Grave Matters

Dr. Robert Russell may be the newest addition to Salve Regina’s Cultural & Historic Preservation department, but he is no stranger to the field. He has spent almost three decades working as an …

Posted

Dr. Robert Russell may be the newest addition to Salve Regina’s Cultural & Historic Preservation department, but he is no stranger to the field. He has spent almost three decades working as an architectural historian, and comes to the Ocean State from 20 years at the College of Charleston in South Carolina, where he helped begin the undergraduate preservation program.

Although he identifies himself primarily as an academic, Dr. Russell is not afraid to get his hands dirty as well. He is currently working at a site in South Carolina restoring graves in the burying ground of one of the original Anglican parishes and repairing monuments in old churchyards in Charleston. “There are a lot of gravestones and monuments that used to be horizontal that are now vertical, as they ought to be,” he says of the project.

Dr. Russell finds a lot of satisfaction not only in the actual preservation work, but in introducing his students to the wonders of the past and the importance of honoring it. “Any studenthat I have helped to think like a preservationist, whether she is working in the business or not, is making a difference,” he says.

To make preserving the past really come alive for his students, Dr. Russell puts them to work. His students have worked on written histories of all the county courthouses in South Carolina. He has led them in analyzing a colonial church, establishing that one wall was original to the building and that the square church of 1708 had been remodeled to add an apse – the first apse in a South Carolina church.

“Preserving the remnants of the past can spur someone’s curiosity about what they are or were,” says Dr. Russell. It is this connection that can not only spark our interests, but help explain our roots. “Most people driving through Fall River probably don’t look at all those empty mills flanking the interstate,” Dr. Russell adds. “But if someone looked at those handsome buildings and wondered why they had been built and why they are empty, that could be the start of something that might go somewhere.”