chapter  8
38 Pages

Heritage and the ‘problem’ of memory

I have argued that the late-modern period has witnessed an exponential growth in the number of objects and places that are actively identified, listed, conserved and exhibited as heritage, alongside a rapid expansion in the definition of heritage to incorporate a large range of new forms of material memory; from cultural landscapes to intimate, everyday objects. In addition to the preservation of tangible forms of heritage, we have seen a global shift in the increased attention paid to intangible forms of heritage. This has led to the persistent and pervasive ‘heritagisation’ of society, in which the traces and memories of many different pasts pile up, constantly surfacing and intervening in our present. With all these factors contributing to the exponential growth of heritage lists and registers, we very rarely consider processes by which heritage objects, places and practices might be removed from these lists, deaccessioned from museums and galleries, or allowed to fall into ruin without active intervention. The implication of the abundance of heritage, and this process of the heterogeneous piling up of traces of the past in the present, alongside the increased conservation of intangible heritage practices and traditions, has not been widely considered by heritage practitioners or scholars (but see Pye 2010). If heritage is not a universal category of value, and if objects, places and practices are conserved according to criteria that are culturally determined, then it follows that certain aspects of heritage will at some point cease to be relevant and should be discarded. Instead, our approach has tended to be one that continually lists ‘new’ heritage without consideration of the values embodied in our past conservation decisions. I suggest that as a result of this, we face a coming ‘crisis of accumulation’ of the past in the present in the early twenty-first century, which will ultimately undermine the role of heritage in the production of collective memory, overwhelming societies with disparate traces of heterogeneous pasts and distracting us from the active process of forming collective memories in the present.