Anchoring the past. A history of the practice and discourse of world heritage (1900-2010)

Begin - Einde 
2015 - 2019 (lopend)
Vakgroep Geschiedenis



The proposed research aims to historicize the concept of sites of memory as places where the memory of a specific historical event (or a set of events) is anchored. This concept was coined and popularized in historical research in the 1980s, and it is often understood as specific places that a society or cultural group deems as tangible remains of their collective history and memory. The modern practices of ‘containing’ history and memory in places and things, however, is rooted in a broader context and longer history of cultural heritage. By historicizing the concept of ‘heritage’ we can better understand what it actually is and, in turn, understand what sites or places of memory are. To historicize these concepts properly it is necessary to go back in time further than just the 1980s ‘memory boom’ or the efforts by UNESCO in the 1970s to institutionalize heritage. Even though sites of memory and heritage became increasingly popular and valued as important in the second half of the 20th century, their popularity did not materialize out of thin air. To trace their roots, I propose a ‘longue durée’ conceptual approach to the history of the concept. Finding out how and why people started deeming places and objects as ‘carriers of the past’ necessitates an understanding of the history of the very concept of cultural heritage; the maintaining of historical sites and things for present and future uses. I want to synthesize empirical research with the various theoretical works about heritage and memory with to write a systematic and comparative study rather than a collection of case studies or plain overview of theories.