1 Localising cultural heritage

Table of Contents

1 Localising cultural heritage
1.2 Teaching history backwards!
1.3 Social Hubs
2 CHLs for community action
3 Social progress
4 Culture and poverty
6 Internet references

Commenting on the fact that 'Community cohesion' had become a legal obligation on UK school governors, Richard Bird, former headteacher and legal consultant to the Association of School and College Leaders, asked in 2006 how teaching history could contribute to this objective. One answer lies in Cultural Heritage Locations (CHLs). Indeed, their community relationship has never been more important. It is now seen that a primary responsibility of any CHL is to work with different communities to foster community cohesion, and show people their histories, how cultures have changed and also to encourage an understanding of historical continuity, which emphasises social inclusion, community participation and regeneration as local phenomena.

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1.1 Cultural Heritage Locations

Cultural heritage includes
  • tangible culture (such as buildings, monuments, landscapes, books, works of art, and artifacts);
  • notional culture (such as folklore, traditions, language, and knowledge);
  • and natural heritage (including culturally significant landscapes, and biodiversity).

These three categories define the legacy of physical artifacts; cultural property and intangible attributes of a group or society that are inherited from past generations, maintained in the present, and bestowed for the benefit of future generations.

Cultural Heritage Locations authentically represent cultural heritage as stories, people and events of the past. They may be loosely classed as visitor centres, heritage centres and museums.

  • Centres may hold some artefacts but their prime function is to inform the public about a place and its background history.
  • Museums are institutions that collect, safeguard and make accessible artefacts and specimens, which they hold in trust for society.

However, centres and museums overlap in function and all share four prime objectives; to inspire, explore, learn, and enjoy. Furthermore, cultural heritage locations have a common purpose to display all that society has accomplished and put it at the disposal of its future members.This message is proclaimed as the accumulation of social values that have arisen through the interactions between ecology and culture in order to produce and maintain a better quality of life. This defines the universal law of social progress, namely that societies through their socio-political development move from a military organization to a base in industrial production and exhibit greater individualism, greater altruism, greater co-operation, and a more equal freedom for everyone. Actually, one does not have to dig deeply into the history of any community to reveal this truth.

1.2 Teaching history backwards!

CHLs are about activating bonding and bridging in the minds of their visitors. These are the two principle activities of community cohesion. The terms were popularised by Robert Putnam when he differentiated between social capital built through 'bonding' with people who are like you and 'bridging' with people who are not. Now that humanity has exceeded Earth's capacity to maintain its material resources, links between culture and ecology have become ever more important to community cohesion. In the context of CHLs, bridging and bonding to build social and material capital hinges on the display of objects and the demonstration of systems, which link political, economic, social and environmental issues of the past to those of the present and future.

The most obvious direction of bonding and bridging is from past to present. The educational limitation of this historical position was highlighted by Randal Smith when he wrote:

"I have this dream of one day being able to teach a series of courses on intellectual history in reverse chronological order. The usual practice with such courses is to begin with the ancient Greeks and Romans and move systematically through the Medievals, and from thence onward to the Renaissance, the Enlightenment, and finally Modernity. I, however, would like to start with contemporary problems and issues and move backwards, first into the Twentieth Century, and from there back to the Nineteenth, back to the Enlightenment, the Renaissance, the Medieval Period, and end finally with the Romans and Greeks". http://www.frontporchrepublic.com/2010/02/but-i-by-backward-steps-would-move/

In wanting to teach history backwards, Smith was making the point that by moving backward from the present toward the Greeks reveals how our current issues, questions and disputes have roots in issues that have been central to social progress for centuries. Such is the issue of localism. Simply put, localism is a philosophy that prioritises the local human habitat. It is argued that by localising democratic and economic relationships, social, economic and environmental problems will be more definable and solutions more easily found. Localism can be applied to any of a great number of philosophical presumptions that do not only aim to justify individual liberation from tradition, authority, religion, society, necessity, and so forth, but also to positively assert that the embeddedness of the self in a community is essential for a good life.

The conception of localism incorporates a spatial emphasis based on traditional historical notions of rural and urban settlement as well as a social conception in which ‘community’ is defined in terms of shared interests, tastes, and values. Today, neighbourhood plans are being advocated to bring communities and local government together in a new way, with the chance to pursue community cohesion and resilience at the very local level. This is why the history of social progress is an appropriate theme for CHLs to help engage and empower local people to see the need to live sustainably as an inevitable outcome of our past actions and to make appropriate community action plans to adapt to future change.

Here then is the route for CHLs to impart an understanding that a sense of place has always been important to counter the loss of social identity through the emergence of more fluid, individualised ways of life.

1.3 Social Hubs

To be embedded sustainably in the future people must identify and cohere with their local area to make neighbourhood plans for living sustainably. As to how this aim can be fulfilled, a starting point is the work of Georges Henri Riviere who wrote the following definition of the CHLs as Social Hubs in the journal 'Museum' (1985):

A Social Hub, which in French was translated as 'an ecomuseum', is.... 'an instrument conceived, fashioned, and operated jointly by a public authority, and its local population. The public authority's involvement is through the experts, facilities and resources it provides; the local population's involvement depends on its aspirations, knowledge and individual approach. It is a mirror in which the local population views itself to discover its own image, in which it seeks an explanation of the territory to which it is attached and of the populations which have preceded it, seen either as circumscribed in time or in terms of the continuity of generations. It is a mirror that the local population holds up to its visitors so that it may be better understood and so that its industry, customs and identity may command respect. It is an expression of man and nature. It situates man in his natural environment. It portrays nature in its wilderness, but also as adapted by traditional and industrial society in their own image. It is an expression of time, when the explanations it offers reach back before the appearance of man, ascend the course of the prehistoric and historical times in which he lived and arrive finally at man's present. It also offers a vista of the future, while having no pretensions to decision-making, its function being rather to inform and critically analyse. It is an interpretation of space - of special places in which to stop and stroll. It is a laboratory, insofar as it contributes to the study of the past and present of the population concerned and of its total environment and promotes the training of specialists in these fields, in co-operation with outside research bodies. It is a conservation centre, insofar as it helps to preserve and develop the natural and cultural heritage of the population. It is a school, insofar as it involves the population in its work of study and protection and encourages it to have a clearer grasp of its own future. This laboratory, conservation centre and school are based on common principles. The culture in the name of which they exist is to be understood in its broadest sense, and they are concerned to foster awareness of its dignity and artistic manifestations, from whatever stratum of the population they derive. Its diversity is limitless, so greatly do its elements vary from one specimen to another. This triad is not self-enclosed; it gives and it receives'.

A practical development of this idea is that a regional CHL should be the promoter of a whole network of Community Hubs where neighbourhoods can make virtual museums as mirrors of their own routes, with time lines, to future cohesion and resilience. However, rather than use the ambiguous name 'ecomuseum' for such a development, the knowledge framework is better described as an 'arena', which is more in keeping with its structure and purpose. In this particular interactive context the meaning of 'arena' is an activity that involves argument and discussion about the conservation of environmental heritage to give local people a sense of where they live being a special place.

2 CHLs for community action

As it was originally formulated, the CHL social hub was envisaged as a regional mechanism that would enable the conservation of cultural and natural heritage and the maintenance of local cultural identity, through the democratisation of the CHL and the empowerment of local people. The CHL was thought of as a thread of community cohesion, a mechanism of engagement and empowerment for people to create the pearls of a sustainable way of life. In this sense Internet networking allows a regional CHL to thread its surrounding communities as virtual museums, each based on collective action within networks of relationships, reciprocity, trust, and social norms. The concept of social capital is useful as a means of assessing the potential of a community to demonstrate resilience to disruptive hazards. The attraction of using a social capital approach is it measures the power of a community, and hence its potential resilience to cope with future disruptive events. For example, the elements of social capital (trust, norms and networks), economic capital (income, savings and investment) and human capital (education, health, skills, knowledge and information) can be used as indicators of community resilience.

All community action begins with an individual with an idea, a spark to do something new and help their community. To increase the amount of action taken in communities, the government, local or national, must consider the individual’s point of view and either provide support to them, or get out of their way if necessary. The individual who has the spark can come from any sector of society. The government should ensure that the debate and policies on community cohesion and resilience is framed in such a way as to include everyone as potential community activists. Being a community leader should be a mainstream activity, not something that takes place on the margins. That spark of leadership could come from the process of presenting a community as a virtual museum pointing to the future and help others seize the potential from everyone in society to help create cohesive and resilient communities.

3 Social progress

Social progress is the idea that societies can or do improve in terms of their social, political, and economic structures. The idea began to be practically realised in Europe during the 16th century when social commentators and philosophers began to realize that people themselves could change society and change their way of life. Instead of being made completely by gods, there was increasing room for the idea that people themselves made their own society - and because people practically made their own society, they could also fully comprehend it.

Modern pluralist societies have no common religion which can define "good" objectives for "social progress" so it must be measured in an "enabling" sense. That is to say a society progresses when it better enables more of its citizens to have the supportive relationships they need and to choose the kind of life that they personally have reason to value. However, if individuals are to choose freely what they want, they first need their basic human rights.

Such rights, and the obligations that go with them, are defined in a series of international covenants such as the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (1966). Human Rights covenants explicitly recognize the interdependence of social, economic, legal and political rights. In addition, The Earth Charter (2000) recognizes that the goals of ecological protection, the eradication of poverty, equitable economic development, respect for human rights, democracy, and peace are interdependent and indivisible. CHLs come to the fore in their ability to present these ideas of social progress as part of the modern mainstream of localism and so become the spur to neighbourhood action.

What is social progresss?
Development as a human right

4 Culture and poverty

In her 2014 report on Culture and Poverty to the Welsh Government , Baroness Kay Andrews said:

"This review is about preventing and mitigating poverty. Our culture and heritage make us the people we are. For children and young people, participation in the arts, visits to museums, galleries, libraries, theatres, and an understanding of history and heritage, are paramount for their development as thoughtful, spontaneous and successful people and active citizens. Although proving direct links between participation and impact can be difficult, there is case-study evidence, well documented, not least, by Professor Dai Smith in his report, that becoming engaged with the arts in particular can help develop personal and emotional understanding. It can also accelerate, and even provide the key breakthrough, into the acquisition of language, literacy, numeracy, and give young people lifelong interests and careers (MLA Renaissance North West, 2011). For young teenagers, who are most at risk of disaffection, the arts can keep engagement with learning itself alive over the most difficult transition years – whatever form participation in the arts takes, from photography and dance to graphic novel design and rap. Arts Council Wales’ arts participation programme, part of the wider Welsh Government Reach the Heights programme, delivered between 2007 and 2013, focussed on this rich potential (see case study at Chapter 4).

When it comes to the local heritage of Wales – an understanding of the social, religious, industrial, and economic history of towns, valleys, and villages – there is another positive benefit too, reflected in pride in place, past and future and active citizenship. There is work in progress in terms of reclaiming historic buildings and regenerating historic landscapes which could hold great promise as a whole for social as well as economic regeneration through culture and heritage (Chapter 6). There are many exemplary examples of partnership to draw on in this review. Community organisations are a significant existing resource and they can be powerful potential partners for cultural organisations, and indeed the pilots into the heart of community. They are rich in expertise and experience in enabling children and families to overcome some of the most basic disadvantages, and giving them new hope and new horizons as well as new skills for work (Chapter 4).


6 Internet references