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The definition of heritage in heritage performance study

The definition of heritage in heritage performance study
Thank you very much for the invitation to come and speak here. I greatly have enjoyed my time in China this time. And Rouran has made sure that I have got to see some of the significant heritage sites in this area of China. And it has been an absolute delight. And I’m very pleased to be here to talk to you about my research in heritage tourism that I’m doing. And I should say I am obviously Australian. And Australians have a particular characteristic that when we get excited, and I’m always very excited about my research, we start to talk very fast. So if I start to do that, please say ‘‘wei’’, as we said in Australia. It’s an Australian’s annoy. Slow down.
So don’t think you’re being rude if you tell me to slow down. So what I wanna talk to you about today is research that I have been doing for more than ten years now. It become quite an epic issue in my life. And I’m getting close to finishing this research. There’s a book coming out. I hope fingers cross next year on this research. It has been meant to have been coming out in the last couple of years, but being a head, as your dean will tell you, being head of a large academic cohort is not easy, and it is very time consuming. And it taken me away from our research. So what is this research that I’m talking about?
Very simply. I’m asking the question why do people visit museums and heritage sites? What does those visit both individually and collectively do? What do they do? What do they do in society? What are the consequences? What is the cultural work that visiting does? What is the social work in society? What is political work that visiting certain heritage sites as tourists do? Now in anglophone contexts in the west, there are a number of dominant assumptions about why people visit and what this visiting does. The two assumptions are that people go to visit heritage sites for education, for their education, or they go to have a nice day out, simply to do leisure, to recreate.
Now both of those things may be true. But in anglophone context, we tend to stop there. We tend to assume that’s all evidence about and there are no further consequences. So I’m looking at the social consequences of that visiting. Also the assumptions that visitors come to simply have a nice day out or to be educated that tends to create a perception the tourists are passive. They are, if you like, empty vessels to be filled up with the educational knowledge of the museum or the heritage interpretive staff, whatever it may be. So I’ve been concerned to understand what meaning does visiting heritage sites have being a tourist in people’s lives? What social and political meaning does it have?
This is work that I’ve been undertaking in England, Australia and the United States. Of course, Rouran has been doing similar work here in China. But before I go into talking about the results of what exactly I’ve been doing, the slide, some of the heritage sites and museums that I’ve been researching at the last ten years. I need to say some of the theoretical concepts that I’m using in my work. The definition of heritage that tends to be utilized in anglophone context and indeed tends to be utilized in much international debate, identifies heritage as sites and places. Heritage is a such things as the places I were in yesterday, the Great Wall, the Summer Palace, the Forbidden City.
It is places and sites, and usually grant monumental places and sites or artifacts that we collect and put into museums. There’s been some growing recognition in anglophone west context of the idea that heritage can also be intangible. It can be such things as music and dance and storytelling. But the dominant assumption in international debate, it tends to energize the ways in which national policy in anglophone west context. Opposite is what I have called the authorized heritage discourse. This authorized heritage discourse says that heritage is things, physical things. It is things that are good about the past, or the things that are great and good and speak to national identity. And it’s things that have inherent value.
We assume that the value of these things are simply in the thing itself. And we also assume that within this discourse that heritage experts are the best people to explain the value of the past or the meaning of the past to the public or to tourists in this case. So, it is something idea that tourism is all about or should be about educating tourists about what past means for the present. Now in my work, in the other work that I’ve done, I’ve challenged the idea of the authorized heritage discourse. I think that this discourse is too limiting. It is too Eurocentric, it is too much based on European and it leads European understanding of heritage.
And it constrains the way in which other understandings, including understandings about intangible heritage, are given legitimacy and are understood on the international scale. Now, that doesn’t mean, of course, that the authorized heritage discourse isn’t challenged, and it is very much actively challenged, and has been challenged by the convention for intangible heritage. But nonetheless, it is still very much influential, particularly in western contexts. Now in opposition to the authorized heritage discourse, I take the position that heritage is something that is alive. It is a moment or process of meaning making.
It is a process in which we take to interpret the past, take the meanings of memories, of commemoration, of events in the past, and bring them to the present to help us make sense of the present. And we do that in context of particular needs. Whether that need is to construct for ourselves a sense of identity or to make links with people in the present or people in the past. Whatever those needs or aspirations are, it is something that is done.
So sites like the Great Wall, or the Forbidden City or sites like Uluru in my own country or Presidential Houses in the United States, whatever those sites may be, I would argue, they are not legacy of themselves, heritages, but they are the cultural tools that we use for heritage making. These are the cultural tools that we used to remember collectively or individually or familiarly about the past and to give the past meaning. So that could be brought to the present to help us make sense of the present, to help us construct ways of understanding ourselves and ways of understanding other people.
The heritage is a practice or a performance, which frames how individuals, families, communities, nations and so on, engaged and negotiated not only the meaning of the past, but the ways in which the past is used to legitimate or to remake contemporary cultural values and narratives. So heritage is a performance of meaning. And of course, these performances occurred in the ways we choose sites to be listed on world heritage list or listed on national heritage lists. They could occur in the way we collect artifacts from museums, they could occur in the way that we interpret those artifacts in museums or the way we interpret heritage sites. This is a process of meaning making. We are making meaning.
The meaning of these things isn’t inherented in them. The meaning is created through the way that we use these things. But we can also do this meaning making as we sit across the table, for instance, at dinner with our grandparents and talk about family stories, or the way we engage with our children about the meaningful stories and construct our own familiar heritage. We do this at an individual family level. We can do this community level through the use of heritage site. We do this at a national level, do the ways in which we manage or conserved, or choose not to manage and conserve heritage. These things are that we make for heritage.
And the definition of heritage that I’m using also rejects the boundary that is often drawn between museums and heritage sites. For me, they’re all cultural tools that we used to remember, to make and remake and continually remake heritage. So this is the definition of heritage that I’m using.

Welcome to the sixth week of Culture and Tourism. In last week, we have learned interesting case of sustainable indigenous tourism and different sorts of aboriginal cultural activities. Traditionally, the visit experience to the museum and heritage site has been defined and understood as primarily a learning or educational experience. In this week, Professor Laurajane Smith will lead you to have a different understanding of heritage performances based on over 4,500 visitors’ interviews from different museums and heritage sites in Australia, England and the United States. Let’s start our exploration together.

In the first video of this week, you will know what heritage is and why people go to heritage sites.

Heritage can be a cultural tool used to remember and remake the history and the past. In your opinion, what meaning does visiting heritage sites have in people’s lives? Or what social and political meaning does it have?

Any comments will be helpful to us. Please feel free to leave a comment regarding this section.

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International Culture and Tourism Management: Cultural Heritage and Tourism Management

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