Sunday, February 26, 2012

Meeting with Students: Heritage Issues

Dr. Laurajane SMITH
17th February, 2012

“Meeting all the students was the best part of this trip,” Smith commented after her first Hong Kong visit. In the afternoon on 17th February, Smith gathered around a table with Professor Tracey Lu and five other postgraduate students to discuss a number of heritage related topics when Smith had a chance to get to know and share her insights about students’ research topics.

The almost two hour long meeting was very enjoyable for everyone. Students were very enthusiastic in raising different questions as well as stimulating some controversial debates concerning many aspects of heritage studies. Some of the discussed issues include the mission of UNESCO in cultural heritage management, the relationship between memory and heritage, the functions of heritage, “authorized heritage discourse,” capitalism and heritage, the question of authenticity, and the role of community participation in heritage preservation.

Even though many topics have been covered during the meeting, the discussion followed mainly two directions: heritage and the past, and uses of heritage. When being questioned about what the past is, Dr. Smith highlights the domination of the West, mainly referring to Europe, in the construction of history. Many ICOMOS experts are Eurocentric. Therefore, many heritage sites of the world outside Europe are unrecognized and de-privileged. The example of the UNESCO world heritage list is further evidence. Some students said that there is no way out of the situation with the domination of Western power, but Smith saw the Intangible Cultural Heritage Convention signed by UNESCO in 2003 as a good signal for the underrepresented countries to show the world their heritage masterpieces. 

The debate over the uses of heritage is mainly a struggle between the state and the community. As Smith declares, “all heritage is dissonant.” All heritage involves different groups of stakeholders and conflicts are inevitable for any sort of heritage. She stresses that in the past, the community was the one that is ignored and marginalized. But there has been a dynamic change that the community gains more power in negotiating with the government and gets legitimized by the nation in many cases. 

The meeting did not only discuss the broad understanding and theories of heritage studies; Smith said that she also enjoyed learning about postgraduates’ research projects. Many of the students who attended the meeting are conducting heritage-related topics, such as the Blue House community museum in Hong Kong, the preservation of a Tang lineage heritage, and the Cantonese Opera music community in Guangzhou. Smith gave many valuable comments on students’ research and the students have learnt a lot from her. The atmosphere of the whole meeting was very relaxed and warm. Two hours seemed very short and the meeting ended with laughter.

Cheung, Ah Li
M.Phil Candidate

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