MA in Preservation Studies

The Preservation Studies program trains students for productive careers working in historic preservation and the stewardship of cultural resources and heritage. Boston and New England have historically stood out as leaders of the national historic preservation movement. Drawing upon the traditions of its vibrant preservation locality, Boston University itself has a long history of inventively recycling historic buildings to house its students and faculty. The University was founded in 1869 in two adaptively reused Beacon Hill townhouses adjacent to the Boston Athenaeum and Charles Bulfinch’s Massachusetts State Capitol. In 1883 Boston University moved its College of Liberal Studies into an adaptively reused Baptist Church on Somerset Street. The University subsequently adapted for its own uses the Copley Square building of the Harvard Medical School, key commercial buildings along Commonwealth Avenue’s Automobile Row, the Boston Braves Baseball field, row houses and apartments along Bay State Road, and mansions in the Cottage Farm neighborhood; more recently, the University has undertaken a major renovation of the University Law Tower, a landmark of Boston modernism designed in 1962 by Spanish architect Josep Luis Sert. Successful, environmentally minded stewardship of historic buildings is part of the institutional DNA of Boston University; the Preservation Studies program draws inspiration and vitality from this rich context.

Students in the program learn preservation in the classroom and through hands-on preservation planning, historical research, and exploration. They study the built environment and cultural landscape through courses taught by leading experts who teach in departments across the University and numerous professionals who do important work in the regional and national preservation field. Class projects take advantage of the tremendous scope of preservation activity in the region, from large-scale regional initiatives to grassroots neighborhood efforts in cities and towns. Applicants should have a BA and demonstrated interest in the fields that contribute to historic preservation.

Course Requirements

Students complete 12 courses (48 credits) at the 500 level or above; the MA can be completed in three full-time semesters or can be pursued on a part-time basis.

The curriculum combines a Preservation Core (5 courses) with work in one of the Concentrations (5 courses) and Preservation Electives (2 courses). Course requirements are as follows:

Preservation Core (5 Courses)

The Preservation Core is taken by all Preservation Studies MA candidates.

  • CAS AM 546 Places of Memory: Historic Preservation Theory and Practice
  • CAS AM 554 Preservation Planning
  • CAS AM 555 Boston Community Architectural and Urban History Workshop
  • CAS AH 585 Twentieth-Century Architecture and Urbanism (or comparable architectural history survey)
  • GRS AM 775 Independent Research Project Colloquium (capstone project)

Electives (2 Courses)

  • Two elective courses, approved by Director of Preservation Studies, in preservation, heritage, architectural history, urban history, material culture, planning, or related discipline

One of the Following Specialized Curricular Tracks (all 5 Courses)

  • GRS AH 892 Approaches to Architectural History
  • CAS AM 502 American Cultural Landscape (or comparable vernacular architecture/material culture course)
  • Additional survey course in architectural, landscape, or urban history, beyond the survey course in the Preservation Core
  • Two graduate seminars in architectural history, urban history, material culture, or related field

  • GRS AM 736 Literature of American Studies
  • GRS AM 735 Studies in American Culture
  • CAS AM 584 Greater Boston Architecture & Planning (or comparable New England-based course)
  • CAS AM 502 American Cultural Landscape (or comparable vernacular architecture/material culture course)
  • One elective seminar course in American & New England Studies or related discipline

  • GRS HI 800 or 870, or 850 Historiography (in field most relevant to the student’s interest)
  • GRS HI 801 The Historian’s Craft
  • Three additional graduate-level survey and/or seminar courses in history

  • CAS AR 500 Public Archaeology in the United States
  • CAS AR 503 Archaeological Field Methods: Survey and Excavation or 4 credits of directed archaeological field/laboratory work
  • GRS AR 892 Archaeological Ethics and Law
  • GRS AR 810 International Heritage Management
  • One additional graduate-level survey and/or seminar course in archaeology

  • MET UA 515 History and Theory of Urban Planning
  • MET UA 521 Environmental Law
  • MET UA 613 Designing Urban Spaces
  • MET UA 654 Geographical Information Systems for Planners
  • One additional graduate-level survey and/or seminar course in urban planning

  • CAS AH 520 Museums and Historical Practice
  • GRS AH 521 Curatorship
  • GRS AH 582 Historic House Museums
  • Two graduate survey or seminar courses in art history, conservation, architectural history, material culture, arts administration, or related discipline

Language Requirement

There is no foreign language requirement for this degree.

Major Project

Students will also complete a major project, generally undertaken as a capstone in the final semester of the program. The project is tailored to complement the student’s coursework and career goals and provide evidence to prospective employers of the student’s interests and competence. The project can include survey and National Register listing, historic structure reports, preservation plans, design guidelines, economic feasibility studies, or community development reports. Most projects build upon work begun in earlier coursework, directed studies, or internships.


An integral part of the program is a paid internship in an appropriate public or private agency, firm, or historical commission. Numerous local and national organizations are anxious to host interns and to provide a close-up look at particular work within the preservation field. Placement is approved by the program director. Internships are available with preservation agencies such as the Boston Landmarks Commission, the National Park Service, the Massachusetts Historical Commission, and private organizations, including the Boston Preservation Alliance, Preservation Massachusetts, Historic New England, and the National Trust for Historic Preservation. In certain cases, prior experience in the historic preservation field may be considered as equivalent to the internship, with the internship requirement being waived.