Looking for Heritage

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A view of from the Endiburgh Castle, part of the “Old and New Towns of Edinburgh,” one of World Heritage Sites of the United Kingdom (Photo: SAPT, 2012)

As an academic, I find the concept of heritage problematic. Those who are conceived as the authority of heritage (normally, the educated, the State) constantly use history of the glorious past as the primary defining framework for etching something as heritage. This identification equates heritage as something significantly valuable similar to how precious stones such as gold and diamonds are esteemed. While the value of precious stones is often a personal encounter, the value of heritage is commonly a community endeavor.

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In 2013, I visited Parque Guëll / Park Guell in Barcelona, this park is one of the inscribed monuments of the “Works of Antoni Gaudi” (Photo: SAPT)

While “glorious past” is imbricated in heritage, it is also understood as inheritance. Heritage studies scholar Rodney Harrison defines heritage as “property that is or may be inherited” or something that can be “passed from one generation to the next, something that can be conserved or inherited, and something that has historic or cultural value.” But generally,  heritage is best understood as an object – a property that is owned and passed on to someone else. For the UNESCO, heritage is synonymous with patrimony.

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Kinkakuji or the Golden Pavilion, one of the monuments inscribed as World Heritage Site collectively known as the “Historic Monuments of Kyoto” in the archipelago of Japan; The year of inscription: 1994 (Photo: SAPT, 2014)

UNESCO identifies two major types of patrimony: tangible and intangible. While my area is leaning towards the intangible (i.e. performing arts), I turn my attention to the tangible, which is also subdivided into two classifications: cultural and the natural. A confession: Included in the list of tangible cultural heritage are historic cities, cultural landscapes, natural sacred sites, underwater cultural heritage, and museums to name a few. These are the historical monuments, parks, old buildings, archaeological sites, ruins, parks, gardens, farmlands, shipwrecks, mountains, volcanoes, natural landscapes that are cited as national treasures and, in many occasions, inscribed as World Heritage Sites (WHS) for their outstanding universal values to humanity creating a tourism industry on nation where these sites are located.

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The Majestic “Angkor” of Cambodia, inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1992 (Photo: SAPT, 2010)

My reservation with the concept: heritage is a contested sociocultural category. The Anthropological Association of the Philippines asserts heritage to be dependent on the “ways by which positioned actors and institutions would mobilize its meaningful values in such realms as identity politics, commodification of culture as resource, and biocultural diversity advocacies.” Coming from urban studies, Prassad Shetty notes heritage as “ambiguously articulated through the historiography of selective glorification.” For him, only a selective few canonize something as heritage, which eventually becomes the official heritage without even consulting all involved stakeholders.

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The “Historic Centre of Brugge,” a UNESCO World Heritage Site in Belgium, inscribed in 2000 (Photo: SAPT, 2016)

Laurajane Smith (I am her fan!!!!!) suggests that heritage is an ideological construct that helps “regulate, maintain, or challenge social relations.” For Smith, not all stakeholders of the social sphere share the same understanding of the concept. Smith adds that often this disparity creates social dilemmas and tensions. Heritage policies often beg the question who is heritage for. There are instances where champions of heritage instrumentalize it to refer to a social and cultural perspective to the exclusion of dissonant points of view.

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Inscribed in 2007, this is “Gamzigrad-Romuliana, Palace of Galerius,” a UNESCO World Heritage Site in East Serbia. (Photo: SAPT, 2018)

While I find the concept of heritage is problematic, I am ironically obsessed with paying homage to these heritage sites. However, I am no fan of natural heritage.

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In Sweden’s capital city Stockholm alone, there are three UNESCO World Heritage Sites. One of them is “Skogskyrkogården” (inscribed in 1994), located south of central Stockholm, is inscribed because of its being an outstanding early 20th century cemetery. (Photo: SAPT, 2016)

But I digress. Included in the list of tangible cultural heritage are historic cities, cultural landscapes, natural sacred sites, underwater cultural heritage, and museums to name a few. These are the historical monuments, parks, old buildings, archaeological sites, ruins, parks, gardens, farmlands, shipwrecks, mountains, volcanoes, natural landscapes that are cited as national treasures and, in many occasions, inscribed as World Heritage Sites (WHS) for their outstanding universal values to humanity creating a tourism industry on nation where these sites are located.

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Brazil’s capital “Brasilia” is a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1987. This monument is Brasília Cathedral designed by Oscar Niemeyer (Photo: SAPT, 2017)

This post is dedicated to some of the WHS’s I visited in the last few years. I think, I will also be writing about these sites in my future posts.

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Paoay Church, one of the four “Baroque Churches in the Philippines” inscribed as UNESCO World Heritage Sites (Photo: SAPT, 2015)

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