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  • Heidi Seppälä

An introduction from David Lowenthal


As the “"The free-ranging master of Heritage Studies” (Patrick Wright/The Independent), David Lowenthal, historian and geographer who established heritage studies as an academic discipline, is been extensively quoted here for a source of inspiration. The following text is from his book Heritage Crusade and The Spoils of History, a “spectacular demolition job on the cult of heritage” (Frank McLynn, GLASGOW HERALD ), Perceptive, provocative (Michael Kerrigan, THE SCOTSMAN) and Absorbing book (Frank McLynn/Glasgow Herald) which deserves to be placed on the shelves of every olde gifte shoppe in the kingdom." (Ben Pimlott/THE GUARDIAN).

An official recommendation of the Art/Heritage team.


ALL AT ONCE HERITAGE IS EVERYWHERE—in the news, in the movies, in the marketplace—in everything from galaxies to genes. Itis the chief focus of patriotism and a prime lure of tourism. One can barely move without bumping into a heritage site. Every legacy is cherished. From ethnic roots to history theme parks, Hollywood to the Holocaust, the whole world is busy lauding—or lamenting—some past, be itfact or fiction.

To neglect heritage is a cardinal sin, to invoke it a national duty. Even as I write, American presidential aspirant Pat Buchanan champions the flag of the southern Confederacy because "everyone should stand up for their heritage." And in early 1996 British Defense Secretary Michael Portillo, pilloried for want of"prideinour national heritage," was forced to rescind aproposed sale of Aston Webb s majestic but now moribund and otiose 1910 Admiralty Arch.


Why this rash of backward-looking concern? What makes heritage so crucial in a world beset by poverty and hunger, enmity and strife? We seek comfort in past bequests partly to allay these griefs. In recoiling from grievous loss or fending off a fearsome future, people the world over revert toancestral legacies. As hopes of progress fade, heritage consoles us with tradition. Against what's dreadful and dreaded today, heritage isgood—indeed, the first known use of the term is Psalm 16 s "goodly heritage."

Yet much that we inherit is far from "goodly," some of it downright diabolical. Heritage brings manifold benefits: it links us with ancestors and offspring, bonds neighbors and patriots, certifies identity, roots us in time-honored ways. But heritage is also oppressive, defeatist, decadent.

Miring us in the obsolete, the cult ofheritage allegedly immures life within museums andmonuments. Breeding xenophobic hate, it becomesa bywordforbellicose discord. Debasing the"true" past forgreedy or chauvinist ends, heritage is accused of undermining historical truth with twisted myth. Exalting rooted faith over critical reason,it stymies social action and sanctions passive acceptance of preordained fate.

With its benefits hyped and its perils exaggerated, heritage by its very nature excites partisan extremes. Ready recourse topatrimony fills many vital needs. But italso glamorizes narrow nationalism. Vainglory vindicates victors and solaces the vanquished, justifying jingoism and inflaming partisan zeal.


(...) Heritage passions impact myriad realms of life today. They play a vital role in national and ethnic conflict, in racism and resurgent genetic determinism, inmuseum and commemorative policy, inglobal theft, illicit trade, and rising demands for repatriating art and antiquities. Decisions about what toconserve and what to jettison, about parenthood and adoption, about killing or converting or cosseting those of rival faiths all invoke heritage to explain how we feel and to validate how we act.

(...) The past has become aforeign and exotic place where people did things differently.And despite advances in science and scholarship that tell us more than ever about former times, the past frustrates understanding: its events seem unfathomable, its denizens inscrutable. However much we know aboutthe past, we can never really know howit was for those who lived back then.


(…) But heritage, no less than history, is essential to knowing and acting. Its many faults are inseparable from heritages essential role inhusbanding community, identity, continuity, indeed history itself. If for one Australian historian "heritage is the cuckoo in the historian's nest," another prizes heritage as the fount of historical evidence.

We need to understand what impulses drive us, heritage crusaders all, to ravage the past in the very act of revering it and to censure others for faults equally our own. Yet we should also realize that in thus corrupting we also enhance the spoils of history, breathing new life into them for ourselves and our inheritors by fabricating heritage anew.

At its best, heritage fabrication is both creative art and act of faith. By means of it we tell ourselves who we are, where we came from, and to what we belong. Ancestral loyalties rest onfraud as well as truth and foment peril along with pride. We cannot escape dependency on this motley and peccable heritage. But we can learn toface its fictions and forgive its flaws as integral to its strengths.


(The Heritage Crusade And The Spoils of History By David Lowenthal, p. xiii-xvii)




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