<%@LANGUAGE="JAVASCRIPT" CODEPAGE="65001"%> Robert Russell
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Historic Preservation and Art History
logoRobert Russell
Teaching in the City that Invented Historic Preservation
By Stacey Sheppard

After spending 10 long years trying to get an undergraduate degree, the average student would have given up. For an auto mechanic with an interest in architectural history, Robert Russell wondered when he would find the right career for him.

Finally getting his undergraduate degree from Southern Illinois University, Russell's interests eventually led him to graduate school to study gothic architecture. Armed with a graduate degree from Princeton University, Russell began his teaching career at Rhodes College in Memphis, Tenn. and then the University of Michigan-Dearborn where he taught architectural history and became interested in the development of American cities.

This interest in American cities eventually brought Russell to Charleston, S.C. where he is now a professor of art history and historic preservation. "Charleston allows the best of historic preservation and the study of American cities," Russell says.

Russell and Professor Ralph Muldrow started the College's preservation program in 1996. The program is part of the Department of Art History in the School of the Arts, but because of the interdisciplinary nature of historic preservation it has links to and faculty in the School of Humanities and Social Sciences as well. The historic preservation major prepares students for a variety of careers in restoration, preservation planning or historic real estate.

In addition to teaching, Professor Russell is involved in many research projects. Russell has recently been researching and writing a book about William Strickland. Strickland is a renowned 19th century architect and one of the founders of the Greek Revival movement in architecture. The second bank of the United States and Merchants' Exchange are two prominent works of his in Philadelphia. Strickland is also the architect who designed Randolph Hall, the most prominent College of Charleston building.

After spending years writing this book, Russell is happy to announce that it is finally finished and will soon be published. The book will be titled "William Strickland and the Creation of an American Architecture."

Up next for Russell are multiple encyclopedia entries, book reviews and a book about authenticity and historic preservation. Clearly, he rarely takes time off from his passion for historic preservation.

The undergraduate historic preservation program at the College of Charleston is the largest and most extensive in the country. It is unique to Charleston because without preservation "there would be nothing left to remember," Russell says.

In a city with such history, Russell says, "It is a part of our lives that will become increasingly important." Preservation impacts everybody, not only those who study it. It is one of the best ways we can maintain the memory of what has come before us.

Out of all the historic preservation courses that Russell teaches, he says there is not one that stands out as his favorite. He simply likes what all of them are about and wants to provide his students with as much information and passion for preservation as he has.

One student, Amy Jackson, a junior preservation major, has studied historic preservation for three years. When asked about her interest in the program Jackson says, "Preservation interested me because I have a passion for art and the historical architecture of buildings, especially the houses in Charleston."

Russell says his favorite part of being a historic preservation professor is that what "I like to do has branched into hands-on courses." Showing students the importance of preservation is very special for Russell.

One other special fact about Robert Russell is his interest in gravestones. Over the years the headstones we place at gravesites erode and crumble to pieces. While many of us immediately think this might be morbid and depressing, it actually relates to preservation. From time to time he offers a Maymester course in graveyard restoration that allows students to help with this process. He says it is a "rare opportunity" for students to have the chance to practice preservation..

When asked about what he would like students who are not historic preservation majors to know about the field, Russell says, "Preservation is thinking about the long term, and that's something we all need to consider."

At the College of Charleston, Russell teaches courses such as Introduction to Architecture, The City as a Work of Art, History of American Architecture, History of 18th and 19th Century Architecture, History of 20th Century Architecture, and Cemetery Conservation.

You can find Professor Russell in his office located in historic (of course) 12 Bull St. That is when he's not in the classroom- or a graveyard!