Heritage and Ethnicity: An Introduction
DOI link for Heritage and Ethnicity: An Introduction
Heritage and Ethnicity: An Introduction book
In the contemporary British context ‘heritage’ is a highly politicized and contentious term - to the extent that the authors of the National History Curriculum ‘have been careful to minimise [its] use . . . because it has various meanings and is in danger of becoming unhelpfully vague’. The pressures operating on its authors were immense and it is not surprising they wanted to avoid controversy and thus confronting the ‘heritage’ debate. The heated debate on the curriculum, both before and after the publication of the Final Report reflect that ‘history is a profoundly ideological subject’.1 Those associated with the ‘New Right’ wished the History Curriculum to be part of a general training for citizenship - one that emphasized the achievements of Britain at home and abroad in the past (or as Margaret Thatcher put it: ‘The British character has done so much for democracy, for law, and done so much throughout the world’). Indeed, the critic Neal Ascherson has suggested that ‘The heritage industry, like the proposed “core curricu lum” of history for English schools, imposes one ruling group’s version of history on everyone and declares that it cannot be changed’. Ascherson concludes that the heritage industry, by its very nature, ‘is enforcing a one-sided . . . deeply conservative view of the past upon British society’. Robert Hewison, in a pioneer study of the heritage industry published in 1987, acknowledged the tendency for it to lean
towards conservatism. Nevertheless he also quoted the curator of Glasgow’s People’s Palace museum who claimed her collection cele brated and acted as ‘the centre for the city’s radical heritage’.2 The debate about ‘heritage’, then, extended far beyond that of the eco nomics of the subject (although profit making was to play a major role in the development of the ‘industry’ - one which ran parallel to the extolling of ‘enterprise’ in British society) - it was also deeply con cerned with ideology and how the past could be used to buttress the politics of the present and specifically Britain’s national identity.