Redefining cultural heritage


Part IV

“A people’s relationship to their heritage is the same as the relationship of a child to its mother.”

— John Henrik Clarke

As people get more and more attracted and attached to their heritage, it means that heritage is no longer a subject that is limited to scholars, professionals, and archaeologists. Heritage has skipped the grip of archaeologists and has gotten closer to the public at large.

 Also, heritage is no more a passive concept consuming valuable resources in society. Heritage is not mere bricks or stones or dead monuments; they are ambassadors of cultures and peace, and are active drivers of development.

 To know more about this and understand the new role of heritage in society, and understand why there is a need to ‘manage’ heritage, we are exploring Dr.Gamini Wijesuriya’s research. Our resource of today is the article titled, ‘Managing Cultural Heritage’, originally published as a chapter in Managing Cultural World Heritage, The Resource Manual published by UNESCO in 2013. The Sinhala adaption and an expanded version of this are available as Sanskruthika Urumayan Sanrakshanaya ha Kalamanakaraya; Nawa Prawanatha, published by the ICOMOS Sri Lanka.

We have been discussing this throughout our previous three segments and this is the continuation of our previous dialogues.

Heritage has a role to play in many aspects of society and the economy. Dr. Wijesuriya explains in his book that there are a large number of cultural heritages that still continue to thrive along with their original values while certain communities add novel values to heritage (these values could be tangible and intangible) and continue stronger bonds with heritage. Thus, in this way, heritage plays a vital role among communities. In this evolving process (of values, needs, and utility), heritage places have been modified and readjusted accordingly for novel purposes.

“At present, heritage is being contributed to sustainable development and social harmony, its roles have been expanded and as a result, the management of heritage is also being revisited and evolved,” he explains.

Thus, a question arises; are the usual conservation and protection practices of archaeological monuments and sites we have sufficient to manage heritage in this new and changing context?

As Dr. Wijesuriya explains in detail in his book, the heritage dialogue has greatly expanded and evolved; hence the challenges and threats they face have, in parallel, evolved and become complex. Adding to this, there is a need to manage and utilise heritage within the sustainable development paradigm.

Therefore, there is a crucial need to make decisions that can address these. This leads us to understand that sustainable heritage management approaches are in need.

What is a cultural heritage management system?

Management is a process. For the success of managing, there is a need for a management system. A heritage management system is a framework, often permanent, made up of three important elements; a legal framework that defines the reasons for its existence, an institution that gives form to its organisational needs and decision-making, and resources (human, financial and intellectual) which are used to make it operative. Together they facilitate the planning, implementation, and monitoring of actions, usually for a single cultural property or a group of properties or an area, to deliver results that guarantee the conservation and management of the properties and their associated values in a sustainable way. Achieving the specific outcomes sought for the property and its stakeholders is the ultimate result of the heritage management system. Reaching these objectives efficiently depends on heritage processes delivering a series of outputs, but also on making improvements to the management system in response to gaps being identified in it or in response to new needs.

 A heritage management system is a framework that is a long-term work plan that consists of nine components, and is a sustainable conservation and management mechanism that certifies to preserve and enhance the values of a heritage place or places and its vicinity and the surrounding environment heritage place, or places.

As Dr.Wijesuriya further explains, every country has its own management systems to protect its heritage in some form. These heritage management systems vary from country to country and are not necessarily the same. Some of these heritage management systems have not been changed for centuries, while some of them were subjected to drastic changes in recent times.

 Heritage management systems change and operate at the national level, while some at the provincial, regional, and even site level. In some countries, age-old traditional methods are used for heritage conservation practices.

According to the explanation of Dr. Wijesuriya, a heritage management system is needed to protect and preserve the values of a heritage place and especially, through a participatory process. Especially, if the place is a ‘World Heritage (WH) Property’, such heritage management systems should aim at protecting the WH property’s ‘Outstanding Universal Values’. Also, a heritage management system helps to develop a heritage site’s potential exceeding its capacity for the social, economic, and environmental aspects.

This can also restrict the misuse of heritage sites as their active participation in social, economic, and environmental development reaches a broader level. This situation places heritage in an important place in human development and at the same time, it strengthens the sustainability of the heritage site.

Approaches for heritage conservation and management

Heritage, (the term we use today), is a collection of tangible, intangible, and intellectual aspects that people value and cherish. The consideration for such things has a history that is old as the history of mankind. For this purpose, people throughout the world have developed a set of knowledge, practices, skills, and tools, and these are known as traditional heritage management systems. In modern heritage management systems that were disseminated from the West since the mid 19th century, these traditional management systems have been ignored.

“However, in recent times, there is a global trend of incorporating traditional management systems into the mainstream modern heritage management systems,” writes Dr. Wijesuriya.

In Sri Lanka too, according to inscriptions and ancient texts, we have had organied, systematic heritage management strategies.

Dr. Wijesuriya explains in detail that, however, the popular and current heritage management system today is one that was introduced and developed in the west during the mid-19th century under the umbrella of archaeology. ‘Archaeology’ however, was a subject that evolved separately from this process of studying and interpreting the material remains of the past in which protecting sites and monuments were not the main objectives. Hoverer, protection of sites operated with the amalgamation of the conservation discourse focusing on monuments and sites also came during the same time from the West. Both have evolved substantially over one and half centuries.

In particular, as a result of the WH discourse that emerged in the 1980s, the conservation discourse took a turn and evolved its focus from monuments and sites into a broader understanding of the concept of heritage, expanding its focus. Also, the focus has evolved from conservation to management in which conservation remains one component.

Although archaeology was a discipline that was developed in the west, it was introduced to their colonies in Asia by the British. The main focus was the study of the material remains of the past but gradually, embraced elements of management. In the USA, rescue archaeology emerged in the ‘60s was referred to as ‘Cultural Resource Management (CRM)’ whilst in Europe, it was referred to as ‘Archaeological Heritage Management’ in which conservationists and archaeology professionals began to work together.

Currently, the heritage discourse has evolved and broadened significantly. The multidisciplinary approach to protecting the heritage and this broad discourse has resulted in a wider professional discipline that we know today as ‘Heritage Management’ which also focuses on the wider context and natural landscape of the sites and monuments.

Three management approaches

Dr. Wijesuriya’s book identifies heritage management approaches that are globally and locally practiced.

The three heritage management approaches which can be identified are;

– Conventional or fabric-based approach

– Value-based approach

– People-centred approach

The value-based approach could be seen as prominent and more adaptable and currently in use. One of its extensions, the third, people-centred approach is the current growing trend in the world.

All these approaches are interconnected with each other and cannot be isolated. This is why in many management systems characteristics of all these three approaches are included.

Conventional or fabric-based approach

Dr. Wijesuriya explains that the conventional or fabric-based approach is based on the conservation movement that was incepted in the west. The main concept of this approach is to conserve the material culture of the past, for the future. Conservation experts would select, identify and define what to conserve. These experts would examine the condition of the monuments and sites and the material, and then decide and implement methods to expand the life expectancy of those decaying materials.

During the mid-20th century methods of this approach received a global acceptance through the activities of international charters and organisations such as the Venice charter and the ICOMOS.

The conventional or fabric-based approach is the most used approach worldwide, and each country has its own set of rules and regulations and policies.

This globally popular approach has advantages as well as disadvantages. The focus of this approach is to protect and preserve material remains. However, as certain complications and issues rises when following this approach in heritage management, as a solution, a more productive and less complex approach, especially by focusing on WH sites, a recent approach is being developed, the value-driven approach.

In our next segment, we shall discuss the value-based approach and the people-centred approach in detail. And we shall also understand how to manage an evolving historical landscape.

“A concerted effort to preserve our heritage is a vital link to our cultural, educational, aesthetic, inspirational, and economic legacies – all of the things that quite literally make us who we are.”

—Steve Berry

To be continued…

By Ama H. Vanniarachcy