Relationship Between the Heritage Site and the Community

2003 words (8 pages) Essay

4th Jul 2018 Tourism Reference this

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This essay critically discusses the relationship between heritage and community, collecting and making reference to a wide range of writing and theorizing on heritage and its management.

As Lowenthal (1995) argues in his book The Past is a Foreign Country, the past is an ever-changing phenomenon, which is not constant due to the way in which the past is translated to us and how we, as individuals, intepret our past, with each individual having a different version, a different interpretation, of a common past. ‘The past’ is a heritage, which, argues Lowenthal (1995) is at once burdensome and nurturing, open as it is to various interpretations and various uses. The past is essential, and inescapable, and can be as innocent as one’s memories as captured in photographs or can be manipulated as witnessed by the Holcaust deniers. It is this changing nature of ‘the past’, or ‘heritage’ that simultaneously sustains and constrains us (Lowenthal, 1995). The past is, argues Lowenthal (1995), an increasingly more foreign country, that is distinct from the present but which is increasingly manipulated by present-day aims. It is necessary to preserve the past to avoid ‘cultural amnesia’ but a cult of nostalgia can also choke and dampen progress, and so dealing with ‘heritage’ is a delicate matter. ‘Heritage’ and its management, in terms of community, is therefore a complex matter that generates tensions and conflicts.

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Chitty and Baker (1999) look at how historic sites and buildings are managed and show that preservation and presentation are central activities in the historic environment but that, often, these activities can be antagonistic to each other. This antagonism arises because of the different economic, social, cultural and educational perspectives taken by the different bodies involved in preserving and presenting historic sites and buildings. For example, those in charge of public entry to the historic site or building are interested that the site or building be open for as long as possible to as many people as possible, so that the revenue is as high as possible. Those involved in preservation of the historic site or building, for example, are interested not in the entry of visitors to the site, as a primary concern, but rather that they have the space, temporal and physical, to perform the necessary conservation duties to preserve the site or building for future generations, in a sympathetic manner.

Several case studies are discussed in Chitty and Baker (1999) including Avebury, Hadrian’s Wall, Norton Friary, Brodsworth Hall and various sites of interest for industrial heritage and in terms of military heritage, many of which are promoted as sites of heritage tourism (Timothy and Boyd, 2003). As Baker states in the introduction to Chitty and Baker (1999), sympathetic reconstruction and conservation is fundamental for preserving the authenticity of historic sites and buildings. As her argues, Avebury as it is currently encountered is largely a 1930’s reconstruction and not how Avebury was constructed originally. It is perhaps the case that many visitors do not realize that the current structure is not how it would have appeared when originally built, but many of those same visitors still take a great deal away from their visits to Avebury. This presents a dilemma for the managers of the site, the National Trust, who have to decide whether to preserve the Avebury as it is, complete with 1930’s modifications, or whether to change the site back to how historical records show it was when originally constructed. This dilemma illustrates the dilemma facing all managers of historic sites and buildings: the management of these sites is dependent on visitor numbers, as ‘heritage’ is a business nowadays, which is as dependent on revenue as any other business. Preservation of historic sites and buildings therefore needs to take place within the confines of dealing with visitors who want to be able to freely move about a site or building that they have paid to enter, for example.

As Baker argues in Chitty and Baker (1999), the meaning and historical perspectives of buildings and sites can also be lost or mistranslated in the effort to maintain these sites and buildings within the context of generating revenue: the holistic view of the historic remains can be lost as individual stories and narratives are generated. For example, across Derbyshire, there are many historic sites from many different ages. In a few square miles, there is Bolsover Castle, Langwith Pit, with the last remaining working pit head in the area, Sutton Mill, which is a fully working water mill, Hardwick Hall, of Bess of Hardwick fame with the largest glass façade in the UK: all of these sites ‘compete’ for revenue from visitors, but, as a whole, do not explain the continuity of, or the development of, the history of the area. In the effort to collect revenue from visitors, the history of the area as a whole has been lost to the general public, it’s holistic history has been waylaid. Local history is not taught in schools in the area and so children grow up in the area often unable to afford to enter the historic sites, or with parents who do not encourage visits to the historic sites, and so never learn about their local history. They become dis-jointed from their local history. Heritage and community thus has no meaning for these individuals, and, as a whole, the community tends to come to view the historic sites not as their heritage but rather as visitor attractions that they cannot afford to visit and do not understand, as they have no connection to the sites or buildings, other than knowing that they are commercial activities and that ‘something’ happened there.

This is a very modern tragedy, that heritage and community have become disjointed, that even when people do visit sites and buildings of historic interest that their experience is an isolated one, not ‘joined up’ to other historical sites of interest and thus not giving a holistic viewpoint of local history, or how this local history connects to larger UK history, for example. Preservation of historic sites and buildings is more than simply conserving those sites for the future, it also comes to include the preservation of the memories and history of those sites, a goal of communication. Presentation therefore overlaps with preservation, in terms of communicating to the visitors.

Grenville (1999) looks at the rapid changes that are taking place in countryside management and their effect on the cultural landscape, in terms of the conflict that this process generates between archaeologists and ecologists, and looks at many case studies such as the management of archaeological landscapes on army training grounds, the management of ancient woodlands and the conservation of monuments in Norfolk. As Grenville (1999) states in the introduction, the identification of natural areas of significance by bodies such as English Nature separates out the significance of these areas from the possibilities of whole landscape evaluation, in a manner similar to that described by Baker in Chitty and Baker (1999): the holistic understanding of the whole landscape is lost, and whilst ‘Site Wildlife Statements’ are made about these areas of significance, managers of these sites are presented with problems when the views and needs of archaeologists, ecologists and visitor satisfaction all need to be considered. An example of this comes from Thornton Abbey in Lincolnshire: badgers were slowly destroying the archaeological remains at the site and the public and the resident ecologists were adamant that the badgers should be allowed to go about their business; the manager of the site eventually decided the badgers should be moved on, but the event caused a great deal of consternation amongst the archaeological community (Grenville, 1999).

Howard (2003) looks at heritage management, its interpretation and identity, and finds that heritage has become a major concern around the world, particularly in the UK which relies heavily on tourism to heritage sites to keep these sites open and functioning, now that the majority of heritage sites in the UK are under the control of bodies which run them as a revenue-generating exercise. Howard (2003) points out, similarly to Chitty and Baker (1999) and Grenville (1999) that because most heritage sites are now run as a revenue-generators, there is conflict between preservation, conservation and management as to how these sites should be run, managed and interpreted. As Howard (2003) argues, however, the term ‘heritage’ nowadays means anything and everything the public want to save, from historic buildings to morris dancing to material culture and nature. As Howard (2003) argues, therefore, due to the heterogeneous nature of the ‘heritage’ that people want to save, the management and interpretation of this ‘heritage’ is extremely complicated and needs many different approaches, especially as ‘heritage’ can take on a nationalistic component which has entirely negative repercussions, for as Howard (2003) states, “so long as heritage can be used for profit, or to produce group identity, or to subjugate or exclude someone else, then someone is going to use it”.

Heritage, according to Howard (2003) is related to the concept of inheritance, in terms of meaning ‘that which has been, or may be, inherited’, and is also related to the idea of something that should not be forgotten, for example, the Holocaust heritage. Heritage also defines identity so that heritage has a contingent nature. That there are so many definitions of heritage, and that historic buildings and sites are bracketed together and understood in terms of ‘heritage’ is perhaps what leads to some of the tensions apparent between workers of different disciplines, when approaching a historical site or building. Everyone feels they have a claim on the site or building, in terms of common heritage, and they feel a responsibility to defend their heritage from the viewpoint of their different disciplines (i.e., ecologist/archaeologist/manager). This obviously then leads to tension as their viewpoints, whilst stemming from the same common concern, differ widely and have different effects and needs. ‘Heritage’, whilst a term that can be used to easily describe something that should be preserved, is a term that complicates the practical preservation of that site or building, especially as heritage marketing is something that is being used for consumer-led revenue-generation (Howard, 2003).

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Managing ‘heritage’ ‘for the community’ are the phrases of the moment, with the label ‘heritage’ being given to many things from historic sites and buildings to dances and religious/political ceremonies. Heritage is thus a flexible, little understood, term, that is, in Lowenthal’s (1995) sense, open to many and varied interpretations. In this context, then, managing heritage for the community is a difficult matter, which causes many tensions, between the various people responsible for managing ‘heritage’ and between these people and the community in which the ‘heritage’ is situated. Heritage and community are thus fuelled with tension and conflicts and the usefulness of the term ‘heritage’ as a political descriptor of our collective history, packaged in to revenue-generating pieces, is called in to question.

References

Howard P (2003) Heritage Management, Interpretation and Identity, London: Continuum.

Lowenthal D (1995) The Past is a Foreign Country, Cambridge: University Press.

Timothy DJ & Boyd S W (2003) Heritage Tourism, Harlow: Prentice Hall.

Grenville J (1999) Managing the Historic Rural Landscape, London: Routledge.

Chitty G & Baker D (1999) Managing Historic Sites & Buildings, London: Routledge.

This essay critically discusses the relationship between heritage and community, collecting and making reference to a wide range of writing and theorizing on heritage and its management.

As Lowenthal (1995) argues in his book The Past is a Foreign Country, the past is an ever-changing phenomenon, which is not constant due to the way in which the past is translated to us and how we, as individuals, intepret our past, with each individual having a different version, a different interpretation, of a common past. ‘The past’ is a heritage, which, argues Lowenthal (1995) is at once burdensome and nurturing, open as it is to various interpretations and various uses. The past is essential, and inescapable, and can be as innocent as one’s memories as captured in photographs or can be manipulated as witnessed by the Holcaust deniers. It is this changing nature of ‘the past’, or ‘heritage’ that simultaneously sustains and constrains us (Lowenthal, 1995). The past is, argues Lowenthal (1995), an increasingly more foreign country, that is distinct from the present but which is increasingly manipulated by present-day aims. It is necessary to preserve the past to avoid ‘cultural amnesia’ but a cult of nostalgia can also choke and dampen progress, and so dealing with ‘heritage’ is a delicate matter. ‘Heritage’ and its management, in terms of community, is therefore a complex matter that generates tensions and conflicts.

Chitty and Baker (1999) look at how historic sites and buildings are managed and show that preservation and presentation are central activities in the historic environment but that, often, these activities can be antagonistic to each other. This antagonism arises because of the different economic, social, cultural and educational perspectives taken by the different bodies involved in preserving and presenting historic sites and buildings. For example, those in charge of public entry to the historic site or building are interested that the site or building be open for as long as possible to as many people as possible, so that the revenue is as high as possible. Those involved in preservation of the historic site or building, for example, are interested not in the entry of visitors to the site, as a primary concern, but rather that they have the space, temporal and physical, to perform the necessary conservation duties to preserve the site or building for future generations, in a sympathetic manner.

Several case studies are discussed in Chitty and Baker (1999) including Avebury, Hadrian’s Wall, Norton Friary, Brodsworth Hall and various sites of interest for industrial heritage and in terms of military heritage, many of which are promoted as sites of heritage tourism (Timothy and Boyd, 2003). As Baker states in the introduction to Chitty and Baker (1999), sympathetic reconstruction and conservation is fundamental for preserving the authenticity of historic sites and buildings. As her argues, Avebury as it is currently encountered is largely a 1930’s reconstruction and not how Avebury was constructed originally. It is perhaps the case that many visitors do not realize that the current structure is not how it would have appeared when originally built, but many of those same visitors still take a great deal away from their visits to Avebury. This presents a dilemma for the managers of the site, the National Trust, who have to decide whether to preserve the Avebury as it is, complete with 1930’s modifications, or whether to change the site back to how historical records show it was when originally constructed. This dilemma illustrates the dilemma facing all managers of historic sites and buildings: the management of these sites is dependent on visitor numbers, as ‘heritage’ is a business nowadays, which is as dependent on revenue as any other business. Preservation of historic sites and buildings therefore needs to take place within the confines of dealing with visitors who want to be able to freely move about a site or building that they have paid to enter, for example.

As Baker argues in Chitty and Baker (1999), the meaning and historical perspectives of buildings and sites can also be lost or mistranslated in the effort to maintain these sites and buildings within the context of generating revenue: the holistic view of the historic remains can be lost as individual stories and narratives are generated. For example, across Derbyshire, there are many historic sites from many different ages. In a few square miles, there is Bolsover Castle, Langwith Pit, with the last remaining working pit head in the area, Sutton Mill, which is a fully working water mill, Hardwick Hall, of Bess of Hardwick fame with the largest glass façade in the UK: all of these sites ‘compete’ for revenue from visitors, but, as a whole, do not explain the continuity of, or the development of, the history of the area. In the effort to collect revenue from visitors, the history of the area as a whole has been lost to the general public, it’s holistic history has been waylaid. Local history is not taught in schools in the area and so children grow up in the area often unable to afford to enter the historic sites, or with parents who do not encourage visits to the historic sites, and so never learn about their local history. They become dis-jointed from their local history. Heritage and community thus has no meaning for these individuals, and, as a whole, the community tends to come to view the historic sites not as their heritage but rather as visitor attractions that they cannot afford to visit and do not understand, as they have no connection to the sites or buildings, other than knowing that they are commercial activities and that ‘something’ happened there.

This is a very modern tragedy, that heritage and community have become disjointed, that even when people do visit sites and buildings of historic interest that their experience is an isolated one, not ‘joined up’ to other historical sites of interest and thus not giving a holistic viewpoint of local history, or how this local history connects to larger UK history, for example. Preservation of historic sites and buildings is more than simply conserving those sites for the future, it also comes to include the preservation of the memories and history of those sites, a goal of communication. Presentation therefore overlaps with preservation, in terms of communicating to the visitors.

Grenville (1999) looks at the rapid changes that are taking place in countryside management and their effect on the cultural landscape, in terms of the conflict that this process generates between archaeologists and ecologists, and looks at many case studies such as the management of archaeological landscapes on army training grounds, the management of ancient woodlands and the conservation of monuments in Norfolk. As Grenville (1999) states in the introduction, the identification of natural areas of significance by bodies such as English Nature separates out the significance of these areas from the possibilities of whole landscape evaluation, in a manner similar to that described by Baker in Chitty and Baker (1999): the holistic understanding of the whole landscape is lost, and whilst ‘Site Wildlife Statements’ are made about these areas of significance, managers of these sites are presented with problems when the views and needs of archaeologists, ecologists and visitor satisfaction all need to be considered. An example of this comes from Thornton Abbey in Lincolnshire: badgers were slowly destroying the archaeological remains at the site and the public and the resident ecologists were adamant that the badgers should be allowed to go about their business; the manager of the site eventually decided the badgers should be moved on, but the event caused a great deal of consternation amongst the archaeological community (Grenville, 1999).

Howard (2003) looks at heritage management, its interpretation and identity, and finds that heritage has become a major concern around the world, particularly in the UK which relies heavily on tourism to heritage sites to keep these sites open and functioning, now that the majority of heritage sites in the UK are under the control of bodies which run them as a revenue-generating exercise. Howard (2003) points out, similarly to Chitty and Baker (1999) and Grenville (1999) that because most heritage sites are now run as a revenue-generators, there is conflict between preservation, conservation and management as to how these sites should be run, managed and interpreted. As Howard (2003) argues, however, the term ‘heritage’ nowadays means anything and everything the public want to save, from historic buildings to morris dancing to material culture and nature. As Howard (2003) argues, therefore, due to the heterogeneous nature of the ‘heritage’ that people want to save, the management and interpretation of this ‘heritage’ is extremely complicated and needs many different approaches, especially as ‘heritage’ can take on a nationalistic component which has entirely negative repercussions, for as Howard (2003) states, “so long as heritage can be used for profit, or to produce group identity, or to subjugate or exclude someone else, then someone is going to use it”.

Heritage, according to Howard (2003) is related to the concept of inheritance, in terms of meaning ‘that which has been, or may be, inherited’, and is also related to the idea of something that should not be forgotten, for example, the Holocaust heritage. Heritage also defines identity so that heritage has a contingent nature. That there are so many definitions of heritage, and that historic buildings and sites are bracketed together and understood in terms of ‘heritage’ is perhaps what leads to some of the tensions apparent between workers of different disciplines, when approaching a historical site or building. Everyone feels they have a claim on the site or building, in terms of common heritage, and they feel a responsibility to defend their heritage from the viewpoint of their different disciplines (i.e., ecologist/archaeologist/manager). This obviously then leads to tension as their viewpoints, whilst stemming from the same common concern, differ widely and have different effects and needs. ‘Heritage’, whilst a term that can be used to easily describe something that should be preserved, is a term that complicates the practical preservation of that site or building, especially as heritage marketing is something that is being used for consumer-led revenue-generation (Howard, 2003).

Managing ‘heritage’ ‘for the community’ are the phrases of the moment, with the label ‘heritage’ being given to many things from historic sites and buildings to dances and religious/political ceremonies. Heritage is thus a flexible, little understood, term, that is, in Lowenthal’s (1995) sense, open to many and varied interpretations. In this context, then, managing heritage for the community is a difficult matter, which causes many tensions, between the various people responsible for managing ‘heritage’ and between these people and the community in which the ‘heritage’ is situated. Heritage and community are thus fuelled with tension and conflicts and the usefulness of the term ‘heritage’ as a political descriptor of our collective history, packaged in to revenue-generating pieces, is called in to question.

References

Howard P (2003) Heritage Management, Interpretation and Identity, London: Continuum.

Lowenthal D (1995) The Past is a Foreign Country, Cambridge: University Press.

Timothy DJ & Boyd S W (2003) Heritage Tourism, Harlow: Prentice Hall.

Grenville J (1999) Managing the Historic Rural Landscape, London: Routledge.

Chitty G & Baker D (1999) Managing Historic Sites & Buildings, London: Routledge.

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