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- Author: Jes Wienberg x
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Heritopia explores the multiple meanings of the past in the present, using the famous temples of Abu Simbel and other World Heritage sites as points of departure. It employs three perspectives in its attempt to understand and explain both past and present the truth of knowledge, the beauties of narrative, and ethical demands. Crisis theories are rejected as nostalgic expressions of contemporary social criticism. Modernity is viewed as a collection of contradictory narratives and reinterpreted as a combination of technological progress and recently evolved ideas. The book argues that while heritage is expanding, it is not to be found everywhere, and its expansion does not constitute a problem. It investigates the World Heritage Convention as an innovation, demonstrating that the definition of a World Heritage site succeeds in creating a tenable category of outstanding and exclusive heritage. The book introduces the term “Heritopia” in order to conceptualise the utopian expectations associated with World Heritage. Finally, it points to the possibilities of using the past creatively when meeting present-day and future challenges.
Chapter 1 is an introduction, which presents the main aim of understanding and explaining the importance of the past in the present. The temples of Abu Simbel and their rescue in the 1960s in a salvage campaign by UNESCO are defined as a point of departure, and all chapters refer back to it as an example. Seven paradoxes related to the rescue of Abu Simbel are defined. The claim by David Lowenthal that “The past is everywhere” (1985) and the negative attitude to the past and heritage – in particular by him and other scholars – is called into question. So are existing explanations for the rise of heritage. Two cultures in relation to heritage, canonical and critical heritage, are identified. The first is dominated by heritage managers striving for preservation, whereas the second is dominated by academics questioning these efforts. The World Heritage scheme, with its great number of sites, is chosen as a clearly defined and well-documented source material, constituting a set of “Archimedean points” for further investigation on a global level. Finally, the introduction displays the open methodological character of the investigation and presents an outline of the book.
Chapter 2 investigates motives for protecting, preserving, and using remains from the past. The point of departure is the justifications by UNESCO for the Nubian Campaign, which saved the temples of Abu Simbel. The chapter moves on to a discussion of justifications and motives pertaining to history, memory, and heritage in general. Different claims regarding the value of heritage are also reviewed. The author then proposes the reuse of a philosophical triad of concepts: truth, representing knowledge; beauty, representing narrative; and goodness, representing ethics. Finally, the author argues that these three perspectives and virtues are interdependent and of equal importance.
Chapter 3 investigates various theories all of which interpret an interest in the past as being conditioned by phenomena in the present. It describes the discourse, which first appeared in the 1970s, in which an alleged abuse of the past is exemplified by references to ancient Egypt. A discussion of the development and context of some compensatory interpretations follows: the heritage industry as a result of industrial decline in the West; musealisation as a reaction against modernisation; chronic nostalgia as a consequence of modernity; preservation and material memory as a reaction against secularisation and mortality; and monumentalisation as a reaction to change and threats in society. By way of conclusion, the author argues for the role of the past in creating and maintaining social communities. Heritage may be used creatively in order to generate meaning for the benefit of human beings.
Chapter 4 investigates central concepts including time, change, duration, progress, decay, modernity, postmodernity, hypermodernity, and fluid modernity, and argues for a new perspective on modernity. The chapter begins with an exploration of the concept of time, creating a context for an understanding and a questioning of David Lowenthal’s famous claim that “The Past is a Foreign Country”. It goes on to discuss the relationship between progress and decay, whereupon it presents different views on what modernity is, has been, or ought to be. The theoretical and societal context of the concept and perception of modernity is mapped. The ambiguous relationship between different expression of modernity and tradition is explored. So is the persistent discourse by means of which scholars and intellectuals criticise contemporary society, modernity in particular. The author regards the concept of modernity as a collection of contradictory narratives, proposing an enlightened modernity that combines progress in both technology and ideas.
Chapter 5 investigates the concept and expansion of heritage. It starts with the common claim that “heritage is everywhere” and that there is a “heritage boom”. Statistics reveal that heritage has gradually grown as a phenomenon in the course of the twentieth century, becoming more prominent from the 1970s onwards but still dwarfed by history and memory as concepts. The evolution of two cultures in relation to heritage is presented in detail – the first being what is named canonical heritage, the other calling itself critical heritage. The process of canonisation is discussed, as is the origin of the “heritage” concept at the time of the French Revolution. The background of critical heritage is displayed in the critical theory of the Frankfurt School, whose adherents belong to a large group of people who have been, and are, uncomfortable with modernity. Heritage, however, is not a consequence of a societal crisis; as the author argues, the rise of heritage represents a crisis in the eyes of the critics. By now, the two cultures with their world views are both institutionalised; so if there is an “Authorized Heritage Discourse”, there is also an “Authorized Critical Heritage Discourse”. Attitudes towards heritage are explored in discussions concerning authenticity, vandalism, and relations to modernity. Heritage expansion is related to the general acceleration of change. Finally, the author recommends a look at what a relatively young and more moderate Lowenthal wrote on heritage before “The Past is a Foreign Country” and other critical texts.
Chapter 6 investigates the background of the creation of the World Heritage Convention, with a growing number of World Heritage sites. World Heritage is analysed as an innovation, looking at the ratification by different states over time. This innovation has been criticised both from inside and outside UNESCO, and it has been challenged by attempts to create other lists. However, the convention has been astutely managed and adjusted to criticism and new demands. In view of the global governmental consensus around the convention, it must be deemed a great success. Heritage sites are being modernised in order to achieve the status of World Heritage, and already inscribed sites are being modernised in order to adapt to tourism and other needs. The creation of a clearly defined and distinguished category of World Heritage is interpreted as a reaction against the expansion of non-defined heritage. Finally, the status of World Heritage is viewed as an example of a modern enchantment, to be favourably compared with the sacred in other spheres.
Chapter 7 presents the term “Heritopia” in order to conceptualise the utopian expectations associated with World Heritage and summarise the optimistic outcome of the investigation. The content of the chapter is arranged according to the seven paradoxes formulated in the encounter with Abu Simbel, now on a global level, and the discussion explains why these paradoxes are inevitable: World Heritage is both global and local; that is, it is glocal; all change, irrespectively of whether it represents an increase or a decrease of modernity, may create heritage; World Heritage as a category is a modern invention and modernity is an ambiguous concept, therefore it is possible for World Heritage both to be in contrast to modernity and to be a part of it; actual or rhetorical threats are important when it comes to designating remains as heritage, but even heritage might become a threat and that which threatens heritage may become heritage itself; the preservation of a site represents a priority and an exception, which means that other sites receive less attention and may be destroyed; all preservation implies change; and remains of the past may be impossible to preserve in eternity, but it is meaningful to carry them into the future and use them creatively.