The History of Heritage and the Heritage of History

This is a seminar course designed for design students who are interested in understanding the cultural background behind heritage theories, conservation practices, and related socio-cultural issues in a variety of geographical contexts. The course will be divided into three parts: the history of heritage conservation, the politics of heritage conservation, and how and for whom heritage conservation practices shape our world spatially and socially. It encourages students to question the essentialist understandings of our inherited space and to read the characters of space from a dynamic perspective. Students will learn to critically analyze the cultural meaning and identity of a place by identifying cultural groups and their social/cultural frames and to understand how ideas about the past are used and misused to create the present.   
Heritage has many identities. It began as a testament to authoritative history buttressing the legitimacy of the nation-state from the 19th century. But more recently it has become as aspect of popular culture promoting a neo-liberal commodity society. Heritage occupies a contested position in the built environment both spatially and socially because of its capriciousness in constructing historical and cultural meanings and social identities. “The past is everywhere,” says David Lowenthal, and as a consequence, everything humans inhabit is potentially susceptible to becoming heritage. Against this backdrop, heritage conservation starts to break away from its original meaning of inherited familial property to a much broader definition of sustaining national historical and cultural tradition, in the name of solidarity or national revival or simply community control of its “turf” against outsiders or change. However, “heritage” is a construct, often widely divergent from actual history, thus is never inherently beneficial or neutral. It carries different and sometimes incompatible meanings embedded in historical interpretations, identity politics, and social conflicts among various interest groups. These meanings are selectively constructed by dominant groups and reinforced by power.  
In this class, student participation will include a weekly one-page synthesis on required readings, presentations on case studies, and a final project. The class will meet weekly for the instructor’s lecture and discussions on readings and case studies for up to 3 hours. This seminar is open to all GSD students, and there is no prerequisite for this seminar.