Integrity as a Legal Concept

Sara C. Bronin, Integrity as a Legal Concept, 10.2 Change Over Time Journal 108 (2021).

15 Pages Posted: 1 Feb 2021 Last revised: 16 May 2023

See all articles by Sara C. Bronin

Sara C. Bronin

Cornell University - College of Architecture, Art & Planning; Cornell University - Law School

Date Written: January 30, 2021


Integrity – the ability of a resource to communicate its historic significance – is a physical concern for heritage conservation practitioners. But it is also a legal concept, integral to binding judgments that determine whether and how certain resources are protected. Focusing on U.S. law, this essay articulates the contours of integrity in several contexts: designation, public obligations, private obligations, and private benefits.

Most existing scholarship on integrity focuses on the designation process, which is the formal process by which a resource is evaluated for listing on a register of historic places. The integrity determination is a threshold issue – fundamental to historic preservation laws, which apply almost exclusively to resources actually listed on historic registers.

Scholars have criticized the integrity requirement because they believe it bars certain types of resources from receiving legal protection. But focusing on the designation process alone may obscure the fact that the concept of integrity is embedded in other areas of law.

After a resource is designated historic, the law protects its integrity in several ways. This essay focuses on three: laws imposing obligations on public actors, laws imposing obligations on private actors, and laws conferring benefits on private actors. In these laws, integrity is essential to the legal obligation itself, and it is treated as formally as it is during the designation process.

In light of that observation, preservationists must consider whether the problems they see in the designation process are also evident in the protection that designation triggers. The essay concludes that integrity, as a legal concept, may be more complicated, and more difficult to dislodge, than current scholarship suggests.

Keywords: Historic Preservation, Integrity, Cultural Heritage, Tax Credits, Conservation Restrictions, Preservation Restrictions, Preservation Easements, Designation, National Register

Suggested Citation

Bronin, Sara C., Integrity as a Legal Concept (January 30, 2021). Sara C. Bronin, Integrity as a Legal Concept, 10.2 Change Over Time Journal 108 (2021). , Available at SSRN: or

Sara C. Bronin (Contact Author)

Cornell University - College of Architecture, Art & Planning ( email )

Ithaca, NY
United States

Cornell University - Law School

Myron Taylor Hall
Cornell University
Ithaca, NY 14853-4901
United States

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