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Preserving Historic Real Estate with Whitney Martinko

In 1812, Pennsylvania state legislators contemplated something that most Americans would now find completely unimaginable: demolishing Independence Hall in Philadelphia, converting the site to a series of building lots, and using the proceeds to fund construction of a new statehouse in Harrisburg.

Fortunately, Philly’s city leaders pushed back against state officials and preserved this historic landmark for future generations, allowing visitors to commune with the ghosts of the Founding Generation who had taken a “leap in the dark” toward independence and later designed the new Constitution.

But saving Independence Hall, and indeed any historic structure, wasn’t just about defending the past; it was also about defining the future.

On today’s episode, Whitney Martinko joins Jim Ambuske to discuss why Americans in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries battled over the preservation of historic sites and how capitalism shaped the choices and opportunities available to them.

Martinko is an Associate Professor of history at Villanova University, and the author of the new book, Historic Real Estate: Market Morality and the Politics of Preservation in the Early United States.

What gets saved and what gets destroyed is a lot more complicated than you might think.

About Our Guest:

Whitney Martinko is an associate professor of History at Villanova University. She is a historian of the early United States with expertise in urban and environmental history, material and visual culture, and histories of capitalism. Her research examines how people have defined the value of historic places and objects—in the past and today. Martinko earned degrees in History from Harvard College (BA) and the University of Virginia (MA, PhD). You can learn more about her work at

About Our Host:

Jim Ambuske leads the Center for Digital History at the Washington Library. He received his Ph.D. in history from the University of Virginia in 2016 with a focus on Scotland and America in an Age of War and Revolution. He is a former Farmer Postdoctoral Fellow in Digital Humanities at the University of Virginia Law Library. At UVA, Ambuske co-directed the 1828 Catalogue Project and the Scottish Court of Session Project.  Ambuske is currently at work on a book entitled Emigration and Empire: America and Scotland in the Revolutionary Era, as well as a chapter on Scottish loyalism during the American Revolution for a volume to be published by the University of Edinburgh Press.