What is Cultural Resources Management?

Cultural resources management refers to the preservation of cultural resources including archeological sites, historic buildings, museum objects, paintings and any other items of cultural value. It can also refer to nonphysical cultural resources such as folklore, language, oral histories, and other intangible but culturally important items. A person who works in this field must also be conversant with state, local and federal law regarding resource preservation. A history degree or related area of study is one way to prepare for a career in CRM. Below are three of the major areas in which CRM occurs.

See our ranking of the 30 Best History Degree Online Programs (Bachelor’s).

Archeological Sites

Many archeological sites in the United States that would be of concern to people working in CRM deal with Native American sites, but CRM also concerns itself with other sites such as those of early settlers. While an archeologist might be primarily concerned with excavating and identifying artifacts from such a site and constructing theories about their use, CRM would look at managing the site in terms of historic preservation and environmental laws. One job a person in this area or that of historic buildings below might have is surveying a site to determine the impact of federal or private development.

Historic Buildings

Working in this sector of cultural resources management involves preserving historic homes and other structures. As the Washington Post details, this is a relatively young concept in the United States. Individuals and organizations who are dedicated to the preservation of historic buildings often run up against developers and others who want to raze these types of sites to put up contemporary structures. Various types of historic designations protect historic buildings from being altered or destroyed. For example, the National Register of Historic Places, formed in 1966, has various guidelines for adding sites to its register and may extend its protections to objects such as bridges or an aircraft. Preparing for a career in this type of preservation might involve getting an architecture or history degree and might require graduate-level study.

Intangible Resources

Intangible resources might include dance, theater, song and other performing arts as well as beliefs and traditions. This area presents challenges in terms of taking the needs and desires of local communities into account. Some countries have established specific federal departments to manage this type of cultural heritage. The cultural wing of the United Nations, UNESCO, has also identified intangible cultural heritage as an important element for preservation. One criterion UNESCO puts forth is that the intangible resource must be considered of value by the community that produces it. People from outside the community cannot define what constitutes cultural heritage.

CRM is a broad and interdisciplinary field that sits at an intersection of archeology, anthropology, history, business and law. Although those who work in the field may have master’s or doctoral degrees, it is sometimes seen as a nonacademic alternative to archeology, history or anthropology. People involved in cultural resources management might work in museums; for nonprofits or for state, local or federal organizations dedicated to historic preservation; or for private firms.

Brenda Rufener

Julie McCaulley

Carrie Sealey-Morris