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MUSEUM International N°227
Cultural Diversity and Heritage

MUSEUM-home227.jpgTable of Contents


History and Culture: regimes of history and memory

Museum and time-frame

Authenticity and Diversity

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In the introduction to a book which was published by UNESCO  in 1975, Paul Ricoeur reminded us that “before asking ourselves what we can do with the discovery of the diversity of cultures, it is important to understand what it signifies…”

This issue of MUSEUM International proposes to study the notion of heritage’s cultural diversity starting with the relation to time. If we seek to understand how cultural heritage, and the scientific institutions that organize it within society, account for diversity, we should remember, first of all, that the conceptualization of time plays a founding role within the systems of intelligibility of different cultures and their tangible  expressions. The diversity of heritage can thus be envisaged as the expression of the diversity of time.

We have made two observations starting from this reflection . The first concerns the overwhelming importance of typological and normative questions,  restoration practices and deontology in the debate on international heritage, to the detriment of more global historic and cultural concerns, which  facilitates the link  with the social purpose of heritage. Heritage is, however, an integral part of the project for the Future that world society has committed itself toachieving, by adopting, with the notion of world heritage, the principle of collective responsibility for its protection and transmission to future generations. Heritage is thus part of the historical debate in a wider sense. The second observation is that of the simple paradox of the defence  of cultural diversity, through a global approach to heritage that “internationalizes” local  contexts. Hence, in 1978, early reports of the World Heritage Committee pointed out concerning the perception of the term “universal” and its use as a criteria for the evaluation of cultural and natural property, that the dimension of time should be taken into consideration in the appreciation of values. 
These observations led us to question la diversité de fait of heritage, its translation into a world project for preservation and exhibition, and  more precisely, to question the foundations of a globalized regime of historical representation that this project  has contributed to building.

The different approaches to time collected in the first chapter have been written by specialists who are representative of their respective cultures. The historian, Romilla Thapar, raises the possibility of conceiving time on different levels in Indian culture and she highlights  within the great mythological cycles, intersections with linear time that allow perception of the past.  The  French historian, François Hartog, further introduces the idea of the co-existence of several regimes of history and memory and advances the hypothesis, at least in Europe, of a new regime of historicity that is focused on the present, as signalled by the current heritage craze. The archaeologist, Enrique Nalda, using the Mexican archaeological experience, brings  us back  to research and conservation practice as an instrument  for a historical conscience and for the contemporary uses that this conscience  motivates.

Indeed, if the Teotihuacan temples  in Mexico, hold  meaning for an American, a European, an African, an Asian or an Oceanian, it is  because each one finds, in relation to her/his own history and  memory, a  glimpse  of human history that the notion of international heritage  transmits. The international arena  mobilizes this symbolic dimension to create a common time , that of the action for preservation, without, however, excluding differentiated times: that of the Indian ancestry of Mexican cultures or that of the solar spirituality of New Age tribes that invade Teotihuacan for the summer solstice.

In the West,  sciences such as the history of art and archaeology  and the museum - emerged from a particular understanding of time to study, preserve and exhibit tangible culture and organize it within a heritage system,. The duplication of this model on a global scale encountered  its political and intellectual limits during the last decades of the twentieth century. It reached a turning point with the introduction of objects bearing  a relationship to time that was very different from a western conception . The reflection on  the notion of authenticity, which the Temple of Ise (Japan) exemplifies, is an indicator of this turning point. More recently, the notion of intangible heritage that favours social time over historic time has paved the way, within UNESCO,  for the possibility of thinking the diversity of relations to time through heritage expressions.

The second and third chapters, whose editorial direction was ensured respectively by Bernice Murphy and Amar Galla, address these two issues: the way museums have treated the relation to time and the confrontation of notions of authenticity and diversity with the practice of conservation.

For museums, the relation to time is always closely linked to the construction of a discourse of knowledge, its intellectual paradigms and the ability to justify and authenticate discourses which are part of its institutional functions. The contemporary reflection on the dimensions of time and its exhibition was sparked by a series of major  historic events such as de-colonization, the end of apartheid, and the political recognition of native populations within the United Nations. Their effects are being incorporated today into the action plans of cultural and heritage institutions. Most of the authors, in either the first or second chapters, actually recognize that  questions concern less the intellectual possibilities of capturing the diversity of histories than on making the form of representation of time coherent with its political and social expression, and more particularly, with the human rights that result.

The diversity of heritage is therefore not only a diversity of forms, intentions and uses; it is largely composed of the intersection of times from each culture. These intersections are essential points of our global humanity.

By Isabelle Vinson                                          Top

Time and Heritage François Hartog

This French historian introduces the idea of the co-existence of several regimes of history and memory. He suggests the possibility of a new regime of historicity that is focused on the present, as is indicated by the current heritage craze. Top

Cyclic and Linear Time in Early India Romila Thapar

Groups within a society visualize time in different ways often depending on how it is to be used. Distinctions can be made between cosmological time and historical time. The author suggests considering time as a metaphor of history. Top

Mexican archaeology and its inclusion in the debate on diversity and identity Enrique Nalda

The majority of Mexican archaeologists are engaged in relatively traditional form of research, involving a great deal of fieldwork. The author discusses whether they have recognized the opportunity to work with local communities and have assumed responsibility for contributing to the defence of cultural differences. Top

Museology Interrupted Michael M. Ames

Academic categories, though firmly institutionalized in modern society (in the West at least), are of course arbitrary divisions of a world more complexly interwoven. The article reviews a few of these categories and their interruptions while serving to highlight changes affecting museums. Top

Meeting the Challenges of Diversity in South African Museums Rooksana Omar

The author analyses two main types of museum in South Africa  in the late 20th and 21st centuries, representing different world-views of place, space and creative engagement with multiple audiences. Recognition that cultural diversity has different meanings for different communities has been important in this change. Top

Museums, Knowledges and Cultural Diversity in Venezuela Luis Adrián Galindo Castro

The article’s interest centres on exploring part of Venezuelan ethnic and cultural diversity through the knowledge structures and the representation thereof found in a particular segment of the audiences who visit museums. It deals with the tensions that arise in the field of representations between Eurocentric scientific knowledge and the other varied ways of giving meaning that are fundamental to the visitors. Top

Memory, History, and Museums Bernice Murphy

In answering the challenge of culturally diverse voices reclaiming interpretative rights to their heritage, museums have had to render more permeable the divisions between the world of museums and the world itself. Top

On Authenticity and Artificiality in Dutch Heritage Policies Fred F.J. Schoorl

The Netherlands has undergone a tremendous paradigm shift in which it freed itself from the illusion of a fixed past with sacrosanct originals to a more socially dynamic and integrated approach. This dynamic approach opened new windows of opportunity for new practices. Top

Redefining the Lebanese Past: Towards an Authentic Museum Representation as a Tool for Promoting Cultural Diversity and Reconciliation Lina Gebrail Tahan

The paper applies the concept of authenticity as defined by the Nara Conference to museums space in Lebanon. It argues that museums should become vehicles of peace and instruments of reconciliation. Top

Jewish and Muslim Heritage in Europe: The Role of Archaeology in Defending Cultural Diversity Neil Silberman

The articles discusses the public presentation of Muslim and Jewish heritage in Europe. What is the responsibility of archaeologists and cultural heritage managers in Europe for studying and presenting the material culture of groups that have always been depicted as outsiders? Top

Cultural Diversity in Ecomuseum Development in Vietnam Amareswar Galla

This article is a summary reflection with case studies that analyses the transformative patterns emerging in different world heritage areas through the practice of ecomuseology. The resulting framework is one that brings people and their environment together into a holistic conservation ethic in the local situation with the argument that the world heritage values beyond the tangible hierarchical authentication of power relations needs to be grounded in the intangible heritage of the primary stakeholder community. Top

Periodicity Quarterly
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