Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Historic Places: Preservation vs Annihilation

The National Register of Historic Places is the United States government’s official compilation of cultural resources that are significant for the local area, state, region and nation. It was created by the Congress in 1966 with the enactment of the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA). 1 It is administered by the National Park Service that is under the U.S Department of the Interior (DOI). 2 Its main purpose is to recognize and preserve the historic building, structures, sites, objects, and districts that are significant. By being listed in the National Register, the negative impact from the federally funded or licensed projects on these properties can be reduced or eliminated. Moreover, the owners of these properties can enjoy some financial incentives for preservation purposes. So far, there are about one million properties listed on the National Register.3

Generally, a site must be over 50 years old to be listed in the National Register. Some sites can be eligible to be on the list of National Register even though they are less than 50 years old. However, they must be exceptionally significant. For over 50 years-old sites, there are four criteria to evaluate and one of the criteria must be met to be registered on the National Register of Historic Places. According to the National Park Service, the first criterion is stated that the sites “that are associated with events that have made a significant contribution to be broad patterns of our history”.4 For example, a site that is related to the Civil War and significant can be listed on the National Register. If the site is associated with the life of a person who was an important figure in American history, it can also be registered on the National Register of Historical Places. The house of Ralph Waldo Emerson who was a great essayist, poet and leader of the Transcendentalist movement in the early nineteenth century, was put on the National Register database on October 15, 1966. The third criterion utters that any site that possesses ‘the distinctive characteristics of a type, period, or method of construction, high artistic values or that represents a significant and distinguishable entity whose components may lack individual distinction’. There are hundreds of thousands of buildings, structures, objects and districts that are qualified and recorded in the Nation Register.

Historic sites are ‘telescope’ to the past. Through that, we can trace the past. We can write about it, learn valuable lessons from it or feel a sense of pride of it. Our beloved Rakhaingpray has plenty of historic places that reveal our long and rich history. It is our national duty to preserve them in an original shape and design as possible. On the other hand, any new modern project should not be implemented on and close proximity of these areas. Knowingly or unknowingly leveling them for new development projects is totally unacceptable. Preservation of historic place along with structural performance (engineering), environmental impact and economical consideration (cost and benefit analysis) should be priority of any architects and design engineers. For country like Burma where uniform army authorities have final approval stamp for all projects, they must listen to what experts have to say.

I am not sure whether it is expert who failed to report or it is military authority who intended to destroy Arakan’s rich history. One thing I know is Kyauktaw-Mrauk U highway was constructed paving on parts of old ruins of Vesali. It is a deplorable act with intent to hurt not only Arakan historically but also Arakanese psychologically. Now again, Burmese military government has waged another psychological war against Arakanese by building railroad crossing old Danyawaddy. Burmese government never recognized Danyawaddy era of Arakanese history. Thanks to recent excavation, physical evidences have corroborated Arakanese claims. It is in our interest to dig deeper and broader to collect more evidence and to uncover more truth. But the government is now trying to fill these grounds back with dirt and railroad track. According to sources inside Burma’s Ministry of Construction, the experts reported to local authorities and government’s Department of Archeology which is under Ministry of Culture that the current railroad plan will run through historic Danyawaddy site. However, the plan was approved by Burma’s own Ministry of Culture whose ultimate objective, the last time I checked, is to preserve nation’s heritage.

It’s heartbreaking to know how military government is systematically trying to wipe out our history. Comparing the two nations with U.S and Burma, the difference is amazing. One nation tries to preserve any significant places that are generally 50 years old. One nation is destroying significant places that are over thousand years old. In such challenging time, it is imperative to closely monitor that railroad project and to collect photographic and other types of evidence in order to disclose the government’s annihilation scheme.

1. Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, The National Historic Preservation Program,, accessed on June 17, 2010.
2. National Register of Historic Places,, accessed on June 17, 2010.
3. National Register of Historic Places, The official list of the Nation's historic places worthy of preservation, National Register Research,, accessed on June 17, 2010.
4. Wikipedia, National Register of Historic Places,, accessed on June 17, 2010.

*Photo by Inside Sources.


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