What heritage is and why it matters.

‘History is what happened, Heritage is what it means to us, how we remember, the mark it made, the stories we tell.’

‘Heritage happens now, History happened in the past. Which is why heritage is so political.’

The emigration from Ireland to America is an historical fact.  The way contemporary sculpture represents it is part of our heritage

The emigration from Ireland to America is an historical fact. The way contemporary sculpture represents it is part of our heritage

The first of the quotes above is my answer to the question ‘what is ‘heritage?’, the second is from one of Scotland’s best interpreters, who I would love to acknowledge by name, but we were drinking and chatting and I think he was off record.

So what is heritage? Great question. My thanks to Nicole Deufel for raising it in yet another of those fascinating conversations that we heritage interpreters have.  Nicole’s blog is a great place to go for thoughtful, in-depth consideration of this and other topics.

We all are saying essentially the same thing and it’s an interesting and, I think, liberating thing.  That ‘heritage’ is not fixed; it is living, changing, twisting, and individual.

My heritage tells you, and me, something of who I am. If you show me yours and I show you mine we may learn something about a bigger human picture.

Heritage is a story, a vision, a construct, a part of who we are, our mooring rope, our shackle and chains, our springboard, our foundation.

Heritage can be manoeuvred and manipulated, deliberately or unconsciously, to suit our, and other’s, ends. Heritage can be accepted or rejected.

Heritage is exciting stuff to work with. It is creative and calls on creatives to do it justice. It is personal: exploring it requires people who can question, listen and converse, not just tell.

Heritage is in part fiction; it comes from where our hopes and fears, doubts and dreams, values and visions meet what we know of history. It is a shoreline, an interface, a story.

Heritage interpretation therefore needs interpretelling (see here and here).

All pictures thanks to Peter Phillipson. For more go to Peter’s Flickr stream. Follow Peter @ TellTalePeter on Twitter.


About susancrosstelltale

Great visits to heritage and natural sites do not happen by accident. This blog is about the work that make special sites great places to visit. I hope it will be useful to visitors and host alike. Find out more at me and my blog.
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6 Responses to What heritage is and why it matters.

  1. Regan says:

    Hi Susan,

    Nice pithy summary – I may need to borrow it sometime 🙂

    As a lover of language I like to refer to etymology to see how it sheds light on everyday usage. According to the venerable Wikipedia, the word “history” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History#Etymology has its roots in bearing witness and imparting these incidents. Heritage, sharing common roots with inheritance, implies something much more personal or particular to a certain group of people at a certain point of time.

    • Hi Regan
      Borrow away. I am flattered you want to – just keep my name attached (I do know you would – it’s some of the others who are less courteous that need reminding.)

      I too am a word lover and coincidentally have been delving into etymology over the weekend for two posts I have been drafting on writing about ‘ecology’ and ‘biodiversity’. I think the deep roots of words are often very resonant for writers (and probably other interpreters) and helpful in casting light on what we are trying to say.

      I am kicking myself for not looking into the etymology of ‘history’ and heritage’. Thankfully you did. I was very struck by the ‘bearing witness’ aspect of history and, therefore, of historians.. That also seems very important in interpretation and something I have been thinking about a lot recently in my work for the National Memorial Arboretum.

      So it seems, that once again we are in both/and land. Interpreters deal with both heritage and history. I am sure we do it better when we have a surer grasp and deeper understanding of these two powerful and potent entities and of the difference between them. Lots of exciting stuff to think about here.

      Thank you Regan, thoughtful and stimulating as ever.

      (For those who don’t know her, Regan is a great Australian blogger on things museum, interpretation, evaluation and more. Find her blog at http://reganforrest.com. Recommended)

  2. Regan says:

    Thanks for the recommendation Susan!

    If you like etymology you’ll LOVE my next blog post. I’ll make it live in the next few days (spacing out the posts…)

    • Sounds brilliant, I’m looking forward to it! Mine will be out in the two weeks after that. It sounds like we should declare June Etymology Month.

      I have just looked up the etymology of ‘etymology’ (thereby gaining more points towards my Word Nerd (Advanced) badge). Wikipedia helpfully tell us that ‘Etymology is the study of the history of words, their origins, and how their form and meaning have changed over time.’. No big surprises there. They do helpfully add that we shouldn’t confuse it with entomology which seems like good advice.

  3. Pingback: Back in Kilkenny: Hurling and community heritage mapping - TellTale

  4. Pingback: Quotable quotes on the importance of story - TellTale

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