Lee Stout, Penn State’s librarian emeritus for special collections, writes in this month’s Town & Gown that the campus’s historic buildings help foster “sense of place.” This excerpt caught my attention:

As a history-oriented person… what strikes me is the commitment to preserving and informing people about our historical structures on campus. More than 40 buildings are part of two National Historical Register districts on campus. The center of campus—Old Main and its lawn, the two flanking malls, Schwab, Carnegie, Old Botany, and the president’s house (now the front portion of the Hintz Alumni Center)—has been recognized as protected space by board of trustees’ action, since the 1960s.

Scholars interested in the history of the natural and built environments have long discussed “sense of place” as a central concept in their fields. The sense of place orients us to our personal worlds and how we move about them on a daily basis. But it also plays a psychological role in how we identify ourselves and situate ourselves in time as well as space.

Stout speaks to one of the prime reasons The Nittany Valley Society was founded as a nonprofit cultural conservancy. It’s common to think of the “natural” and “built” environments, yet it’s the “cultural environment” that explains any given community’s care for the former, and craftsmanship in the latter.