What is heritage?
What is heritage?

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What is heritage?

5 Themes in heritage studies

Now watch ‘Themes in heritage studies’ (duration 5 minutes). It raises a series of open questions about the nature of heritage and heritage studies as an academic discipline, and points to the broad themes that we will attempt to address.

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Transcript: Themes in heritage studies

Darcus Howe
This is part of the Caribbean history in England.
David Clarke
In one sense, of course, the displays are a commentary on Scottish identity, but their very existence now is a factor in the development of future identity, because what they’ve brought to people will change their perceptions about what they think about Scotland.
Man (vox pop)
We’ve really rediscovered our national identity, and there’s a feeling that, you know, the best is still to come.
Susan Denyer
It’s not enough to say, ‘well, this is a place associated with some strong ideas that have had worldwide influence’. In terms of World Heritage what one has to be able to demonstrate is how the site manifests those ideas, why it’s important, why it has outstanding universal value.
Newsreader (Huw Edwards)
At least 38 people dead, hundreds injured as terrorists attack central London. At the height of the rush hour they hit the transport system with four massive bombs.
Julie Nicholson
I think what everyone wanted was something that represented the 52 individuals but also expressed something about the collective nature, and that it would be something that stood as … as a thing of beauty, a work of art.
Christopher Wilk
We don’t regard ourselves as the sole source of authority. It used to be that curators would say, ‘right, I know my collection, I know the history, I will tell the public what they have to know’. We now know that the most important thing that happens in the museum visiting experience is what the visitor brings with them.
Sarah Medlam
People must feel they that they can use a gallery as they wish, and that they don’t have to follow some pre-determined route or take it in in a linear fashion if they don’t choose to.
Chris Mullard
There is a tendency, I think, for us all to look at heritage in a way that is defined by one specific interest group, you know. And it tends to be white, it tends to be male, and it tends to be upper class.
It isn’t just people dressing up and dancing on the streets, this is about community action.
Darcus Howe
The people came and made it an event, and if you don’t understand that, you do not understand carnival at all.
Chris Mullard
At the heart of carnival lies community. At the heart of community lies the individual, and individual freedoms and individual rights. And carnival has always been about the expression of all that within a collective form.
Jim Blackender
The choice is: do we want to live on a high-density housing estate, or do we want to keep a vital part of history and continue into the future the way we’re living now? And we all want to continue with what we’ve got.
Nicholas Bullock
The grounds for listing make it difficult to bring in the play of local sentiment as a rationale for preservation. Essentially it’s framed in terms of architectural and planning history, rather than in terms of social history.
Eddie Benn
That is our heritage. It may not be in the form of a lovely Grade II listed building, but it is heritage, so how can you ignore that?
End transcript: Themes in heritage studies
Themes in heritage studies
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Activity 5

Timing: 10 minutes
  • Is heritage about the past or the present?
  • How does heritage form the basis for our sense of collective identity?
  • Can heritage transcend local meaning to acquire universal value?
  • How do societies use heritage to remember (and forget) the events of the past?
  • How do authority and power play out through heritage?
  • How is the performance of heritage a form of social action?
  • How do heritage decisions affect people’s lives?
  • And how might heritage choices bring local people into conflict with the state?


These are complex questions, and how you respond will depend to a large extent on your point of view regarding what heritage ‘is’ and its value to global human societies. But these questions should frame the way in which you approach all of the case studies in global heritage.


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