chapter  6
12 Pages

Unsettling memories: Intervention and controversy over difficult public heritage


Through heritage, selected memories are inscribed into public space. Heritage indexes places with histories that are, in part at least, their own, drawing on and further supporting a particular complex of ways of conceiving culture as ‘property’ and as a manifestation of ‘identity’. Usually, the memories that heritage inscribes and the histories that it indexes are integral parts of what is presented as a shared public narrative, bolstering senses of identity and legitimacy. Increasingly, however, these have come to be accompanied in many, though by no means all, countries by unsettling, competing or contested, memories, narratives and heritage. Part of a wider ‘heritage epidemic’ (Bodeman 2002: 24) or ‘heritage inflation’ (Hoelscher 2006: 201), this is, in part, a consequence of an identity politics or politics of recognition in which diverse groups seek public recognition, crafting self-narratives and claiming legitimacy through memory inscribed as heritage. In addition, however, if more sporadically, it may be a result of majorities or state agencies not simply allowing minorities to create their own heritage niches as part of a more multivocal public sphere but also incorporating at least some such voices into the mainstream. Moreover, this may even extend to majorities themselves engaging in critical self-reflection about the past and seeking to incorporate accounts, and even ‘dirty washing’, that have previously been excluded from ‘official’ heritage.