Storytelling in Historic Preservation

We here at CRE Planning and Development have been thinking a lot about how historic communities present themselves online. Many, we’ve found, have taken the approach of putting raw data online about their various historic resources. While this might satisfy experts in this field, it won’t bring the spark needed to gather the public’s interest. For that, you need a story.

videothumbFirst, let’s define some terms:

Data are the hard, raw facts. Three chimneys, brick walls, built in 1927, etc. Data is extremely important to experts and useless to nearly everyone else. RuskinARC lets you do gather that information easily, and much, much more.

Information means turning raw data into something else — story, knowledge, insight. This is the reason we built RuskinARC, to facilitate turning data into information. Give it your raw data and RuskinARC can give you a map of the buildings, what styles are common in the center of town, what parts were built first and which were added 30 years later. Here’s an example from Abilene, Texas. Information is vitally important to your work.

But your work is what brings sense to the information and transforms it into….


The public is going to be most interested in how people fit into all of this information and doing that is storytelling. I would contend that storytelling is the main reason you’re in this field, because you can look at the information and see a story in it, a rich history. You see ebbs and flows in the community’s economy and local influence, imagine what families went through living at different times within the community and how the people of a community shaped the current culture and character.

This is what people want to know about and what will get them excited about preserving that heritage. Public engagement. As a layman, I might not be too interested in the facts of the place, but we’re all human and if I can imagine the Civil War soldier running over the battlements to defend the west wall or picture the families on the stage coach rolling down Main street on their way to new homes west, or a soldier boarding the ship for his voyage to Normandy, I’m much more likely to be interested and truly care about the places where they lived and worked. Engagement requires empathy and you do that with your story, not with data or information. Your job is not only to see that story, but to communicate it to those who are prepared to protect your community or visit it and help it thrive.

Watch a quick video to get a better sense of what RuskinARC is working toward when it comes to storytelling:

What do you think? How important is storytelling to your job?


RuskinARC upgrades, new features!

Dear clients and friends of RuskinARC,

We’re starting the year off with a bang. RuskinARC is now better than ever for managing, mapping, and documenting your historic sites! It’s exciting to see all those great historic places mapped and managed online. Some projects are featured at — thanks to those who have let us showcase their historic architectural surveys and great places!

Major Improvements.

We wanted to make you aware of upgrades that will be rolled out on Sunday, December 16th, 2012. The improvements make RuskinARC work better in several important ways.

resource_summary_viewQuick summary of changes:

  1. New navigation — now condensed into smaller two top bars, allowing your sites to “shine” better onscreen.
  2. New “responsive” screen layout. RuskinARC will automatically fit itself to screens better, whether you or your visitors are on an iPad, a tablet, or a regular web browser with lots of room.
  3. Explanatory “titles” and helpful hints on what certain things mean.
  4. New “carousel” view that shows the photos of a historic resource when viewing its summary. There is a “detail” view for each historic site that prints out all the information recorded about it, but we want your visitors to get a better look at an individual building. More is coming on that, after this rollout.
  5. De-emphasis on language specific to the US National Register system. We’ve altered language here and there to accommodate other countries which may not use the exact terminology used in the States. We’ve done this while retaining all the utility for those using the US National Register system.
  6. Easier to enter the information you need. It’s now easier to “skip” certain bits of information if they don’t apply to what you’re doing. We did this by allowing sections of the page to open or close.
  7. Easier to make custom survey forms. Snappier back-end. Bugfixes. And much more.
  8. Most importantly…

edit_screen_partialRicher, more complete input.

Our most significant upgrade is offering more ways to record information, in better categories. For instance, you can now talk about whether or not a resource is open for tours, whether it’s for sale or rent, and whether or not it is endangered, and why.

All point and click.

RuskinARC has always worked on the principle that you are free to fill out the form as completely or incompletely as you wish, depending on your need. With the upgrades we can accommodate important needs that weren’t addressed before.

Better location and map info.


  • Local place name for subdivisions, plats, blocks, and more.
  • Setting, Landscape, and Site Features
  • Acreage, parcel, land unit size
  • Quad/Map name and date
  • more…

You can now tell the ‘story’ by simply adding a Historical Summary.

This is a great way to engage interest beyond the details and description.

Endangered or Threatened?

Add notes, recommendations, contact information

Is it a tourism or featured destination?

Add Contact information, Hours, and Amenities

Is it for sale, rent, or lease?

Residential? Commercial? Mixed? Add remarks, comments, contact information, and notes.

Easier handling of architectural descriptions, with more detail, as needed.

Add simple notes on architectural style and distinguishing features
Use simple text in addition to detail fields.

Better ways to talk about eligibility and integrity.

A breakout on historic Significance and Context.

Theme, area(s) and period of significance.
Add a statement of significance as needed

Improved handling of secondary or ancillary structures.

Better handling of moves, alterations, additions, and modifications.


Thank you all.  Again, we look forward to hearing from you. Contact me any time.

— Glen Payne