Date of Award

May 2019

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Planning, Development, and Preservation

Committee Member

Carter L Hudgins

Committee Member

Matthew TJ Brownlee

Committee Member

Elizabeth Baldwin

Committee Member

Matthew Powers


Protection of cultural resources and sustainable visitation have been significant issues in the management of historic sites since the early nineteenth-century when site managers at Mount Vernon discovered damages to architectural materials from relic hunters. As tourism and the number of historic sites grew in the twentieth century, professional architectural conservators also took note of physical damage due to increased tourism. However, the impacts themselves are often a confluence of external factors, such as individual visitor behavior and the interpretation and management strategies that provide access.

Thus, with the goal of sustainable visitation, the present problem is to understand the correlation between visitor use and subsequent material damage and methods that afford a better understanding of spatial distribution patterns while also keeping visitation sustainable. Comprehensive understanding of the interconnection of damage and site usage affords better site accessibility and damage mitigation without restricting access, while from a historic resource perspective also balancing the retention of significance and integrity with visitation.

One potential method for a better understanding of visitor use and spatial relationships to physical damage is GPS Visitor Tracking (GVT). Derived primarily from studies designed to assess visitor use at national parks and outdoor areas (Hallo et al., 2005 and 2012; D’Antonio et al. 2010; D'Antonio and Monz, 2010; Beeco, et al., 2014; and Taczanowska, 2014) various approaches to the technology have application with understanding visitor use at historic sites as well. Using Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello as a case study, this research uses GPS systems, heat mapping, and conditions assessments to help understand patterns of visitor use and material damage. This research explores how visitors behave in a space and how patterns of density and congestion correlation with frequency and type of material damage.

Geographic behavioral analysis offers insight into the human factors that influence material degradation. The creation of a processed-based framework for visitor impact assessment developed from this research works to assist historic sites in enhancing plans for sustainable visitation and the protection of historic materials. As use continues to change at historic sites this research will help preservation professionals and planners understand the human factor characteristics of visitor impact, identify issues that could increase the risk of visitor impact, and recommend improvements that may reduce those risks ultimately leading to better preservation planning and management.



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