough, the main take away for me was how inaccessible site-specific data must seem for marginalized or underrepresented communities. Not to mention, smaller poorer nations. Without funding, many communities are reliant upon data produced for tangential purposes because of the costs of such projects. I see this inaccessibility to site-specific assessment as a hindrance to communities being able to fully advocate for themselves and their resources, cultural or otherwise. Consequently, I have wanted to investigate the viability of using non-commercial water level data logger to build more cost-effective sensor arrays. As one might imagine, this has been a hard sell for a biochemist turned preservation trade teacher with no background in electronics.
Enter The Harrison Goodall Grant for Innovative Historic Preservation.
I came across the inaugural Fellowship announcement two years ago and its arrival on my radar was serendipitous. I had recently just been talking with a colleague about how to seek funding for investigating the viability of using low-cost DIY water level data loggers. In the spring of 2021, I applied for The Harrison Goodall Grant for Innovative Historic Preservation and thankfully received my acceptance letter later that year. With the assistance of the Fellowship, I had the means with which to purchase all the electronics I needed. This had been the largest obstacle to pursuing this next phase of my research. Beginning in November of 2021 I began the laborious process of trying to build my own water level data loggers. The full progress report on that endeavor is fodder for a myriad of future content and blog posts.
Though the monetary award was instrumental in overcoming a huge obstacle, there were other unanticipated benefits.
Having to create the proposal clarified my ideas and the quarterly progress updates provided accountability and necessitated setting benchmarks to ensured incremental progress. The assistance of my official – and unofficial – mentors provided outside oversight by someone that would be able to tell me if I was about to go down a rabbit hole or was able to pull me out if I had already started the descent (thank you, Michael Routhier and Stanley Glidden!) Although this project has manifest itself in ways that I would not have anticipated, it has done so in ways that will undoubtedly improve the outcome of my intended path of inquiry.
Fellows are contributing to the collective advancement of the historic preservation field. Because of the breadth of issues facing preservationists, it is nearly impossible to see the whole landscape of challenges at once. The field of preservation crosses endless disciplines and, as a result, the challenges can seem endless. The Harrison Goodall Grant for Innovative Historic Preservation offers a rare resource that provides the framework and support for the small but consequential projects that might not otherwise come to fruition.