Within the Walls: Heritage Values and the Historic City

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

Thanks-you’s and afterthoughts

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Three weeks ago, we put on 9 events in one week as part of the Being Human Festival at Kings Manor. These included 4 public lectures, an exhibition in the Refectory, 2 focus groups with York Minster, a link-up with colleagues at the University of Western Australia and finally, a hands-on event in which we played with the past and our conceptions of it. For myself and the team it was a week of conversations, unexpected surprises, and trying desperately not to forget things! And I believe it was a learning experience for everyone.

Three of the banners from our pop-up exhibition at King's Manor Refectory.

Three of the banners from our pop-up exhibition at King’s Manor Refectory. Sorry the photo is so dark – medieval building!

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Talking to volunteers, stonemasons, worshipers, the clergy and practitioners at the Minster about their values and World Heritage

Each of the seminars were full of energy and curiosity, and generated questions and lively discussion (and you can watch Graham Fairclough’s livestreamed video here). Those who I spoke with afterwards expressed avid interest in the subjects presented, and to some, they came as brand new concepts–such as an archaeology of the homeless community, or using Facebook to springboard heritage social action. Others came back to us with queries about how research techniques can and should be used in the heritage field, i.e. whether it should be qualitative or quantitative?

The Minster event, which we’d envisaged as a discussion group between a broad range of participants in the life of York Minster – from volunteers to guides to clergy  to craftspeople to education professionals and collections managers – revealed the range of different interactions with this architectural landmark.  It is conceived as a ‘living’ place of worship, a ‘centre of excellence’ for liturgical practice and also for craft skills, a space of tranquility and but also of some contention, particularly between the desire to reach out to visitors, the commercial imperatives of maintaining the building and the core function of the Minster as a place of worship. Very different communities of interest, such as clergy and stonemasons, discussed commonalities around the practice of their work as part of the living tradition of the place, to some the extent the ‘performance’ of a living heritage.

Our talk with the ARC Centre of Excellence for the History of Emotions (located at the University of Western Australia) was an intriguingly complex video-discussion on the subject of emotions in history. And while we may have raised more questions than we found answers, being able to simply see the differences in opinion across the academic fields has left a potential opportunity for further discussion. Another thing I’d like to note, is that one of the divisions that kept coming up during the week is how we choose to see heritage: either from a present-centered perspective or with a past-centered emphasis. This certainly came up during this discussion and is something I’d like to return to.

The Play with the Past event was absolutely the best way to end the week, bringing us to how we communicate our heritage values, through art or digital communication. It was also just a very friendly atmosphere with students, university staff and the members of the public dropping in to mingle, chat and share ideas. I was stationed at the graffiti section and found myself in deep conversations with several people during the two hours.

The York Tactile Mapping Project, set up and ready to go

claire graffitting

Discussing art, community and heritage

Scribbling onto models and the make-shift map of York

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The graffiti buildings seemed to engage some people, but not all, and the initial conception of graffiti scultures went wonderfully out the window as people started drawing and writing on the paper placed on the table instead, turning it into a visual and textual memory map of York.  Some wrote questions, like ‘How long do you have to live in York to really belong here?’, others drew their Primary School or wrote the name of significant place from the recent Hungate dig to the Willow nightclub on Coney Street.  Others told us their stories – ‘Two people I know saw the daffodils at Clifford’s Tower and decided to live here.’ – or shared their less hopeful impressions of the city: ‘York is the graveyard of ambition.’ It was definitely good fun, a great conversation starter, and I hope to use it again in the future. From my perspective I certainly going to think about how I’ve spoken to people during the week, and see if this can be useful to other situations.

Our paper mache Clifford's Tower, surrounded by mapping graffiti.

Our paper mache Clifford’s Tower, surrounded by mapping graffiti.

Lastly, we’d like to say thank you to those who have helped bring our events together, so; the Being Human Festival organisers; our speakers Richard and Lianne Brigham of York Past and Present Facebook group, Geoff Cubitt, Graham Fairclough, Helen Graham and John Schofield; the participants from the Minster community who volunteered their time and enthusiasm; Grace Moore, Jane Davidson and Susan Broomhill from the ARC Centre of Excellence for the History of Emotions in Australia; our colleagues Colleen Morgan and Leonie Weiser who joined us in the conference call; all those not mentioned so far who provided content for the banners so, Mary Garrison (Fishergate, Fulford and Heslington Local History Society), Sara Perry (the Heritage Jam), The York Atlas Project, Sarah Tester (YorkGateway to History Project); Tom the catering manager (who let us put them up in the cafe); Andy the porter (for putting up with us, and not getting annoyed when we broke the TV); and lastly but certainly not least, all those who attended the events!

We thank you all, and wish you all a very Merry Christmas!

Kat, Edward and Victoria

The Within the Walls team.

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