In Curated Decay: Heritage Beyond Saving
(University of Minnesota Press, 2017), geographer Caitlin DeSilvey
offers a set of alternatives to those who would assign a misplaced solidity to historic buildings and landscapes in order then to “preserve” or “conserve” them. DeSilvey reimagines processes of material decay, which always intermingle natural and cultural landscapes, as more animate, eventful, productive, and worthy of affirmation than prevailing practice would have it. Her narrative wends through Montana, Vermont, Germany’s Ruhr Valley, and numerous English sites, each of them rendered at close range, in lithe, sometimes experimental prose. Through these encounters, and with a remarkably light touch, she thinks in a key recognizable alongside, but never subservient to, many strands of recent geographic thought on the force or vitality of nonhuman matter. Curated Decay
is an ethical intervention, too, posing difficult questions about vulnerability, rights, care, repair, maintenance, and how we might better respond to environments as they weather and fragment. Just this week, happily, the book was just awarded the Historic Preservation Book Prize by the Center for Historic Preservation at the University of Mary Washington. It will satisfy a wide and curious readership across diverse domains of theory and practice, and because the lines of questioning it opens are not easily closed down, it will stoke debate for some time to come.
Peter Ekman teaches in the departments of geography at Sonoma State University and the University of California, Berkeley. He received the Ph.D. from Berkeley in 2016, and is at work on two book projects on the cultural and historical geography of urban America across the long twentieth century. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.