Press Release


International Conference on the Impacts of Climate Change on Cultural Heritage

Keeping History Above Water addresses major threat to historic coastal communities, April 10-13.

Newport, RI, March 1, 2016 – How do historic coastal communities prepare for the impacts of climate change? What can be done to protect historic buildings, landscapes, and neighborhoods from the increasing threat of sea level rise? How can preservationists, engineers, city planners, legislators, insurers, historic home owners, and other decision makers work together to preserve our built environment and cultural heritage?

These questions will be examined at Keeping History Above Water (April 10-13), a groundbreaking international conference on sea level rise and its impact on historic preservation organized by the Newport Restoration Foundation (NRF).

Keeping History Above Water will be one of the first national conversations to focus on the increasing and varied risks posed by sea level rise to historic coastal communities and their built environments. This is not a conference about climate change per se, but about what can be done to protect historic buildings, landscapes, and neighborhoods from the increasing threat of inundation.

Experts and industry leaders from around the world will converge on historic coastal Newport to share experiences, examine risks, and debate solutions with an emphasis on case studies and practical applications. Speakers will come from countries and communities that are quite literally at the edge of these environmental changes, including Scotland, the Netherlands, Venice, Iran, New York, Annapolis, Florida, New Orleans, and Galveston.

Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), who has been making weekly speeches about climate change on the Senate floor since April 2012, will welcome attendees on Monday; keynote speakers include Adam Markham (Union of Concerned Scientists), Mary Rowe (Civic & Social Organization Leader), and Tom Dawson (SCAPE: Scottish Coastal Archaeology and the Problem of Erosion).

“We created this conference because the environmental threats to coastal heritage sites will not hold off while we debate climate change or its causes. We’re accepting the reality of sea level rise and seeking answers for how to mitigate its impact,” said NRF Executive Director Pieter N. Roos.

“In Rhode Island alone, close to 2,000 National Register-listed or -eligible properties are located in coastal and estuarine flood zones,” Roos said, “As owner of several of these properties and one of the country’s leading preservation organizations, we feel an obligation to help drive this conversation, locally and nationally.”

Keeping History Above Water takes place Sunday, April 10 through Wednesday, April 13, 2016 at the Marriott in Newport, Rhode Island. The complete program is now available online. Continuing education credits will apply for AIA (up to 15 HSW credits) and AICP members. Deadline to register is March 20. For more information and to purchase tickets, visit 


  • Sunday, 1-5 pm: House and walking tours, including the Christopher Townsend house, as part of the 74 Bridge Street Project; Rough Point, Whitehorne House,  and the Point neighborhood
  • Monday, 8:45 am: Welcoming remarks from Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI); Postcards from the Edge begins with “US Case Studies” at 10:30 am, featuring Galveston, TX; Annapolis, VA; and Fernandina Beach, FL. In the afternoon, “Global and Historical Precedents” features speakers from Rotterdam, Venice and Cornwall on engineering-first efforts, local adaptations and living with water initiatives.
  • Monday, 1:30 pm: Mini-keynote from Tom Dawson (Manager, Scottish Coastal Archaeology and the Problem of Erosion) on how citizen scientists are helping to document and preserve Scotland’s threatened archaeological sites in the face of increasing erosion
  • Tuesday, 9 am: Keynote from Mary Rowe (Executive Vice President, Municipal Art Society of New York) on community resilience and preserving the built environment
  • Tuesday, 12:15pm: Queen Quet (Chieftess of the Gullah/Geechee Nation of St. Helena Island, NC) on lessons of community engagement from the Sea Islands’ indigenous peoples
  • Wednesday, 12 pm: Workshops and seminars featuring experts from the National Park Service, National Trust For Historic Preservation, Federal Emergency Management Agency, Marin County Development Agency, the Environment Finance Center at the University of Maryland, and more 

About Newport Restoration Foundation

Founded in 1968, the Newport Restoration Foundation (NRF) is a non-profit institution dedicated to preserving, interpreting, and maintaining Aquidneck Island’s 18th- and 19th-century architectural heritage and the fine and decorative arts collections of Doris Duke. NRF is on Twitter @NPTRestoration and Facebook /NPTRestoration.

NRF hosts Keeping History Above Water in partnership with Roger Williams University; Salve Regina University; the Coastal Resources Center, University of Rhode Island; Preserve Rhode Island; The National Trust for Historic Preservation; and the Union of Concerned Scientists. A case study of possible mitigation measures for one of NRF’s 18th-century properties will be presented as a central educational component of the conference, thanks to funding from the R.I. Historical Preservation and Heritage Commission (RIHPHC), the City of Newport, and the van Beuren Charitable Foundation. Additional funding has been provided by Newport Hospitality Group; Slocum, Gordon & Co. LLP; Bowen’s Wharf Company; Roger Williams University; Salve Regina University; van Beuren Charitable Foundation; and AIG


original release