Context, Culture, and the Authenticity Fetish

March 4, 2013 Global Heritage, History, Interpretation Comments (3) 129

Pheakday Ngounphon at Banteay Chhmar

One of the themes that I have repeated in this blog over the years: that preservation is a process, not a set of rules, is being born out daily in my work as Executive Director of the Global Heritage Fund (join here!). That is because we deal with a great variety of cultures and contexts across the world, from Asia to the Middle East, from South to North America, and from remote archaeological sites to vernacular villages and cities.

The process of historic preservation/heritage conservation is actually quite consistent: Identification, Evaluation, Registration, and Treatment. My old friend Ted Hild of the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency used to label it as “hunt ’em, catch ’em, cook ’em and eat ’em,” which is a fun analogy. Fun aside, the point is the process, and what the Burra Charter famously recognized back in 1999 was that while the process can be consistent across continents and cultures, there are really not universal standards for identification, evaluation, registration, and treatment. What a particular culture in a particular context IDENTIFIES as significant may differ – in terms of tangible versus intangible heritage; in terms of social history versus design history: in terms of the stories it deems indelible to the transmission of cultural heritage. The Burra Charter and subsequent protocols have urged us to heed this cultural input at each step of the process: WHAT do you think is important; HOW do you evaluate that importance; WHAT do you do legally or politically to enforce this; and HOW do you treat the resource you have identified, evaluated and registered? Continue Reading

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Modern and Ancient, my Whirled in Views

February 7, 2013 Chicago Buildings, China Preservation, Economics, Global Heritage Comments (5) 144

As the Executive Director of the Global Heritage Fund I deal with many ancient sites, including one of the most ancient, the religious complex being excavated by the Deutsche Archaeologische Institut at Göbekli Tepe, Turkey, where stone columns carved with animals form intriguing ringed structures that predate Stonehenge by 6,000 years. This is not only ancient, it is more ancient than almost any other site people are preserving. I am honored to be involved in this.

But as a Trustee of the National Trust for Historic Preservation and Board Member of Landmarks Illinois, I am dealing with lots of modern artifacts, including the justifiably famous Prentice Women’s Hospital, a 1975 landmark that marked the first deployment of computer-aided design and crafted concrete cantilevers known for their beauty as well as their ability to hold a 45-foot projection. Bertrand Goldberg – whom I met – designed the building in his famous ‘flower petal’ mode and I have blogged about it many times before. Here. And here. And here. And way back here over two years ago. Which just goes to show you that preservationists are not always slow on the draw. We had the drop on the bumbling owner (Northwestern University) by, like EIGHT YEARS. Their clout might well prevail, but they definitely showed up late and unprepared.

The denouement, a court-ordered second hearing on landmark status and denial, will be held today, February 7, 2013. Continue Reading

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Reuse and the Cultural Landscape

January 19, 2013 China Preservation, Global Heritage, Interpretation, Sustainability Comments (5) 155

It has been almost three weeks since I blogged and since I officially became Executive Director of the Global Heritage Fund (GHF), which is NOT an excuse not to blog. But I have been busy. We are developing our slate of projects for the year.

The mission of the Global Heritage Fund is to help protect heritage sites in the developing world through community development. This was the vision of Founder Jeff Morgan, who also crafted our Preservation by Design® strategy: equal parts Conservation, Planning, Community Development and Partnerships. He understood “preservation” as a community development strategy, and that attracted me to GHF. Continue Reading

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Heritage Communities: Guizhou, China

December 7, 2012 China Preservation, Global Heritage, Sustainability Comments (2) 131

 

In small straw huts set along the river, men reach into cold pulpy water with large mesh racks, deftly picking up a thin sheet of pulp which they transfer to a stack of sheets.  They are making paper in Heshui village, as they have for over 600 years. Continue Reading

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Trip to Banteay Chhmar, Cambodia

November 18, 2012 Global Heritage, History, Interpretation Comments (2) 129

I am on the Global Heritage Fund UK trip to Cambodia this week to see our project at Banteay Chhmar. Led by our Senior Director John Sanday, OBE. We began the trip with a visit to Angkor, including the famous Angkor Wat. An image of Angkor Wat is the center of the Cambodian flag, and as our compatriot John Pike noted, Cambodia is the only country in the world with an image of a heritage site on its flag. You could argue that the very existence of the country is based on heritage – the Khmer empires of the 9th through 14th centuries were centered at Angkor, and the sheer quantity of intricately planned and carved stone monuments here made it impossible to overlook despite its weakened state. Continue Reading

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Conserving Culture and Conserving Nature: Assets and Liabilities

October 27, 2012 Economics, Global Heritage, History Comments (20) 168

The World Heritage Convention is nearing the end of its 40th anniversary, and since what we do here at Global Heritage Fund is help preserve World Heritage Sites in developing countries, I have been fielding a lot of inquiries on the status of the World Heritage Convention. As in so many aspects of heritage conservation/historic preservation, I have seen evolution in the field. In terms of sites inscribed on the World Heritage list, I would venture that we have seen some of the same shifts we have seen in “historic preservation” as a whole. Continue Reading

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The Global Heritage Value

October 10, 2012 Global Heritage, Sustainability, Technology Comments (0) 98

I have often blogged before about the value a heritage conservation organization brings to a heritage site and its local community. And about the seeming conundrum of having state, national and international organizations working on this when “All Preservation is Local.”

In my international work over the last several years, and especially since coming to the Global Heritage Fund full-time, the value of being an “outsider” has become more apparent. It is more than the items I listed a year and a half ago:

  • Resources
  • Capacity Building
  • Partnerships
  • Credibility and Context

These are all true. We focus on sites of outstanding universal value, lending credibility to local preservation efforts. We partner with UNESCO and the World Bank and USAID and national and local cultural, archaeological and historical agencies, and many universities. We train locals in conservation and crafts and business development, and of course we bring financial and technical resources not available locally. Continue Reading

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Marcahuamachuco

October 3, 2012 Global Heritage, Interpretation Comments (0) 86

“Despite increasing diversity among archaeologists and anthropologists, there is a strong tendency for researchers to have been socialized within a Western social tradition that places a high value on individualism, regards manual labor as unrewarding, and assumes the inevitability of hierarchy in any endeavor involving more than a few people.” Continue Reading

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Stone Circles

August 16, 2012 Global Heritage, History Comments (2) 135

As you walk through the Redwood forests of Northern California, you see the evidence of a natural process found in many forests: a tree dies, and around its stump shoots rise, and eventually become trees themselves, arranged in a circle around the “ghost” of the original tree.

The tree-worshipping cultural groups of Northern Europe prized these tree circles, and indeed wooden circles and stone circles are associated with the Celts, who through prehistory migrated right across Europe from its southeastern to northwestern corners, leaving wooden and stone circles in their wake. Continue Reading

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