08 Heritage Landscapes

Please post your response by April 04, 4 pm. It will be based on the following readings:

Lowenthal, David. “Identity, Heritage, and History.” In Commemorations: The Politics of National Identity, edited by John R. Gillis, 41-57. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1994.

Sanders, Paula. “Keeping Cairo Medieval: World Heritage and the Debate over Fatimid Monuments.” Creating Medieval Cairo: Empire, Religion, and Architectural Preservation in Nineteenth-Century Egypt, 115-142. Cairo; New York: American University in Cairo Press, 2008.

Kirshenblatt-Gimblett, Barbara. “Destination Museum.” In Destination Culture: Tourism, Museums, and Heritage, 131-176. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1998.

11 responses to “08 Heritage Landscapes

  1. Sarah Rovang

    All three of the articles we read this week strongly support the notion that heritage is always a cultural production – it is not something that is inherent and inexorable, but rather the product of competing pasts that have been appropriated by the present for the purpose of constructing collective or individual identity. Particularly in the Lowenthal and Kirschenblatt-Gimblett there is a strong strain of criticism regarding recent developments in the heritage industry. I’m hoping that are discussion this week we can maybe interrogate some of the assumptions made by both authors, using the interesting case study presented by Sanders in “Medieval Cairo.”

    Lowenthal claims that Western notions of national memory have spread across the globe and that non-Western peoples have begun to historicize their pasts in a typically Occidental fashion. However, the author does not really address the agency behind this diffusion. Are Westerners proliferating this view of the past as something that needs to be converted into heritage through interfaces with material artifacts and folklore activities? Or is this position being consciously adopted by non-Westerners in an attempt to legitimize new nation states? Sanders asserts that the Bohras’ restoration efforts seem to recall the architectural choices of British colonialists – they make a claim to a specific nationality and seek to sanction the power of a certain cultural group. Is the spread of “Western” heritage then a remnant of colonialism? Can historically subaltern cultures successfully argue for their cultural legitimacy using Western mechanisms? As part of this discussion, we might also want to look back to the Tokyo Disneyland article we read a few weeks ago.

    Kirschenblatt-Gimblett’s antipathy, by contrast, is reserved for the preferencing of context over object and of performance over understanding. The notion that the museum is becoming increasingly a theme park attraction and that historical sites are becoming museological versions of themselves implies a kind of distancing or alienation between context, object, and viewer. What is not understood from the chapter “Destination Museum” is the alternatives (if there are any) to this development in the museum industry. What are the pros and cons of both context-based and object-based display? Is there any way to differentiate anymore between “lifespace” and the “exhibition world” or has heritage tourism transcended these terms all together? Has all travel now become its own form of virtuality?

  2. Anish Gonchigar

    I agree with Lowenthall’s assertion that a state’s identity is fundamentally rooted in its relationship with other states and national entities. The modern idea of statehood—the ‘country’ as the functional unit in international vernacular—has led, in many cases, to the utilization of a narrow visual context to define an overarching culture. As the standard example, the singular image of the Eiffel Tower is irremovable from that of Paris (and ultimately France as a whole). This association may not be fair or accurate, but it is critical to the established national identity. At the same time, I would argue that the long-held ideas of national identity and pride are becoming much more dynamic in the age of the Internet. The average tourist has always communicated with the country being visited through a medium: namely, the tourism agencies that catalyze the trip. The Internet eliminates this medium by creating a direct interface by which citizens of different countries can communicate. The popular YouTube-driven movement a few years ago, Parkour, was fundamentally French in nature, but it did not need to associate itself with the conventional French imagery of the Eiffel Tower to communicate this message.

    Kirshenblatt-Gimblett’s article brought up the very interesting point of the transition of museums from attraction-focused sites to experience-focused sites. Most of the memorable museums I have visited have utilized an ‘interactive’ approach in their displays. Even art museums, which still have a mostly pristine, static character, are no longer entirely passive experiences. The display and organization of pieces and the architecture of these museums themselves are often experimental and perplexing, conjuring a reaction of their own. Most people I have spoken to about the National Gallery of Art in DC remember the museum best not for the Calder mobile hanging in the foyer or the significant collection of American art. Instead, most people mention the ‘moving walkway’ that connects the two adjacent buildings of the museum and the gelato shop at its end.

    The article also made me wonder about how (and if at all) a place can be preserved in an ‘authentic’ state with the influx of tourists. It seems as though most impressive landmarks, once they receive significant enough attention, are boxed away as ‘tourist attractions’, and they lose much of their initial character. The Statue of Liberty, intended to be a monument and a symbol, is now inherently an attraction. One would think that the emerging ‘voluntourism’ would change this, by allowing tourists to work in ‘real places’. Yet these kinds of tourists enter an economy before leaving, which can have detrimental effects on local economies. I don’t think there is a kind of tourism that can exist independently of the places people visit. As soon as a place becomes an attraction, its foundation is changed.

  3. Ashley Adams

    Lowenthal’s argument regarding the recent Westernization of concepts and practices of cultural heritage and identity interested me the most this week. In his article he states that “a personalized Western sense of identity is now adopted and internalized right around the world” and that “Western concepts of identity and heritage are superseding other cultural values”. He then brings up an example of the Ekpu, wooden figurines of the Oron people of southeast Nigeria, and says that such “transition from local ritual use to global art objects and icons of national pride is typical of how items of symbolic value become globally commodified…in Western terms”. Though many countries and cultures are now in the rush to collecting back their historical items scattered across museums around the world, such as we see in the Ekpu example, I feel this is not a completely new, or Westernized phenomena. Perhaps not as specific as recollecting physical artifacts from museums elsewhere in the world, human groups, Western and non-Western, in the past have countless of times fought to reclaim “property” in order to regain self identity. Our species deep history of wars fought over property (such as land and objects) and identity (such as heritage, national, and self identity), speak to our underlying nature and desires of collecting “meanings” – whether they be property based or identity based.

    But here is where I cannot help but wonder whether our sense of heritage and self identity forms because of our habits of collecting “objects with history”, or whether such “objects” are created because of our nature of forming a sense of heritage and self identity during that time frame. So is identity formed because of the certain property we own, or are certain properties collected because of the identity we have? Or is it that neither really comes before the other? Also, can we say that one is more solid, or static than the other? Property is, in essence, merely a physical object – a physical collection of atoms and molecules – which comes with no meaning, definition, or identity without us humans putting one to it. Also, neither is it truly static, physically that is (for example, castles may degenerate over time due to heavy weathering by natural causes). Though we treat property as if it is this static object with static definitions, bestowing upon the bearer/owner with similarly static identity of some kind. But identity of the other hand, is also as variable as property, due to it’s nature of being a fabrication of our imaginations. Or is it because of the nature of time, and how an individual human can only live for a certain amount of time, that dictates the scale of staticity versus variability of property and identity?

  4. In “Identity, Heritage, and History,” David Lowenthal points out the nationality and rivalry that occurs with the idea of heritage. The concept tends to be promoted to create a sense of national pride, but this tends to create gaps in knowledge due to resistance to comparing oneself to other countries. He also points out the selling and stealing of culture, where one country will take relics from another for display. At the same time, does this help globalize and unite different cultures or does this simply vandalize the country of origin of these artifacts? Overall, Lowenthal raises interesting points of consideration for the concept of cultural idendity.

    Lowenthal also questions where the idea of heritage originates. In early times, it was a mandate exclusive to the ruling class. However, when did such self-consciousness arise? Lowenthal gives several possible answers, such as the fact self-identity may simply not have been recorded. He also suggests that early cultures were tight communities where shaping one’s own identity was not as important because everyone already know you. Not necessarily implying doubt, but I do wonder how true this is and whether this remains true in modern, tight-knit societies such with the Amish or tribes located deep in the jungles.

    Paula Sanders also brings up interesting questions about cultural history in her article “Keeping Cairo Medieval: World Heritage and the Debate over Fatimid Monuments.” Sanders points out the interesting conflict of what defines “authenticity.”

    Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett also writes about heritage in “Destination Museum.” While a little repetitive and with too many random examples, Kirshenblatt-Gimblett notes the integration of commercialization and heritage. Like Sanders, she notes that it is difficult to affirm the claims of “authenticity” and how the present influences the past through interpretation, restorations, and exhibition. Like Lowenthal, Kirshenblatt-Gimblett also points out the alienation caused by heritage, but more in the sense of how it is presented rather than nationalism. Overall, Kirshenblatt-Gimblett seems idealistic and complacent, quoting Raymond Williams that “[A] culture can never be reduced to its artifacts while it is being lived,” and seems to accept the revamping of history through tourism (165).

  5. According to Kirshenblatt-Gimblett’s Destination, heritage as a “value-added” industry shows a specific concentration in heritage’s global nature rather than their origins as seen in Lowenthal’s article. Lowenthal seems to believe that heritage is something incomparable to others’ and is “invincibly unique”; however, he also discusses the universality of human trends seen through different heritages (45-46). The tourism industry seems to play off of both sides in their attempt to attract more visitors, which I find very interesting. In the industrialization of heritage into a touristic venture, tourism companies use generic descriptions to help the universalization of their product: a getaway. As Kirshenblatt-Gimblett states, “sand, sun, sea, sex” can apply to a multitude of tourist destinations as spillovers incase of overbooking (153). However, they contrast this to the requirement of difference for each destination in order for them to be distinguishable (152). While the latter thought is in vein with Lowenthal’s idea that “it is heritage that differentiates us; we treasure most what sets us apart”, the tourism industry breaks it down to create generic, standardized product for each location. How is it that cultural heritage as a source of national identity can be commercialized and standardized in a manner that threatens their very essence? If the differences is what distinguishes one from the other, then shouldn’t the difference be what is emphasized? Tourist advertisements attempt to do so in certain cases, but often fall back into the reliance of a standardized viewpoint- generic images of mountains and lakes that can be found either here or there and beaches from Hawaii, Bali, and Vietnam all look alike. Perhaps through these differences have lost their importance, as theme parks, miniature worlds, and exhibitions have conditioned us to believe the imitation is better than the real; what’s the need for A if we can have the oh-so-similar B for a cheaper price?

  6. Crystal Ngo

    Toward the end of his chapter, Lowenthal comments on the rhetorical utility of being an aggrieved party. “It may better serve Greek pride to go on demanding the Elgin Marbles’ return than actually to get them back,” he writes. “Nothing rouses popular feeling more than a grievance unrectified” (Lowenthal 52). Indeed, the globalization of heritage as a common benchmark of exclusive identifies has multiplied and amplified restitution claims. It has also reframed patrimony privation as a sort of privilege. Not having the Elgin Marbles gains Greece a foothold in an ongoing debate about cultural heritage. Moreover, the government actively organizes allegiance to the nation state around the (productive) absence of these objects.

    The power invested in national identities, prized antiquities, or other emblems of imagined communities thrives on a sense of longing for the unattainable–all of these things have to exist at an irrevocable distance, even when outward appearances convey otherwise. In Sanders’ chapter, architectural preservationists, “old Cairo hands,” and Islamic art and architectural historians criticized Bohra restorations as being overly radical and irreversible. The outcry that greeted the Bohras’ removal of the minarets, and the lack of one when the similar architectural elements were removed earlier the century, betrayed an underlying xenophobia toward this diasporic community rooted in insecurity regarding Islamic Cairo’s singularity.

    Lowenthal points out that heritage that falls out of favor tends to be reinterpreted as foreign. Likewise, foreign elements that are domesticated become incorporated into the larger social fabric. He pushes for a comparative analysis of different experiences, which he insists will reveal a great deal of similarities. While it is clear that Lowenthal considers multiculturalism not only a failure but also complicit in fomenting conflict, he does not really observe the fluidity of the categories he is trying to dismantle. In some ways, I think it is easier to suggest that we shuck these classifications as organizing principles than it might be to challenge us to think about their centrality in our lives–well, mine, at least–and ways that we are both deprived and privileged by them. I appreciated his nod to hybridity at the end in describing the foreign influences that Greece has absorbed in its culinary and architectural heritages. It makes me wonder whether all the enforcement of exclusive pasts and other forms of gatekeeping are not a reaction to the contemporary global elaboration of countless influences and the peril this poses to the myth of cultural purity.

  7. Alice Hines

    “Identity is more zealously husbanded by the quest for a lost heritage than by its nurture when regained,” Lowenthal writes of Basque extremism. Another example of a heritage driven by nostalgia for a nation that no longer exists is southern “Dixie” heritage, which celebrates the short-lived Confederacy of the Civil War era. I’m interested in the pride that this movement espouses in face of criticism from civil rights activists and, today, disdain from most of the rest of the nation.

    The slogan that often accompanies the confederate flag is “Heritage, not Hate.” It was popularized by the Sons of Confederate Veterans in the ’1980s as the group tried to distance itself from the KKK and other hate groups who also used the flag as a symbol. Today, you see the confederate flag mostly in combination with slogan on bumper stickers and T-shirts. In the slogan’s current use, the word “heritage” tries to subvert the racist associations of Dixie identity by differentiating between a historical symbol (the flag) and the contemporary problems experienced by African Americans (hate).

    This brings up another problem raised by Lowenthal, of the role of coherence and continuity in forming a heritage. Can groups pick and choose which segments of the past represent them? Yes, but in this case, it requires a rewriting of history. The “Heritage not Hate” slogan contributes to the contemporary notion of the South as a rebel martyr and slavery as an auxiliary cause of the Civil war. In Charleston, where I am from, there are dozens of celebrations and reenactments this year, the 150th anniversary of the secession. A NYT article from last December quoted one “Secession Gala” attendee who explained the Dixie pride position: “We’re not celebrating slavery. We’re looking at the bravery and tenacity of the people who rose up.”
    (http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/12/21/dancing-around-history/)

    While, according to Lowenthal, Germans have lost a sense of unified of identity in the wake of the Holocaust, this segment of white Southerners has managed to use heritage to displace a sense of shame or responsibility for the past. The “rebellious” quality of Dixie identity seems to have only made it more resilient to outside criticism. The ultimate irony is that if Confederate heritage were not purely nostalgic—if the confederacy still existed in and if slavery had not been abolished—members would not be able to carve out distance between reality and symbols or the present and the past.

  8. Michael Price

    The Lowenthal reading brings up two issues that I am struggling to reconcile (or at least find interesting in relation to one another). The one, as others have also mentioned, is the notion of the conformation of non-Western ‘heritages’ and their artifacts to a Western conception of heritage, or as Lowenthal (better) puts it, “how Western concepts of identity and heritage are superseding other cultural values”. We see this in his examples – the Epku figurines taken from their context “from local ritual use to global art objects”, the international campaign for cultural restitution through which both sides of various fights over cultural property implicity “agree to a worldview in which culture has come to be represented as and by ‘things’”, and the revised curriculum of the Stanford course that included more of the contributions of minority figures thereby inserting them into an arguably fundamentally Western ‘individualistic tradition’. (Actually, this last has me a little confused- were these celebrated figures added into the course largely immigrants? Does it matter? At what point along the line from original location to entering the (geographically) Western world to being represented/recognized as a contributor to its culture do we note the imposition of ‘Western’ values?)

    At any rate, the other notion is the idea that different heritages are fundamentally incomparable (p.47). This is, I think, a different claim than that of uniqueness (though Lowenthal mentions them together- perhaps considering them the same?). I understand that heritages are to be deemed unique so as to be used as the basis of differentiation of a cultural identity. This also feeds into the the interchangability or mechanism of substitution that tourism uses to operate (i.e. each place may become a destination, and each destination may be substituted for any other). But incomparable? To be, ‘incomparable’ or ‘incompatible’ would describe the relationship between Hertiage itself and those ‘heritages’ that are transformed into Heritage, i.e. those which challenge and require the rejection of “the enterprise itself as part and parcel of the Western perspective” (p.46). Isn’t this substitution of destinations or this folding of cultures into a system of heritage-nodes sharing a common basis something that looks quite like comparison or compatibility?
    In other words, we see a phenomenon of cultures transformed into a western notion of heritage- brought out of their state of sheer incompatibility perhaps through a reduction. But then these reduced ‘heritages’ are necessarily unique (fine) and incompatible/incomparable. Am I just getting hung up on semantics, or is the point that the impossible insistence of incompatibility foregrounds the similarly impossible condition of uniqueness that is required for this strange social construction, or is it something else?

  9. Ambika Roos

    All the readings this week unpack the modern meaning of heritage, showing that it is a distinctly new mode of cultural production. Heritage adds new value to a nation’s history, rather than simply exposing assets that were already there. Heritage ascribes boundaries around a culture, creating a new mode of identity. As Kirshenblatt-Gimblett writes, “heritage is not lost and found, stolen and reclaimed…heritage produces something new in the present that has recourse to the past.” (149).

    Lowenthal sheds a critical light on the production of heritage. He argues that nations across the postcolonial world seeking to contending their independence and sovereignty have in fact simply internalized concepts of identity and heritage from their former colonizers in the West. Sanders writes regarding medieval Cairo, the architectural traditions in the city are “in reality, indigenized colonial traditions,” rather than one or the other (116). As much as poor countries try to assert national identity based on unique cultural characteristics, then, the endeavor is doomed to fail as “the underlying rationale is wholly Western; European notions of national identity and heritage are always deployed.” (46).

    I’m not sure how much this matters, though. The postcolonial state is by nature a product of both indigenous roots and Western imperialism, and nations across the world have integrated with global information and economic flows (despite their Western origin). It seems unfair to expect states across Africa and Asia to maintain a complete separate conception of heritage. Are they not entitled to adopt whatever discourse or conceptions they like without being accused of swallowing a sort of neocolonial Kool aid? In fact, Lowenthal seems to disregard any notion that these states may be very consciously adopting Westernized modes of cultural production in an attempt to be taken as equals. This attitude doubly denies the agency of developing countries. Not only must they fight to forge a national heritage that is distinct and unique, even if they succeed they are mocked for simply following in the foosteps of the West and not engaging in a form of cultural production that is truly “theirs.”

    Lowenthal’s later discussion centers around the deliberate boundedness of identity and lack of understanding of cultural others. Kirshenblatt-Gimblett makes a similar point in her piece. She notes that “the tourism industry requires the production of difference.” (152). This is at odds with her rather peripheral examination of the homogenizing characteristics of global tourism, with every beach selling the same characteristics, and a vertically integrated market in the hands of a few multinational corporations. I would be interested to explore further the tension between the desire to create heterogeneity and indigeneity to attract tourists, with the need to create a “reliable product that meets universal standards.” (152).

  10. The three readings for this week talks about heritage using different examples or contexts. Lowenthal emphasizes the different between identity and heritage, and focuses on how heritage has become a more universal term throughout time. Lowenthal argues that ”heritage displays increasingly universal traits and trends…its ideals and aims converge…Heritage categories…are likewise homogenized.(p.44)” He makes an especially interesting point at the end when he says that “National heritage emerges from linkages (and rivalries) among all the identities that inhabit us. (p.54)” – an idea especially relevant with Sanders’s text on Medieval Cairo. In Sanders’s text, we look at Cairo as a “historicized city (p.147)” as the change of reviews on the preservation and changes made in Cairo has been viewed differently by different organizations and in different times. The author argues that “these recontextualizations matter precisely because so much of the construction, canonization, and preservation of Medieval depended-and still depends-upon decontextualizations of many different kinds.(p.147)” This idea of flexibility of contextualizations of Cairo relate with Lowenthal’s opinion about the importance of national heritage as identities immerging from linkages and relations with other surrounding elements of the time. I wonder if there is any set stable value that will define a national heritage for any country, and how much of values we value today as part of our national heritage will live on and survive even through time. Lastly in Kirshenblatt-Gimblett’s text, heritage is mentioned as a “transvaluation of the obsolete” which is conceived with a ”second life(p.149)” through exhibition. The opinion that heritage is recreated and that the “key to heritage productions is their virtuality” is very relevant with the two other texts, in that they all talk about the temporary quality of heritage. Heritage in this context, looking especially at tourism and museums, is something that is created through exhibition of things about to disappear, while a “location” becomes a “destination” for tourists. Questions can be posed about the new accessible and artificial heritage and museum culture that is born – regarding the “loss of the “almost religious awe” with which visitors used to approach a museum(p.137)” that came with increased tourism and more accessibility. What does the concept of new museology, that is, the change of museum from place of seeing to doing mean for the future view of national heritages and culture of museums? Is the process of museums transforming into a more accessible but less awe-invoking place universal? What difference does a museum bear from a tourist attraction if their main function becomes to provide a “good service(p.138)” and “experience” rather than focusing on observing “museum products(p.138)”?

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