For a podcast that boasts so many fascinating guests, State Historic Preservation Officer Jeff Pappas, PhD stands out as a favorite. Beyond the paperwork and rule-making that naturally accompany any federal job, his day-to-day at the New Mexico Historic Preservation Division is more interesting than one might expect.
Charlotte Jusinski chats with Jeff about what historic preservation means in a state like New Mexico, a place with a visible, tangible, touchable history dating back 17,000+ years. How does his office preserve the past and plan to tell this sprawling story in the future, in a place where the tri-cultural myth and a history of colonialism make everything that much more intricate and complicated?
“If you look at the preamble of the National Historic Preservation Act (signed into law in 1966 by President Lyndon B. Johnson), a democratic society has a right to understand its history,” says Jeff, formally explaining the gubernatorial-appointed role he currently holds. Informally, “I’m basically the eyes and ears of the governor’s office,” he jokes.
What, exactly, is a historian looking out for in an office that’s primarily concerned with the architecture or archeology of New Mexico? Story.
“It’s not just about the architecture or the empirical building itself. It’s really about the story that building tells over time.” That narrative rings hollow without input from a diverse compilation of voices from the past (culled from research), present (captured in real-time), and future (via anticipatory analysis). Jeff centers this commitment to community when making recommendations. He must do so as the department is constantly updating the state’s historical context to help folks understand its evolving history.
As with any issues addressed by the state, decisions on historic preservation aren’t made in a vacuum. Managing expectations, interests, and tax dollars requires patience. Jeff applies a deliberate approach to the societal and cultural cost of each project, tempered with an awareness that everything his department does is political. Ultimately, he returns to the story embedded in each location, a history waiting to be told for the first time or reviewed through a more modern lens.
“I do feel that story absolutely matters, however cliche that may be,” he says. “You get to the root of engaging and enfranchising disadvantaged communities, marginalized communities that have not had a voice in the historic narrative for eons.”
Learn more about the New Mexico Historic Preservation Division, including a full list of its duties and how the public can nominate sites for historic consideration.
Visit http://newmexicoculture.org for info about our museums, historic sites, virtual tours and more.
Encounter Culture, a production of the New Mexico Department of Cultural Affairs, is produced and edited by Andrea Klunder at The Creative Impostor Studios.
Hosted by Charlotte Jusinski, Editor at El Palacio Magazine
Technical Director: Edwin R. Ruiz
Recording Engineer: Kabby at Kabby Sound Studios in Santa Fe
Executive Producer: Daniel Zillmann
Show Notes: Lisa Widder
Associate Editor: Helen King
Theme Music: D’Santi Nava
For more, visit podcast.nmculture.org.