Many people would see ‘authenticity’ and ‘quality’ as the central questions for the study of heritage. Why engage with the past and its material traces unless we are interested in the ‘truthful’ presentation of history and a desire to preserve ‘very good’ objects and places? Indeed, the greatest criticism to be levelled at heritage as a global phenomenon relates to the ways in which it might balance its commercial entertainment imperative with the accurate presentation of history. But what if we were to consider the possibility that heritage is not about truth or authenticity but about deliverable political objectives – about reinforcing social cohesion through the construction of myths of origin, identity and moral example?
Understanding Global Heritage shows how we might play out such a conversation. This course will introduce you to the study of heritage and its function at local, regional, national and global levels. You’ll develop a critical understanding of how heritage is created and consumed across different cultures, and the roles heritage fulfils in contemporary and past societies. You will consider the ways in which the past is recreated as heritage in a wide range of contexts—such as museums, archives, galleries, historic houses, buildings, monuments, festivals, walking tours, social practices—and how this past is harnessed in the political arena. Using case material from around the world you’ll explore the global scope of heritage, from the ways in which local communities use heritage to build their own sense of identity, to the ways in which the state employs heritage in nation building.
You can watch a brief video introduction to the course themes, drawing on material from the course DVD, on YouTube.