chapter  3
26 Pages

Prehistories of World Heritage: The emergence of a concept

This chapter describes the background to the development of the World Heritage Convention and its underlying definition of heritage as a distinctive set of official, state-led practices and ways of engaging with the past. I argue that the World Heritage concept emerged from a long history of thinking in particular ways about the relationship between objects and the past, and about the role of the state in using particular objects to tell particular kinds of stories about its origins and to establish a series of norms with which to govern its citizens. The chapter charts the early connection of the Enlightenment concept of the public sphere with a concern for the preservation of the natural and cultural environment that developed in Western Europe, Britain and North America and some of their colonies during the nineteenth century, and the subsequent increasing control of heritage established by their nation-states throughout the twentieth century. These models of heritage, which were developed in a postEnlightenment, modern, Euro-American context, were critical to the definition of heritage that underpinned the World Heritage Convention, and that the World Heritage Committee subsequently attempted to apply globally. I argue later in this book that it was this very attempt to apply a particular definition of heritage to countries and communities with radically different ideas about heritage that led to a series of conceptual crises that have contributed to the transformation of heritage practice in the later twentieth and early twenty-first centuries, alongside other broad changes in late-modern societies and their relationships with the past.