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From Antiquities to Heritage: Transformations of Cultural Memory

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Island Press. Urbanism without effort. Wu, Z. In The Palgrave handbook of contemporary heritage research. Palgrave Macmillan, London, Yuan, Y. There are days that might outmeasure years, days that obliterate the past, and make the future, of the colour which they cast. Over the past two decades the ways in which we look at cultural heritage have evolved dramatically from monument and museum collection to encompassing a complex matrix of meaning, values, associations and related concepts. As a result of this conceptual evolution, cultural heritage has gone from being understood as property, an object, to being assessed as a process; passing through several intermediary and frequently simultaneous understandings such as place, product, project, and performance.

We are thus now at a moment when it has become necessary to fully re engage with the complex theoretical dimensions of cultural heritage and its multifaceted ramifications. In approaching this rich theoretical evolution, various threads of its definition, dynamics, and functions have been teased out of a knotted bundle. Not surprisingly given the diverse ways in which heritage can be contemplated, it is increasingly being approached as an assemblage that includes material and immaterial forms: representations and aspirations, mortar and emotions, values and interpretations, symbols and narratives.

Furthermore, even as heritage researchers have been progressing towards ever more nuanced understandings of the concept, so too has the understanding of memory been expanding in myriad ways. For, while the field of heritage has been establishing its theoretical and methodological basis —a process to which ideas about collective memory and sites of memory have been so influential— two parallel developments have been following their own courses: memory has emerged as a field of study in the humanities and social sciences, and research in cognitive psychology and neuroscience has made important advances in revealing how memory works within the brain.

Some authors have dealt explicitly with issues of memory in relation to heritage e. This assumption arises in part because memory seems so integral to our sense of knowing the past and of interpreting its remains, and in part because of the roles played by two other concepts —identity and politics— not only in memory and heritage independently but more crucially in binding the two together. These approaches taint both ideas with nostalgia for a past that is irretrievably lost, leaving wide gaps to be filled. And while they have been immensely influential in shaping the development of museums and mnemonics they also significantly limit a full appreciation of the complex web of dynamics at work in heritage and memory, resembling too closely the monumental and antiquarian approaches to history criticized by Nietzsche , Holocaust studies, literary theory, sociology, psychoanalysis, political science, cultural history, theology, anthropology, and archaeology all use the term though they do not necessarily mean the same thing by it.

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This rich cross-fertilization comes with a danger that findings from neighbouring disciplines are adopted without a careful assessment of whether the shared vocabulary actually has shared semantics behind it or if the same words are being used to refer to different phenomena. This is not to say that interdisciplinary research should not be carried out, only that borrowing terms across fields should be enunciated and the interpretations, departures, or translations made explicit.


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Thus, when referring to some of the kinds of memory from the identified by Tulving —such as iconic, place, or recall memory— it would be helpful to indicate just how the term is being used, whether according to a cognitive neuroscience understanding that rests on a specific body of theoretical and empirical work, or according to an adaptation of the term in order to use it as a tool in thinking about dynamics observed in the heritage field.

And this question of scale is also at the heart of the heritage-memory relationship.

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The path of the collective leads most obviously to sociology, social psychology, history, literature, culture studies, and today, memory studies. Traditionally, going down the path of the individual leads to cognitive psychology, psychoanalysis, and neuroscience and the light that these disciplines might be able to shed on the workings of memory. Yet, these two broad approaches need not necessarily be divided so absolutely; if we bring the disciplines into conversation the cross-over might reveal new insights. This paper will proceed to examine both memory studies and neuroscience to see how they can help to see the dyad more clearly.

This paper theorizes the intimate relationship between heritage and memory focusing on three areas; it does not make one argument but seeks to indicate various dimensions of this relationship that could open up new avenues for critical thinking about cultural heritage. First, it maps out the vocabulary that has emerged from the heritage-memory dyad; this includes discussion of how notions of collective memory and sites of memory have been used, and occasionally misused, as well as the metaphors employed in the process.

Second, the emergence of memory studies is considered, providing a brief overview of its foundations and aims as well as assessing how it differs from, overlaps with, and contributes to heritage research. A third section offers a brief review of recent developments in cognitive psychology and neuroscience, and evolutionary biology relating to memory and how these might inform heritage studies.

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The concluding discussion provides a synthesis of the theoretical and empirical contribution of memory research to furthering our understanding of cultural heritage and proposes directions for future work on the area of confluence between the two. There are also words from other disciplines that call out to be explored, adopted, and perhaps adapted to the heritage lexicon, as will be seen in the section on neuroscience. Lastly, there is the tendency to rely on metaphor See Table 1. Table 1. Metaphors we use to think about the heritage-memory relationship.

One way of mapping the heritage-memory lexicon would be to list kinds-of-memory and kinds-of-heritage and, Venn-diagram-like, identify the terms falling in the overlapping area. Furthermore, by the time this article appears the kinds of heritage —and therefore also possibly the overlapping area between the two fields— will no doubt have augmented. There are memory parks, memory politics, memory wars, and memory studies. Possibly the hairiest question that the relationship between memory and heritage gives rise to is that of individual versus collective understandings.

When it comes to collective memory and cultural heritage however, it becomes difficult to untangle the two. For, it is in the process of concretising and communicating that values, protagonists, plots, and narratives are appended to heritage. In analysing those links, it is helpful to refer to research that has focused on differentiating between the individual cognitive level of memory and the collective social level i.

I argue that this line of questioning is basic for thinking about heritage. The study of memory has a heritage of its own, a repertoire resulting from the work of artists, scientists, and theoreticians who have specifically addressed the issue. And their works, their poetic, fictional, and visual treatment of memory, have in turn been drawn on by scientists for inspiration, and been the subject of extensive critical analysis. Then there is the genealogy of the concept itself. Our contemporary and speedily evolving understanding of memory has several influential recent ancestors, however here one sees how disciplinary boundaries have often meant that these are not necessarily shared.

Rather, each discipline has its own lineage, with some crossover. While it would be possible to trace the first recorded concerns with memory and its functions back many centuries, the origins of contemporary thinking start with Hermann Ebbinghaus and Henri Bergson at the end of the nineteenth century, followed by Frederic Bartlett and Maurice Halbwachs in the s; [2] unsurprisingly perhaps the disciplinary basis for these enquiries are psychology, sociology and philosophy. It is not coincidental that a keen interest in collective experiences and how they are communicated and shared through narration and memory came to the fore in the aftermath of the First World War.

Frederic Bartlett and Maurice Halbwachs both published works in the s that emphasised the function of remembering in social contexts as a means of sharing impressions and, at least for Halbwachs, of reinforcing the narratives of adhesion to a group. The three writers whose work is consistently referred to in heritage literature that addresses memory are Maurice Halbwachs, Paul Ricoeur, and Pierre Nora. The term is used to refer to anything from places where remembered events have occurred to memorial sites, including a wide spectrum of other interpretations in between; what they have in common is an emphasis on physical sites when precisely the point of the large collective work directed by Nora was to reveal the intangible, symbolic, and cognitive reference points that serve to bind together a group, and more specifically, a Nation.

Nora presents the work as an exploration of the dynamics between history and memory in terms of the repertoire of reference points that emerges at their intersection to create a sense of shared national past. For both Anderson and Nora, the object of focus at which they were pointing their theoretical microscopes was the Nation; a determining aspect of these lieux often overlooked. In addition, uses of the term that reinterpret it frequently do not include caveats explaining the departure from its original meaning, thus giving rise not only to a significant diversity of meanings associated with the term but also, unfortunately, much muddling of it.

What is bemoaned here is not that this has led to a vast array of interpretations, but the absence of clear statements of intent and definition that result in confusing rather than clarifying the theoretical ground. What makes the work directed by Nora so relevant for theorizing heritage is that the project was in large part an exploration of the relationship between memory and history. For heritage does the former in order to do the latter —thus giving rise to one of the numerous dichotomies of the heritage concept which is the tension inherent in its function as engenderer of both roots and routes [3].

It was this preoccupation with what appeared to be a widespread trend of forgetting, of rupture with the past and an obsession with experiencing the present, which led to the focus on memory and the emergence of memory studies, and had a transformative effect on ways of seeing heritage. This section outlines the common ground and differences between heritage and memory studies. There are at least three core areas in which the study of memory and heritage overlap in terms of common interests and concerns.

This definition of the field of memory studies will also ring true to those working on heritage. These three areas —past, culture, and politics— are shared interests of the two fields of study, with a fourth, identity, also worth highlighting. For the role of both memory and heritage in the construction and perception of identity, and the politicization of this role, is a key concern for both fields. The exercise of outlining a common terrain is useful in that it helps to pin-point the knotty issues that the two fields can work together in tackling, for there is clearly a ground for mutual feed-back between memory and heritage studies.

A further area that has been of growing concern for both fields and whose elucidation might benefit from a collaborative approach is that of commemoration, including practices of memorialization and the mediatisation of memory more generally. Memory becomes the narrative binding these practices such that they are accepted as tradition, while the props monuments and artefacts , stage-settings buildings and sites , and performances dances and recitals communicating the narrative are what many would recognise as heritage.

At the crossroads where heritage and memory meet lies the inescapable dualism of the tangible and intangible dimensions of the former. This too is a common shortfall in attempts to protect and preserve heritage. While there are important common areas of interest, and a clear symbiosis, memory and heritage are not, synonyms and neither their theoretical foundations nor methodological tools map onto each other completely.

Thus far, one of the most diacritical aspects between the two fields of study has been the way each approaches the relationship between medium and memory [4] which is in turn reflected in a different choice of empirical focus. For while memory studies has often taken as its primary object of study discursive and visual representations works of literature, film, media portrayals, and autobiographical writing , heritage research has more often adopted a case-study approach focusing more on non-discursive phenomena and on particular sites monuments and museums , landscapes, urban areas, and, more recently, practices and performances.

Again there are overlaps —such as the analysis of museums and memorial practices or the use of oral history— but each field applies its own analytic lens constructed out of its own combination of theoretical and methodological lenses. It would be tempting to signal experience as a clear distinguishing boundary between memory and heritage: that memory is tied to experience whether lived in the first person or learned from another, while heritage is tied to values and a process of meaning-making that identifies the signifiers of those values in sites, tangible or otherwise.

Remembrance of past experience, however, is highly susceptible to being altered by interpretation and even fantasy Barash, Since memory even from the perspective of cognitive neuroscience, as we will see further on is increasingly understood as a process of constant construction, it might be prudent to handle this apparently straight-forward differentiation with a healthy dose of scepticism.

The ethics and politics of memory its materialization in memorial policies. Radstone 32 argues that within memory studies concerns with the ethics of memory have dominated, and often obscured, the politics of memory. She attributes this to a dominant focus from the humanities and social sciences side of memory studies on the aftermaths of conflict, trauma, catastrophe, and, by extension, on witnessing. Certainly, an important body of work examining the relationship between heritage and memory has taken as its empirical focus the study of cataclysmic events, most frequently in the shape of war or natural disasters.

The implications of the latter understanding in particular are vast for the practices, policies, and politics of heritage. Studying how traumatic events are publicly remembered has become just such a focus because it brings to light the ethical and political, the uses and abuses, of both social memory and heritage. For her, the urgency lies in the questions that this form of remembrance provokes in relation to duties towards victims, the responsibilities that come with witnessing suffering, and the potential of memorial practices to drive changes in society that will make it less violent.

Catastrophic events traumatise and transform to the extent that they become signposts in individual and collective memory narratives. In his exploration of forgetting, for instance, Connerton writes:. Newly shared memories are constructed because a new set of memories are frequently accompanied by a set of tacitly shared silences.

Many small acts of forgetting that silences enable over time are not random but patterned… Connerton, Unsurprisingly, memorial practice is an area of overlapping interest to heritage and memory studies. Nevertheless, what is perhaps less obvious is that it is not only the aftermath of violence but also the act of destruction itself that has stimulated a conjoined approach. When the politics of memory involves the representation of traumatic events, forms of both symbolic capital and moralising narratives can be generated; the reinforcing impact of mourning rituals, memorial actions, commemorative monuments and repeated retelling of accounts of suffering and survival have the effect of both destroying and generating heritage.

At the origins of the recent expansion in understanding of heritage was precisely a concern with its politics, its uses and abuses for instance Lowenthal, The most important aspect though is something that Hobsbawm called attention to when he warned against current trends in the mythologisation of history, especially by politicians:. To synthesize and conclude this section, Memory Studies and Heritage Studies share some common ground conceptually an in the material that they use however, they vary in that they each draw on a different, though occasionally overlapping, set of theoretical and methodological tools and in that they each orient their gaze differently in the pursuit of distinct questions.

While Memory Studies has thus far largely used critical theory and literary analysis, informed by culture studies and historiography, to explore how memory is narrated in a wide variety of forms and formats, heritage has used tools from archaeology, anthropology, and museum studies to explore the meanings of materiality, the values projected onto it, and how it is preserved and presented. One clear area of overlap thus far has been the process of memorialisation and commemoration where memory narratives are performed and materialized in various ways.

The following chapter is discussing museums and their role in preservation in 19th century Norway. By analysing the new museums shift the author is highlighting the emergence of a systematic approach based on the historic and cultural difference. The purpose of the newly established museums was to contributing to the construction of a new civil society and a modern public, while highlighting processes of continuities and change. Hence knowledge and erudition were not required for the new public instead museums become now projects of identity formation, national culture and active expressions of the modern historicity regime p.

Public monuments and memorials emerging in Norway are addressed in the 7th chapter. A particular attention is dedicated to those reflecting the cultural memory of the World War II, commemoration of sacrifices during the war, and the German occupation. The author considers these historic events as the most significant for the development of monuments in Norway. The author is highlighting the change of actors being subjected to the commemoration processes, and of the aesthetic choices. However the author is critically questioning the problematic role and the discourse that such developments are employing, in particular concerning the occupation and resistance movement.

The role of significance and meaning for the present become now central in the patrimonial practices. The author concludes that old objects have made subject of inquiry starting the 18th century as a reflection of the change of experiences of time and temporality. Also the author demonstrated how the various concepts were in strong connection with political legitimacy of power, yet cultural heritage brings another dimension which goes beyond the nation state, instead it becomes a global issue addressing common global political concerns and priorities.