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Archive for the ‘Heritage Management’ Category

Yesterday I attended ICOMOS-UK’s World Heritage for Tomorrow conference that marked the 40th anniversary of the World Heritage Convention.  For me, the most interesting theme that ran through the presentations and discussions was the apparent tension between tangible and intangible heritage, and how to deal with it within a system that is concerned with designation.

Baroness Andrews, Chair of English Heritage, opened the conference with reflections on what the impact of the World Heritage Convention has been nationally. What struck me about her speech was a statement she made about heritage being finite: ‘we’re not making it anymore,’ she said.  She didn’t elaborate, so I’m not clear about what exactly she meant by this.  For even if we narrowly define heritage as tangible, and as buildings or monuments in particular, then surely that statement isn’t true.  We are still creating amazing buildings, if not monuments, all around the world.  Should these not be considered heritage?  Should we only assign heritage status to things that are hundreds of years old? My answer is a resounding no, but perhaps this is still the underlying concept of heritage that powers the World Heritage List – even despite inscriptions of sites of more recent history.

At least this is what I gleaned from the two speakers that followed Baroness Andrews. Susan Denyer is World Heritage Advisor at ICOMOS, and she talked about how the understanding of Outstanding Universal Value (OUV) has changed since 1972.  She said that people’s views about the values of a site are receiving more consideration, but it is the World Heritage Committee that decides what the Outstanding Universal Value of a site is – in other words, those values that make it relevant to all of humankind. Denyer emphasised that the committee recognises that the OUV isn’t fixed: it changes over time.  Consequently, inscription is merely a statement about OUV at that particular point in time.  The question that she left unanswered was what consequence this has for the enduring relevance of the World Heritage List.  Shouldn’t we review it regularly, and change inscriptions, or delist sites altogether?  Professor Christina Cameron of the University of Montreal reported that a 25-year review cycle has been suggested, but so far, no commitment has been made to this.  In my opinion, this is a clear statement.  It does imply a view of heritage as something of the past: It can be assessed and fixed in time, and the present’s claim on it takes a backseat to what experts have declared its overwhelming value.

The other interesting question that arose in Denyer’s talk was that of intangibility: can ‘sacred nature’, she asked, ever be seen and inscribed as heritage?  She implied that this concept of sacred nature was not associated with tangible attributes.  Leaving aside for the moment whether or not this is so, Denyer’s answer to the question was no, we cannot see or inscribe something as heritage without tangible attributes.  The World Heritage List ultimately is about place.  She’s probably right about this, but the question that this raises for me is again one of relevance.  Can the World Heritage List, which seems so concerned with expert values about materiality, really be meaningful to the rest of us?  Or are we actually dismissing the listing, or at best using it as another version of the Visit Britain awards?

That is in a nutshell what James Rebanks of Rebanks Consulting suggested.  He’s done quite a bit of research into the benefits of World Heritage Status (WHS), and unsurprisingly he found that WHS alone doesn’t do anything – it’s about how you use it (well, and what your starting point is too).  One of the key benefits of WHS emerged to be as a label, both for attracting funding and for marketing.  It could also serve as place-making, in that the process of submitting a site for subscription requires those preparing the submission to do a lot of work with people.  For Rebanks, heritage is first and foremost about local people.  He gently criticised many authorities responsible for using heritage for the public good for narrowly focusing on tourism.  I found it really refreshing that he made a point that we don’t hear often: tourism doesn’t bring jobs of high value, and the money a heritage site brings in isn’t actually spent at the site, but entirely around it, in the infrastructures of transport and accommodation.  It was great to see someone being unashamedly economic about assessing heritage benefits, and yet coming to an insight that many heritage professionals still don’t have: that the value of heritage lies in what the people think, not in experts’ assessments of material attributes.

To a degree, this was also echoed by Adam Wilkinson, Director of Edinburgh World Heritage.  He didn’t talk much about tangible versus intangible, or expert versus people values of heritage.  In a way, it seemed that in Edinburgh they know that what makes Edinburgh special is all of the above together – there was no need to take it apart.  Wilkinson talked about restoration projects and projects with disaffected youth, and most importantly, he made the point that heritage is about how you use it.  What came through very strongly was the need to work with all the stakeholders, because, as Wilkinson said, ‘if we try to go it on our own we fail.’

So getting back to the question of tangible versus intangible, it seemed to me that those actually working with sites – trying to manage them for people, rather than being concerned with inscription – have a much more fluid understanding of heritage.  It may be that materiality is an unfortunate concept that we cannot escape when talking about listing, and all the historic overviews that we got at the conference made it very clear that conservation of fabric, and thus listing, is important if we want to have a framework to guide our day-to-day decisions about planning and development.  And yet, I worry that this material concept of heritage is actually sabotaging our effectiveness when keeping heritage alive.  For me, all heritage is intangible, but generally linked to a tangible attribute, such as place.  That’s not even a philosophical issue for me, but perhaps we need to make it one.

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Last week, I had a meeting with our Interpretation Stakeholder Group.  We discussed the interpretive vision for a project to relocate and redevelop one of our museums.  And what an interesting discussion it was!  As always, the most inspiring comments came from people who aren’t interpreters.

The first thing that struck me was just how much desire there is to make sure that our interpretation is not simply interactive, or even participatory.  These stakeholders want to see interpretation that is generated by the community and visitors in an on-going cycle of comment and response.  It is the ultimate democratic interpretation model.  I find that hugely exciting.  I had already put it into our interpretive principles that any interpretation would provide plenty of spaces to enable community and visitor authorship and participation.  However, this is a concept of interpretation that goes far beyond community engagement and participatory elements.  This is interpretation that evolves and changes with the people coming through, it is interpretation by visitors.

I don’t know if this will actually work in practice.  Especially visitor-tourists do come to museums also to learn about a place.  Their ability to comment, or make sense of other visitors’ contributions may be limited if there isn’t further professional intervention.  There is also a potential danger here that we inadvertently go backwards and introduce a specialist, albeit community jargon that is as inaccessible to visitor-tourists as the archaeologist’s, or historian’s etc.  And I don’t see a way around an initial starting point of whatever making, that selects content and presents it in a certain way.  But – and this is the important thing – I want to keep the possibility of such a democratic interpretation model in mind, and push my own boundaries of what I thought interpretation as facilitation can be.

Another comment that I found really interesting was with regard to policies.  I had written that our interpretation would support and deliver several local policies.  At this point, a local coucillor stopped me and asked that we also ensure the interpretation contribute to these policies.  I’m not entirely sure whether in their mind, they primarily thought of interpretation as the document before them, in which case using it to influence other policies is quite possible to do.  But imagine they didn’t.  Imagine they thought of interpretation of the kind described above.  Imagine that such interpretation could – and should – actively impact policy making on an on-going basis.  Wouldn’t that be revolutionary?  Wouldn’t that burst museums and heritage sites right out of their built confinement and into that sphere of social and civic life where we always say heritage belongs?

Again, I don’t know how we would do this. I don’t know whether this can ever be possible, considering all other requirements of interpretation and heritage management.  However, as above, this is an immensely challenging and at the same time inspiring concept.  I for one want to keep it in mind, and see what might come from it for our practice in the future.

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Tomorrow I will start in my new job and I thought that’s a good time to reflect on what I learnt in my last role.  So here we go, in no particular order:

 

It’s key to understand the heritage values

I started with a deeply felt commitment to inclusive significance assessments.  What this job did was remind me of why. There was no single dominant heritage value represented in this site.  To many people it was about the history of the labour movement.  To many others, it was about the Industrial Revolution and the Ironmasters that drove it in this particular region.  To a substantial group of others, it wasn’t about either of these things, but about their use of a much-loved green space.  What is more, all of these values were visible and lived all around the site.  For our management and interpretation of the site this meant there was no single story we could focus on.  This is a major concern that I have about almost every single interpretive planning model currently out there: they do not acknowledge that more often than not, this is the case at sites, nor do they offer a methodology on how to manage the situation.  I blame this for the many sites whose interpretation freezes them in time and falsely portrays a story to visitors that has been simplified beyond recognition.

 

Interpretation is facilitation, e.g. through events and projects

Especially because this site was in daily use by the community, and because they engaged in its history through various groups, more than any other role this job confirmed my belief that interpretation is about facilitation.  By facilitation I mean opportunities for stakeholders (community members, visitors, etc.) to actively live, experience and contribute to the heritage values of the site.  Events and projects are a perfect way of doing this, and they require the same degree of interpretive planning as your more traditional exhibition needs if they are to be meaningful.  A look at the current job listings will also show you that events and projects are considered to be part of interpretation by many employers, especially in the public sector.  A one-off intervention to put up panels or lay out a trail is no longer enough.

 

Stakeholders are your partners

The beautiful thing about this site was that the local stakeholders were so involved in it.  They had been more or less the ones who ‘managed’ the site before, and their rightful expectation was that they would continue to be a contributing part to how the site was managed, presented and used.  Again, I’d always believed in engaging with stakeholders, and this site offered plenty of opportunities, as well as learning in that area.  Mind, stakeholder engagement isn’t simply asking the local community about what they’d like to see, what stories they think are important, or what their local knowledge is.  The consultants that were responsible for the permanent interpretation at the site had done plenty of that, and then proceeded to do their own thing – most of which later proved meaningless in the on-going interpretation of the site and became a subject for criticism by stakeholders.  No, stakeholder engagement to me is about working with stakeholders as your partner.  So we did lecture series in collaboration with a local heritage group, we involved the community in creating our local history exhibitions, we created a project that we co-delivered with local stakeholders and through which young people will eventually interpret the site, and of course we had a community management board that gave direction to our efforts.

 

Interpretation is just a part of a larger whole

In many ways this harks back to the discussion about what interpretation encompasses.  And yet, in practice there are many limitations to what an interpreter – by virtue of the powers of their role – can do.  For example, I knew that the lack of tourism signage was a major issue for the site, but the power to change this didn’t lie with me, but with the Highways Department, together with the Tourism Officer (and funding, of course).  All of these departments and roles need to come together to make a heritage site work.  I will say, though, that they should probably recognise the expertise of the interpreter, and take their advice.  Which leads me to the final point.

 

It takes heritage professionals to support a heritage site

Unbelievable as it may seem, I was the only person working on site with a background in heritage.  This caused major issues.  I spent many hours trying to explain to team members why what they had done in a leisure centre (!) didn’t work as an approach to a heritage site.  In one instance I even had to explain what heritage meant, and why it was important that in our engagement efforts we focused on the heritage values of our site, rather than offer predominantly generic programmes such as willow weaving.  The consequence of this team make-up was that we didn’t achieve as much as we might have done otherwise in the time given.  While I would expect to have to do a certain amount of persuasion in bringing a new team up behind a particular vision, this took us back to such basics that I do feel the site was held back by it.

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I’ve been doing some more reading recently about indigenous communities and heritage management especially in the United States, Canada and Australia.  My own research is about delivering public benefit through heritage management and interpretation using England and Germany as case studies.  However, the writings about management of indigenous heritage are really useful in this.  They have convinced me that what we need in the traditional Western heritage sector are similar practices.  I think we need to consider everyone to be indigenous [1].

Indigenous Management

Under the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act of 1990 in the United States, for example, quite a few objects and collections have been returned to the tribes to whom they originally (and still) belonged.  This is the ultimate acknowledgement of heritage as part of a people’s life: some tribes use the objects, some tribes destroy them (because that’s what was supposed to happen to them after use), and some tribes create their own version of a museum to allow tribal members access (but not always everyone – some objects, for example, mustn’t be seen by the ‘uninitiated’).  It took many decades, in some cases even a century, for the (post-colonial) heritage decision-makers to come around to this view, and to accept the right of so-called source communities to manage their own heritage.  Today most of us read these case studies and I think we mostly agree that this is the right thing to do.  However, in our own (Western European) circumstances we unashamedly practice the same colonial and hegemonic dominance over (others’) heritage.  Many are the tourism studies that show the negative effect a top-down development had on relationships with host communities, or indeed the very practice that was put on display.  While stakeholder engagement seems to develop into the Western equivalent to indigenous calls for heritage autonomy, the models still largely confine stakeholders to consultative roles during planning stages.  So perhaps if we began to think of our various stakeholder groups as indigenous communities, we may find it easier to loosen our grip on the heritage reigns, and give stakeholders more control over their heritage [2].

Indigenous Access

In some cases I’ve read about, Native tribes felt that the (post-colonial) museum was actually the best place to protect and care for their heritage objects.  And yet, as heritage objects, these still had an actual use in the tribes’ ceremonies.  Consequently, tribes and museums made agreements whereby the tribal leaders could actually come into the museum to perform rituals around these objects, or even be allowed to take the objects out of the museums and return them after the ceremonies had taken place.  Like Laurajane Smith and Emma Waterton I think that heritage is a social process, and as such it needs people to continue participating in it for it to remain alive.  The agreement that tribes and museums have found here strikes me as a splendid solution.  Bella Dicks, for example, mentions the case of miners’ flags in Wales that have been taken out of use by placing them in museums.  The relevant parades happen perhaps once or twice a year: wouldn’t it be a sight supremely placed to inspire protection and appreciation if on those occasions the flags were brought back to life by flying them proudly in the parades?  I think so.

Indigenous interpretation

At the NAI National Conference in Las Vegas last year, I was really intrigued by the absolute conviction with which American colleagues asserted the necessity to have Native guides for Native heritage (and I’ve since heard the same about Aboriginal heritage).  In the literature, it becomes clear that Native engagement in interpretation actually goes much further: if the Native community doesn’t plan the interpretation themselves altogether (through labels, panels, guidebooks and any other media) then they are most certainly consulted and involved every step of the way.  Nothing, it seems, goes public at these sites [3] without those whose heritage it is having approved it.  I daresay that even the most radically minded Western conservationist would probably agree that this is a good thing. And yet, interpretive project upon interpretive project is still dominated by expert assessment and input, with stakeholders at best having been used as a convenient mine for local stories and general consultative bodies (are you happy with us doing a film about your heritage?) with little power.

So let’s think of us all as indigenous

I think by treating all heritage as indigenous, and applying the same practices as post-colonial museums and heritage managers have used with regard to ‘traditional’ indigenous heritage, we in the Western heritage sector may actually be able to address some of the concerns that have been popping up in our heritage literature.  For example, we may no longer need to worry about people being disengaged when it comes to heritage, and the consequent loss of heritage as a living, meaningful practice.  Perhaps we no longer need to lose sleep over how to communicate ‘sense of place’ because by letting stakeholders author their own interpretation (with professional guidance) the sense of place may be right there in it anyway.  Either way, I think it’s worth sitting back and giving this some more thought.  Personally, I’m already committed to this.  I’ll let you know how I get on.

 

Notes

[1] I am quite aware of all the injustices that indigenous communities have suffered with regard to their heritage under colonial powers.  In no way do I mean to imply that majority segments of West European countries have made similar experiences.  I am simply proposing that Western heritage management and interpretation could do with more awareness of and respect for the many different stakeholder groups that have a claim to heritage.

[2] I’m not at all proposing that we hand all heritage management over to stakeholders on a volunteer basis – in fact, I’ve already voiced my concerns about this.  Our stakeholders more often than not are far less organised and socially linked than Native American tribes, for example.  But I think you get the gist of what I’m saying.

[3] That is, at those sites which show what’s considered best practice these days.  I’d not want to claim that this is true for all sites.

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I don’t know about you, but I usually prefer heritage sites to museums for a visit.  Partially this may be a result of poor interpretation encountered once too often at museums.   Labels listing cataloguing information do very little for me and, I expect, many other visitors.  Such ‘interpretation’ fails to make that elusive connection, and yet I wonder how much interpretation could achieve in the first place when perhaps the underlying concept –taking objects out of their context and isolate them from their use – is flawed to begin with.

The argument is not new.  ‘Museumification’ springs to mind, which argues that putting an object of daily use into a museum alters its status and, sometimes artificially, turns it into ‘heritage’.  Of course, I am one of those who see heritage as a social process and as such this point doesn’t apply.  What I do believe, however, is that ‘museumification’ renders an object impotent.  Deprived of its application to human life it becomes just that – dead matter.

And yet, the two colleagues with whom I recently unwrapped objects for our own exhibition felt entirely differently.  While I wrinkled my nose at what I proceeded to call quite blasphemously ‘the stench of time’, their eyes lit up in appreciation of the objects’ age and material integrity.  I jumped at the opportunity to find out more about such conservationist enthusiasm.  I thought that perhaps something had been eluding me that provided meaning for them where I only saw materiality.  Was age, authenticity, integrity really all they cared about?

I was astonished to find that their answer was primarily, yes.  They did feel that objects also served as a springboard for people’s memories but they proceeded to defend these objects vehemently against any human use and interference.  When I brought up the practice of many post-colonial museums who are giving back indigenous objects to their source communities, many of whom proceed to destroy them as part of their heritage practice, their views were even more surprising to me.  One of my colleagues argued that they wouldn’t give the objects back because they deserved a priori ‘protection’, while the other denied the claim of ownership altogether.  The crux of the latter argument was that the passage of time gave these objects universal value, which for me placed the criteria of universality in the World Heritage List into a completely, and unsettling new light.

I can’t say whether the many museum curators here and elsewhere share my colleagues’ views.  However, interpretation I encounter in many museums does make me wonder whether similar foci on material age and integrity, as opposed to human use, are responsible for the overwhelming lack of meaningful connections between objects and visitors.  I would never dismiss the benefit of preserving and displaying objects for their age and integrity in museums, however, I still remain firm in my conviction that the actual worth of these objects lies in their use by humans.   If nothing else, museums and the interpretation they provide should aim at making this use as clear as possible, for example by allowing visitors to handle replicas in order to get a feel for the practice that centred on these objects.   I believe that it is in this (mediated) interaction that regular folk like myself will find some appreciation of age and integrity.  I’m reminded of the research that I did at Newgrange, where age and setting were the values that visitors associated with the site after having walked it (not after having read about it in the exhibition!).

Either way, it was very interesting to have this discussion with people who were just on the opposite end from me on this issue.  Perhaps one day someone will do some research on how many curators share my colleagues’ convictions, and more importantly, how many visitors do so.  The results should be enlightening.

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As my current project draws to the end of its development phase, I’ve been thinking a lot about the client-consultant relationship in heritage interpretation.  I’ve been on both sides, and one gains good insights from either viewpoint.  In fact, I have come to believe that in order to be a good client or a good consultant, one needs to have worn both shoes.

Interestingly though, most clients hardly ever seem to think about their impact on the client-consultant relationship and the resulting end-product.  So let’s start with looking at what makes a good client in my opinion.

 

The good client

  • knows her aim

Even on small projects, clients tend to have a particular aim when they set out on the journey.  The only issue seems to be that clients aren’t always 100% clear on what that aim is.  It is worth spending some time on clarifying that aim before approaching a consultant.  This will mean that once appointed, the good consultant can actually start delivering on that aim straight away, rather than either spend valuable (paid) time on finding the aim, or never quite delivering on it at all.

  • communicates her requirements

It’s always important to be as specific as possible about what you need – or what you are able to cope with, as the matter may be.  Consultants seem to have a tendency to work on the assumption of the ideal scenario, where resources are unlimited and where the client will be able to manage whatever the consultant puts in place.  It is the client’s job to always check every suggestion against its practical implications.  Otherwise, you may be left with a wonderful exhibition that is impossible to staff and maintain.

  • is open to suggestions

Especially on small projects, some clients are overly protective of the project.  It is worth remembering at that point that presumably the client appointed the consultant because she either didn’t have the resources or the expertise to fulfil the task herself.  Nothing is more unproductive and unhelpful than a client who fights the consultant’s expertise every step of the way.  In the worst case scenario for the client, the consultant may eventually give in – providing the client with sub-standard results that the client actually may have achieved more cheaply had they just done it themselves.

  • holds their vision

After the above, this may seem like a contradiction.  However, consultants can also get overzealous, or they can miss the point entirely for many reasons that are not necessarily their fault.  It is the client’s job to keep their own vision and make sure they check any suggestions against it.  Note that the vision does not equal the product – the latter is what the consultant is there for.

  • is respectful

What I mean here is respect on many different levels.  For example, it is a matter of respect to provide necessary documentation on time. It is also respectful to be forthcoming with information, and to do all in your power to enable the consultant to do their job as best as they can.  And finally, it is respectful to treat the consultant as you would a colleague – for the duration of the project that’s what they are.

 

Now let’s look at what makes a good consultant in my view.

 

The good consultant

  • is humble

As much as the consultant is charged with delivering a professional product, even where the client doesn’t share any of the relevant expertise, a consultant should remain humble.  What does this mean?  It means first of all that they listen carefully – not just to what the client wants (and you may be surprised how often consultants ignore even that), but also to the client’s intimate knowledge of a site or a subject matter.  A good consultant never assumes that ‘they know best’.

  • sees the client as a collaborator

This is similar to the above but takes it one step forward: a good consultant takes the client’s ideas seriously.  Clients usually really care about a project, and they’re enthusiastic and engaged.  They’ll often come up with great ideas.  These may need tweaking by the consultant’s professional experience, but they may prove to be just the right solution for the task at hand.

  • knows that it’s not about her

I’ll illustrate this with an example from my own experience which you may find difficult to believe.  At one of the projects I worked on, a consultant had come up with a very smart idea – on paper.  On the ground, it was completely invisible to the visitor, rendering the whole idea (and the millions of pounds that had been spent on the capital project) ineffective as far as the visitor experience was concerned.  When I and others from the client team raised this issue, the consultant said (verbatim), ‘But this isn’t about the visitors.  This is about the architect.’

I’ll be blunt: it is never about the architect (or the designer, or the script writer, or the interpreter).  At a heritage site, it is always – always – about the visitor.  In other words, a good consultant will always bear in mind that what she does serves the visitor.   If something makes no difference to the visitor, then it isn’t a good investment for the client.

  • considers the practical implications

This is the consultant’s counterpoint to the good client’s ‘communicates her requirements’.  A good consultant always includes the client’s logistical framework (staff, time, financial) in her considerations.  If something won’t work out in the day-to-day management of the site, then it’s not good.  I’ve had a consultant once tell me that they’ll leave it to me how I will manage the key provision for which I simply did not have the staff.  I came up with a solution, but if I hadn’t, thousands of pounds would have been spent on something that visitors would never have seen.  Needless to say, from a client’s point of view, this is another failed investment.

  • is a facilitator

This works on many levels. For example, it may well be that the client has never and will never again work on a project like this.  It’s the consultant’s job to make sure the client makes the best use of this opportunity.  They may not be clear about what the heritage value is that motivates them, so a good consultant will spend some time helping them clarify it.  The client may also feel intimidated by the perceived expert knowledge of the consultant, so the good consultant makes sure they feel empowered to critically assess any proposal to ensure it works for them.  A good consultant will also never bedazzle clients with jargon, but will try to enable them to fully participate in the discussion.  After all, it is heritage interpretation we are talking about here, and heritage begins with the people whose heritage it is – quite possibly your clients.

 

So these are my thoughts on what makes a good client and a good consultant.   The lists are not meant to be exhaustive, but I’ve tried to write out the things that have struck me the most from having been both a client and a consultant myself.

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As far as J. Geraint Jenkins is concerned, the Welsh efforts to present the nation’s industrial heritage (!) are mostly doomed.  The reason is that sites, and coalmines in particular, are just not grimy enough.  He also points out that much fabric has been lost, leaving the remaining structures without the all-important context.  In presenting these faint shadow images of what life in Wales was like is to fall prey to romanticism and nostalgia, two demons that Jenkins evokes continually in his book ‘Getting yesterday right.’

I cannot help but detect in his writing that on-going suggestion of ‘heritage’ as an institution and industry.  In between the lines images are conjured of thrifty economists concocting ‘the heritage product’ that they can ‘sell’ to ‘tourists’ desperate for the romance of the past.  I’m a heritage manager myself, and my day-to-day job could not be more different.

Certainly Jenkins is right that many a valley has tried and is still trying to create a tourism attraction with whatever industrial remains they have left (and who can blame them).  But the issue here does not lie with heritage value per se, but with the tourism industry that may too freely apply the term ‘heritage’ to anything that might prove a tourism asset.  Heritage isn’t a ‘product’, it is an act performed by people.  Tourism managers may call it heritage, but that doesn’t make it so.

The other criticism that Jenkins has is that any interest that is detached from the dirt and noise of the coalmines is romantic and nostalgic.  He doesn’t elaborate on where this view comes from.  However, it does seem to hark back to a historian’s disdain for heritage as something less than history.  Of course, as David Lowenthal has shown in his book ‘The Heritage Crusade’ history and heritage are actually two completely different things altogether.  Other writers have since established the view of heritage as a practice, and like Lowenthal they have highlighted that selection, reworking and reinvention of historical facts are all crucial and necessary aspects of this heritage practice.  And the practice itself is crucial for our identity and meaning-making.

In other words, where Jenkins would like to see a whole valley still stuffed with coalmine dust, and the terraced houses cowering underneath black slag heaps to present what life was really like, the people who once lived that life might actually be mightily glad to see it gone.  A pit wheel and the opportunity to go down Big Pit if they want to, without the dust and danger, may be all they need to remember the true heritage value of the industry: the sense of camaraderie and endurance.  That’s what the miner-guide at Big Pit talked about when I went there; he even explicitly said he would not want to go back to work in the mines except for the bond he had with his colleagues.  That is the heritage of the coalmining industry.  The rest is just historical fact.

But would Jenkins prefer that we tell people’s history and not their heritage?  It does seem so.  And he is absolutely right that in presenting a whole valley as it used to be visitors would get the whole picture as an immersive experience.  I only wonder how many of them would ever want to come back?  And what about the people who live here?  Are we going to force them to live amid the reminders of what was a very hard and difficult life?  Are we going to turn them into museum pieces as well?

In all fairness, Jenkins does acknowledge that this would not be feasible.  He suggests that probably a multi-media piece of interpretation would be better, and I agree.  Only to me, this solution isn’t a regrettable compromise.  It does what good interpretation and heritage management should always do: it enables people to act on and live their heritage values as symbolised in spaces, while it gives them room to build on it, and change it, and use the security of that heritage to move forward and better themselves.  The dust and the noise are not heritage, they are history.  And some history just doesn’t need to be preserved in every grimy detail.

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