Within the Walls: Heritage Values and the Historic City

A Collaborative PhD project in the Historic City of York, UK

“Within, or perhaps, Without the Walls?” by Katrina Foxton.

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Access to your culture is a human right—it is, in fact, written into the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. If you read our ‘About’ page, you’ll see that access to heritage and culture is one of the main issues we are studying. The heritage sector is pushing to be more democratic, to account for the values of many at both a local and a global level. But can heritage management—such as that surrounding archival, built or buried remains—be open to all? Or indeed, should it should remain in the hands of qualified experts (with a ‘wall’ built around it)? This project is entering an already expressive debate (see York Stories website, the York: Living With History project and the Archaeology Dept’s own student run Heritage York Project).

So, should York’s heritage decisions be made Within or Without the Walls? I’ve typed up the following basic arguments, to highlight some key points on both sides of the debate (although I recognise that this is an ongoing and complex story).

WITHOUT THE WALLS—Open to all?:

The Council of Europe considers everyone to have the right to participate in the management of their heritage–see The Faro Convention, Article 4 in particular (2005). The benefits for involving everyone include empowerment; sustained interest in the historic environments; and a more representative historic environment which fulfils the needs of a culturally diverse community. Not to mention, it simply feels good to have your voice heard. Most potently is the call to recognise that everyone is a heritage expert in their own right, as they will be ‘experts’ in living where they do (Schofield 2014).

There are many accusations too that experts stifle heritage dialogue through their bureaucratic and, essentially, non-representative choices. In addition, heritage can become a stake over which political parties lay claim and it often plays a significant part in the presentation of places for the purposes of tourism, which can lead to the detrimental ‘Disney-fication’ of towns and cities (Hewison 1984, Lowenthal 1985). So how can experts ever be useful?

WITHIN THE WALLS—Managed by experts?:

Experts can be referred to as people who have training and now work in the heritage sector, in a variety of roles such as; archaeologists, archivists, conservationists, outreach and education officers, museum and interpretation officers, tour guides, and historians (this list is not exhaustive!) They have in-depth technical knowledge without which the day-to-day protection and interpretation of heritage would be difficult. Moreover, community participation in projects aren’t always straight forward, and not everyone can, or even wants to be included in the work of heritage (Roskams and Neal 2013). And, let’s think for example; can a group of people make an easy, quick decision about a crumbling building or archive collection when everybody has a different opinion and different values? Some theorists argue that the role of ‘humble’ experts with  ‘sensitive ears’ are very useful in such situations, with the courage to make decisions and take action based on what they know (Burstrom 2014, Wolferston 2014). There is also positivity in the role of experts who can build bridges between local communities and local, national or even international government.

SO WHAT’S THE ANSWER?:

The question isn’t really about whether one group of people (qualified or not) should manage their heritage in entirety. If we go back to the Faro Convention, there is reference to bringing public authorities, heritage communities and other non-governmental organisation together, essentially to share the management of heritage (see Section 3, Article 11). So that basically means we can’t simply prioritise the values of one group over others—heritage management has to be a balanced and ‘well-informed’ process (CoE 2005).

The tricky thing is how to achieve this…and that’s what we’re interested in.

References

Burström, M (2013) “More Than a Sensitive Ear: What to Expect of a Professional Expert”. In  Schofield, J (ed.) 101-112.

Council of Europe (2005) The Faro Convention. Available at                 http://www.coe.int/t/dg4/cultureheritage/heritage/Identities/default_en.asp. Page Consulted 23/04/14.

Hewison (1984) The Heritage Industry: Britain in the Climate of Decline. London: Methuen.

Lowenthal, D. (1985) The Past is a foreign Country. Cambridge, Cambridge UP.

Roskams, S., and Neal, C. (2013) “Authority and Community: Reflections on Archaeological Practice at Heslington East, York”. In The Historic Environment, 4. 2, 139-55.

Schofield, J (ed) (2013) Who Needs Experts?: Counter-Mapping Cultural Heritage. Farnham: Ashgate.

Wolferston, S (2013) “Ethnography of a ‘Humble Expert’: Experiencing Faro”. In Schofield, J (ed). 43-      53.

 

 

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