The Cleo and James Marston Fitch Thesis Grant was established in 2001 through an endowment by the estate of James Marston Fitch (1909-2000). It is given annually to a Columbia University Historic Preservation student to cover expenses incurred during research for their Master’s thesis.

2019 Grant Recipient

In-depth community interview atSalmoravillage (potter’s community) in Majuli

Shivali Gaikwad
“Living with Water: Adaptation Processes, Heritage Conservation and Conflicting Values”

The object of this thesis was to examine how an understanding of past impacts on heritage-related livelihoods from rising waters and erosion can help design and operationalize future interventions in the era of climate change. It looks at adaptation as a social process with implications for economic and political stability as well as culture, among many other things; with a specific focus on traditional knowledge systems and governance. This is developed through an examination of a primary case study on Majuli, a river island in Assam, India.

“Chaang-ghars” – bamboo houses raised on stilts in Majuli. Weaving is practiced in the stilt level

There is a difference between how heritage is defined and how it is protected – this thesis is about realizing that in communities like Majuli there is not only a tradition of dealing with threats, but also about dealing with fluctuating weather and water conditions. It deals with a history of adaptation, and skills and traditions that have built and evolved in response to harsh weather conditions. Majuli people’s implicit knowledge and adaptive water management strategies have been systematically marginalized by large-scale, centralized flood and erosion control measures that dissociate local people from their traditional adaptation livelihood and programs. This has not only affected a heritage of local adaption processes but has also resulted in loss of innovation and opportunities that science and technology combined with local and place-based knowledge could have provided for new adaptation solutions.

In the era of climate change, there has been a static approach when deciding what heritage is, though in reality it is dynamic. This thesis aims at exploring how to reconcile these incompatible concepts of adaptation traditions and livelihoods.

Grant funding provided by Preservation Alumni assisted with cost of travel and field investigation that were necessary to complete the research. 

Past Fitch Grant Recipients


Tonia Sing Chi, “Building Reciprocity: A Grounded Theory of Participation in Native American Housing and the Perpetuation of Earthen Architectural Traditions”


Cheng Liao, “Rethinking the Vernacular in China: Understanding the Dynamics of Social Transformation and the Evolution of Rural Architecture”


Alberto Sanchez-Sanchez, “Behind the Ecce Homo: Rural Development Policy and the Effects of Depopulation on the Preservation of Spanish Heritage”


Laura Groves, “Is there a Role for Preservation in a Favela?”


Emily Barr, “Pressing Issues: In-Kind Terra Cotta Replacement in the 21st Century”


Myun Song, “Wireless Sensing for Reinforced Concrete Structures and Concrete Repair”


Lorena Pérez Leighton, “1930s American Steel Houses: Modern Artifact or Traditional Dwelling?”


Susan Shay, “Cultural Landscape as Foil in Political Struggle”


Christine Huh, “The Bush Terminal Model Lofts and Early Reinforced Concrete Buildings on Brooklyn’s Waterfront; Their Significance as Industrial Heritage”


Susie Jackson, “Natural Extractives as Wood Preservatives”


Takushi Yoshida, “Machine Aesthetics in Architecture: Adaptive-reuse of Grain Elevators in Buffalo as an Industrial Landscape”


Deborah Baldwin van Steen, “The Architecture of Calvin Pollard (1797-1850)”


Michael Caratzas, “Cross-Bronx: Preserving a Significant Urban Expressway and Its Megastructure”

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