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New conference aims to provide academic look at automotive preservation

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Perhaps one day soon, students in certain post-secondary institutions will be able to pursue advanced degrees in automotive preservation, just as they can now study the historic preservation of buildings and architecture. To pave the way for such a future, the Historic Vehicle Association has partnered with the College of Charleston to present a first-of-its-kind academic conference on automotive preservation.

The recently announced conference, Putting Preservation on the Road: Protecting Our Overlooked Automotive Heritage in the Twenty-first Century, to be held October 20-22, came about largely because people in both organizations felt that the automobile had been overlooked for too long by the preservation movement in the United States and Canada.

“There’s been more open-mindedness in recent years, but even now automobiles are not entirely accepted by preservationists,” said Barry Stiefel, assistant professor in the College of Charleston’s historic preservation and community planning program.

That’s largely because those concerned with historic preservation in the United States for decades have come from the fields of architecture, civil planning, archaeology and other studies of fixed objects, Stiefel said. As a result, many of the various international charters that set standards for historic preservation, with few exceptions, have made it a “cardinal sin” to relocate any historic resource.

“But that comes in direct conflict with automobiles because they’re, you know, supposed to move,” Stiefel said.

A number of developments over the last few years – including the Simeone Automotive Foundation’s publication of “The Stewardship of Historically Important Automobiles” in 2012, the Federation Internationale des Vehicules Anciens’s enaction of the Charter of Turin in 2013, and the establishment of the Historic Vehicle Association’s ongoing National Register of Historic Vehicles in 2014 – have laid ground in introducing the concept of historic automobile preservation to those who previously thought only buildings deserved preservation, Stiefel said.


But to advance that cause, he and Mark Gessler of the HVA said it’s necessary to enlist more preservationists attuned to historic automobiles, and one way they plan to do so is with the upcoming conference. Featuring an academic committee comprised of university, museum and Department of the Interior preservationists, the conference is open to academics, students, professionals and enthusiasts interested in presenting papers or leading workshops related to automotive heritage and preservation.

Suggested presentation topics are available on the College of Charleston’s and the HVA’s websites.

Stiefel said it’s possible the conference could become a regular event, depending on feedback from participants. “We also hope to end up with an academic publication out of it, which will also be the first of its kind,” he said. Developing a curriculum for schools such as the College of Charleston to use in instructing and training automotive preservationists could very well come out of the conference, too.

The conference will take place October 22-26 at the HVA’s Research Laboratory in Allentown, Pennsylvania. Proposals for papers and presentations are due by May 15; to submit a proposal, visit