Books that I Really Need to Read Now

  1. Bandarin and Van Oers, 2012, The Historic Urban Landscape
  2. Harrison, 2010, Understanding the Politics of Heritage
  3. Blumenfield and Silverman, 2014, Cultural Heritage Politics in China
  4. Fairclough et al, 2008, The Heritage Reader

Counterheritage: Critical Perspectives on Heritage Conservation in Asia (Routledge Studies in Heritage)


  • Popular religion and antiquities collecting constitutes the principle themes of Counterheritage. 
  • Along with Smith (2004, 2006), I view heritage discourse as essentially hegemonic (Bryne 1991, 1996). There is, as it were, a compact among heritage practitioners not to notice that heritage discourse constructs its own subject, that it constructs heritage items out of old things. This ‘not noticing’ may on the face of it seem innocent, but its effects are corrosive.
  • [But this is not Smith says in her book. Yes she argues that heritage is a discourse and a construct, but heritage practitioners as participants are acutely aware of the situation too].
  • The coinage ‘counterheritage’ denotes not an attack on heritage practice but an insistence on transparency. The book argues for a more democratic heritage practice, one that respects the existence of other ways of relating to old things and one prepared to take a clear-eyed view of its own history. 
  • I have advocated a ‘countermapping’ approach which, identifying the map as a technology of power in colonial and post-colonial settings, works to inscribe on maps those elements of the culture and historic of marginalised groups that official heritage mapping practices have neglected to ‘notice’.
  • Heritage’s opposition to the accretion of new on old fabric… Popular religion, by contrast, favours the piling up of fabric upon fabric, renovation upon renovation, according to the logic that spirits and deities are honoured by the labour and funding expended in the renewal and elboration of the fabric of their temples and shrines. Whereas heritage conservation seeks to stabilise built fabric, popular religion cannot seem to abide stasis.
  • Heritage discourse shares with archaeology with modern, Cartesian view that matter is inert and passive (Olsen 2010). This licenses conservators to treat temples as purely human artefacts rather than as phenomena that arise from the bundled effects of divine and human agency. Heritage discourse is wedded to modernity. Ontologically, it proceeds from modern secular rationalism. 
  • Asian popular religion, on the other hand, frames the world in a way similar ot that pertaining during the European Renaissance when all phenomena are created by God.

Conservation in the Age of Consensus


  • [quite UK-specific]
  • There is therefore tremendous continuity in the basic principles that define the historic environment and the way government considers it should be managed, since the late 1960s/early 1970s. These derive from a justification for conservation based upon cultural values relating to architectural quality, historic importance and archaeological significance: to defining places as special. However, what has shifted fundamentally in official pronouncements during this period is the benefits that are argued to derive from this activity. An official document such as Preservation and Change (Ministry of Housing and Local Government 1967) set out brief statements of the value of conservation relating to beauty and visible history. In the 1970s, there was rhetorical emphasis on the social value of conservation, and in the 1980s stress on its economic potential. By the time of the government’s policy advice document PPG15, benefits were argued to include value in terms of national identity, quality of life, local distinctiveness, leisure and recreation and economic prosperity. Force for Our Future, a more recent government statement on the heritage was even more fulsome. It waxed lyrically and extensively about the role of conservation in establishing environmental quality and identity, local distinctiveness and continuity and as an active part of social processes, including community cohesion and social inclusion, and as a stimulus for creative new architecture. Furthermore, conservation was held to aid economic processes and economic regeneration in particular.
  • [but is it possible to separate the cultural values form the social/economic value of heritage?]
  • However, despite these sweeping statements, these are benefits that may (or may not) follow decisions to protect based upon essentially traditional criteria of specialness, and where guidance on conservation management decisions emphasises first and foremost the importance of sustaining cultural worth defined around issues of fabric and aesthetics.
  • [But this is simply not true. Cultural worth is defined through, firstly, the materiality of the heritage, then the community’s definitions of heritage, then intangible heritage, then more often a layering of values. The definitions of cultural value is not at all static.]

ICOMOS China Charter


In China one of the major issues for cultural heritage is how to deal with the relationship between socio-economic development and heritage conservation in order that both economic development and heritage conservation come out winners.

China is presently going through a phase of rapid development. Many places simply pursue the economic benefits of cultural heritage and ignore conservation of the property. In some areas people may even damage a site for shortterm economic gain. There are some places that realize the importance of heritage conservation after becoming more economically developed and invest considerable funds for conservation purposes. However, many undertake conservation without following appropriate theories and what may have started off as good intention ends up with negative results. In order to address these problems, more effort has been put into education so that the public in general and all stakeholders understand that  cultural heritage can play a positive role in society today. At the same time, law enforcement has been strengthened with priority placed on criminal investigation in cases of destruction of heritage sites. More importantly, research into the theory of conservation has been enhanced and appropriate concepts and theories have been used to guide us in finding solutions to questions that still remain. For example, as
a result of extensive theoretical research we have undertaken on appropriate use of heritage sites, we conclude that appropriate use is the best means of maintaining the vitality of a site in contemporary life as well as an important means of promoting the conservation of both its physical remains and values. This has already become a consensus among the professionals.

New issues emerge in the conservation of cultural heritage sites during times of rapid economic and social development. For these reasons it has been necessary to revise and supplement the original content of the China Principles so as to better address the main issues presently facing heritage conservation.

While emphasising historic, artistic and scientific values of heritage sites, the revised China Principles also recognizes cultural and social values based on theoretical research and practices in heritage conservation and use both in China and internationally. In addition to cultural and social values that are attributed to physical remains of many heritage sites, social value is demonstrated when a heritage site generates social benefits in aspects such as maintaining knowledge and spiritual continuity and enhancing social coherence, while cultural value is closely connected to cultural diversity and intangible heritage. The concepts of cultural and social values have further enriched the categories and meanings of China’s cultural heritage, and have played a positive role in constructing the value based theoretical system of Chinese heritage conservation.

Interpretation and presentation of heritage sites. The new version of the China Principles regards reconstruction of a destroyed historic building as a means of interpretation and presentation, which defines the nature and values of reconstructed buildings, thus settling a long disputed issue in the conservation of China’s historic structures.

The Past is a Foreign Country

Lowenthal, David, 1985


  • ‘None of the past definitively eludes our intense involvement. What we are now indifferent to once meant much or may later do so. That being so, I survey the past not only through lenses of memory and history but also through present-day perspectives – impassioned views of right and wrong, good and evil, ownership and alienation, identity and entitlement. We descry the past both for its sake and for our sake. Neither historian nor layman is ever aloof or detached from it. To know is to care, to care is to use, to use is to transform the past. Continually refashioned, the remade past continuously remoulds us.’ (Lowenthal, 2015)
  • ‘But I also consider invented heritage, no less than revealed history, both inescapable and indispensable. In fabricating the past ‘we tell ourselves who we are, where we came from, and to what we belong’.’ (Wood, G.S. quoted in Lowenthal, 2015).
  • That they did indeed do things differently is a quite recent perception. During most of history scholars scarcely differentiated past from present, referring even to remote events, if at all, as though just then occurring. Up to the nineteenth century the historical past was generally thought much like the present.
  • This outlook had two particular consequences. Past departures from present standards were praised as virtuous or condemned as depraved. And since past circumstances seemed comparable and hence relevant to present concerns, history served as a source of useful exemplars. A past explained in terms similar to the present also suited common views of why things happened as they had.
  • Only in the late eighteenth century did Europeans begin to conceive the past as different, not just another country but a congeries of foreign lands shaped by unique histories and personalities. This new past gradually ceased to provide comparative lessons. Instead it became cherished for validating and exalting the present. This aroused urges to preserve and restore monuments and memories as emblems of communal identity, continuity, and aspiration.
  • Growing global participation likewise broadened UNESCO’s World Heritage Site
    designations, while cosmopolitanism spurred revision of the canonical 1964 Venice Charter. That document had accorded prime value to western Europe’s surviving marble monuments and stone and brick buildings. Less durable wooden architecture predominant in Norway and Japan led conservators to focus on rebuilt form rather than original substance; I joined the 1990s Bergen workshop and the Nara conference that rewrote criteria of authenticity accordingly. A decade later other cultural differences in heritage fuelled a similar drive to celebrate and protect intangible heritage. Where structures and artefacts soon decayed or were customarily replaced by new creations, what truly mattered was the maintenance of traditional skills and crafts, arts, and genres de vie.
  • Various academic initiatives – at UNESCO, ICCROM, the Getty Conservation Institute, and elsewhere – foundered for want of institutional support, in a budgetary climate that confined past-related benefits to immediate economic payoffs.
  • I had already penned a book that took off from where The Past Is a Foreign Country ended.24 In it I distinguished the rising cult of heritage – partisan manipulations of the past – from historians’ impartial and consensual efforts to understand it. Appropriating the past for parti pris purposes, heritage purged its foreignness. The past’s growing domestication now threatened to subvert this book’s premise.
  • This book comprises four broad themes: wanting, disputing, knowing, and remaking the past. Part I reviews how the past enriches and impoverishes us, and why we embrace or shun it. Part II surveys competing viewpoints about things past and present, old and new. How we become aware of and learn about the past, and how we respond to such knowledge, occupies part III. Part IV considers how we save and change the received past; why its vestiges are salvaged or contrived; and how these alterations affect the past and ourselves. I show how the past, once virtually indistinguishable from the present, became ever more foreign, yet increasingly suffused by present hopes and habits.
  • Chapters 5 and 6 explore responses to ageing, decay, and marks of use and wear, as distinct from indicators of a historical past. Artefacts and institutions are commonly assigned lifespans analogous to our own, their ageing likened to human old age – a condition usually dismayingly repellent, as shown in Chapter 5. Decay suggests not only enfeeblement and incipient demise, but corruption and evil, caricatured in venomous portrayals of senile impotent geezers and withered witch-like crones. Although medical advance has multiplied the numbers and political clout of the elderly, age-averse stereotypes and nursing-home horrors show geriatric animus unabated. Bias against the fact and look of age extends from humans to other creatures, natural features, nations and states,
    and most artefacts. Almost all are beautiful and virtuous when young, ugly and depraved when aged and decrepit.
  • Ageism is far from universal, however. Chapter 6 details how marks of age are felt to enhance the beauty and value of certain artefacts – notably buildings and paintings. Long ago admired in China and Japan, wear and tear became widely prized in Europe in the sixteenth century, first for confirming and authenticating antiquity, then as attractive in their own right. Monumental ruin and decay first acclaimed as memento mori later betokened picturesque aesthetic. Age appreciation earlier progressed from long-buried Chinese bronzes and neo-Romantic fondness for fragmented sculpture to time-softened varnished paintings. Today it includes Cor-Ten structures and sculptures meant to rust, artworks admired as they evanesce, and corroding industrial and military ruins. But the public in general shuns the appearance of age. Teddy bears and retro pubs aside, most old things should look new-made. But impassioned differences between friends and foes of the patina of age surface in continuing controversy over cleaning buildings and restoring
  • Memory and history both derive and gain authority from physical remains (Chapter 9). Tangible survivals’ vivid immediacy helps assure us there really was a past. Physical remains have limited evidentiary worth: themselves mute, they require interpretation. Moreover, differing rates of erosion and demolition skew the material record. But however depleted by time and use, relics crucially bridge then and now. They confirm or deny what we think of the past, symbolize or memorialize communal links among generations, and provide archaeological metaphors that illumine history and memory. Locales and relics are objects of curiosity or beauty, historical evidence, and talismans of continuity reified by
    visceral contact with the past. However ill-informed our responses, they bespeak our concern with what has been. All knowledge of the past requires caring about it – feeling pleasure or disgust, awe or disdain, hope or despair about its legacies.
  • Surviving relics and recollections undergo ceaseless change, much of it of our ownn making. Even when we strive to save bygone things and thoughts intact, we cannot avoid altering them. Some changes are made unconsciously, others reluctantly, still others deliberately. Chapters 10 to 12 examine how and why we transform the past, and how such changes affect our environs and ourselves.
  • Simply to identify something as ‘past’ affects its ambience: recognition entails marking, protecting, and enhancing relics to make them more accessible, secure, or attractive. Preserving things (Chapter 10) inevitably transforms them, often in unintended and undesired ways. Appreciation if not survival may require moving relics from original locales. Enshrined in historical precincts yet immersed in the trappings of present-day management, vestiges of the past seem newly contrived. Present choices – whether to retain relics in situ or to shift them, to leave them fragmented or to make them whole again – vitally affect how the past is experienced.
  • Imitations, fakes, and new works inspired by earlier prototypes extend and alter auras of antiquity. The fame or scarcity of originals begets replicas that copy, emulate, or echo the old. Creations that hark back to or reflect some attribute of a bygone era have for two millennia dominated the cultural landscape of the Western world. Modern awareness of classical architecture derives from an amalgam of Hellenistic, Renaissance, Enlightenment, Romantic, and Victorian works, in which extant Greek and Roman remains are sparse. Frequently mistaken for originals, copies and replicas may be preferred to them for their completeness, their freshness, or their accordance with modern taste and expectations. Originals often seem less ‘authentic’ than current views of what things past should have been.

Dellios, A., 2015. Marginal or mainstream? Migrant centres as grassroots and official heritage’


Migrant heritage, as a grassroots practice seeking to commemorate pre- and post-war migrant communities and their contributions, emerged in Australia from the 1980s. Since that time, its appeal has continued to grow. It now receives, in some form, state sanction and is policed by the same state and national legislation as other cultural heritage, both tangible and intangible. This article seeks to complicate understandings of migrant heritage as a marginal practice, specifically by interrogating the use-value of particular narratives in the Australian context – that is, how do individuals, communities and other groups (the grassroots) draw on sanctioned and publicly circulating narratives to mark their site as heritage-worthy? Ideas of what constitutes official and unofficial heritage can be mutually inclusive – a dialectical process. I analyse this in relation to the commemoration of former post-war migrant reception centres in Australia.