“Monuments and mobile apps - each serve the goals of historic preservation - they remind us of where we have been, they tell us who we are, and they help us decide where we will go.”
Bladensburg is not a typical setting for discussing historic preservation. Much of the physical context for its historical significance has been lost. Many preservation techniques seem ill-suited to a heavily urbanized, low-income suburb sitting astride major arterial commuter roadways. How does one preserve a sense of place among scattered historic sites surrounded by a blighted commercial and industrial landscape? Bladensburg has begun the process of answering this question using the tools of historic preservation in the 21st century. Preservation practitioners increasingly pay attention to cultural sensitivities and seek community involvement in creating historical continuity and meaning. Relevance for today’s residents depends on preserving historic contexts that transcend buildings and sites. To this end, the surviving historic sites in Bladensburg help focus attention on the narratives of people and events that speak to the interests of today’s inhabitants. Visualizing historic contexts via computer and mobile communications technologies advance community engagement just as re-enactors and dioramas did in the past. Social media tools help create communities of interest who invest their time in rediscovering history. For Bladensburg, preservation will succeed when its residents and those who discover it from afar adopt its historical significance as their own.