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Sunday tourists at the Weathervane Pewter Shop, Rockport, Massachusetts, 1973.


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The University of Massachusetts Amherst Center for Heritage and Society was delighted to host an

INTERNATIONAL CONFERENCE
held May 4-7, 2011 at the UMass Amherst Campus

WHY DOES THE PAST MATTER?

Changing Visions, Media, and Rationales in the 21st Century

View photos from the event here.



Even as we preach the importance of the Past for education, contemporary identity, cultural creativity, and community development, we sometimes take its benefits for granted. We tell ourselves and our students that "those who do not know the past are doomed to repeat it"; that "the past is the foundation for modern identity"; that "our heritage is what we cherish and must pass on to future generations." We earnestly repeat these slogans, often without stopping to reflect seriously on whether they are really true—or even what they really mean.

As a result, our shared heritage of historic buildings and archaeological sites, regional foodways, traditions, and folklore are all too often seen by political leaders and budget cutters as valuable perhaps, but not among the most pressing public priorities. And in times of economic contraction—like the present recession—budgets for historic preservation, public heritage activities and historical commemoration are among the first to be cut.

The goal of this conference is to bring together a wide range of academics, public officials, heritage professionals, and community leaders to examine the practical value of the past—by means of a serious humanities and social science reexamination through four distinct thematic lenses. The aim of each is to assess the contemporary social impacts of the study and communication of heritage.


Identity

In what ways do the conservation and commemoration of heritage help foster a sense of modern identity among individuals and communities? Is heritage-inspired identity something imposed from the outside or does it nurture feelings that are already there? What is the demonstrable relationship between feelings of heritage identity and modern behavior? Is it more likely to produce more productive educational, social, and economic behavior? What indicators can be used to evaluate this?

Culture

To what extent do the present laws and policies of historic preservation reinforce or impose a "mainstream" or majority definition of heritage that excludes indigenous peoples, minorities, and immigrant groups? How can the commemoration of the past facilitate the coexistence of distinct cultures, rather than emphasize the historical and cultural boundaries between them? Can heritage initiatives actually help preserve the fabric of disintegrating cultures and communities?

Economics

Are the monuments and traditions of the past viable resources for local economic development? Are the benefits of heritage tourism equitable—or even thoroughly understood? Is tourism the only index of economic benefit to be derived from heritage initiatives? What are its hidden costs to a community and does the investment-return ratio for heritage development really make sense? Can alternative economic activities and benchmarks for the benefits of heritage within the local community be identified?

Ecology

How can the collective reflection on the past help maintain a balance between intergenerational rights and responsibilities?  How do we maintain a sustainable balance between appreciation of the past and awareness of the challenges of the future?  Is there a link between the guiding principles of the environmental movement and the prospects for a refashioned approach to Heritage?  How do we finally dismantle the artificial partition between “Nature” and “Culture”?  And what could be the social and environmental result?

Civil Society

Can inclusive heritage policies, encouraging all sectors, stakeholders, and communities to participate in heritage planning and commemoration, have a positive social effect? Does the "democratization" of heritage participation also encourage democratic public discourse? How can policies and projects designed to enhance community identity, sustainable cultures, and local economies serve as tools for the wider cause of social development and positive social change?


Drawing on the multidisciplinary expertise of humanities scholars, social scientists, urban planners, educators, heritage professionals, and political scientists, we will seek innovative answers to the foregoing questions—in order to create a new recognition of the practical uses and values of cultural heritage in 21st century society. The conference will highlight ongoing projects, local activities, and educational initiatives that emphasize and facilitate cultural coexistence, community engagement, and sustainable development.

The aim is to spread awareness of new tools and successful new approaches to heritage in various regions of the world as well as across the United States. To that end, selected papers will be published in a special issue of Heritage & Society, a peer-reviewed journal, whose editorship has been assumed by the UMass Amherst Center for Heritage and Society.

Special Honorees

A special feature of this year’s conference will be the recognition of the achievements of three outstanding heritage professionals for their contributions to a more inclusive, more sustainable public awareness of the significance of cultural heritage in contemporary society. In addition to presenting thematic plenary addresses, they will be honored at a special evening event:

Henry Cleere For his worldwide activities in support of, and furtherance of, the UNESCO World Heritage Convention and his mentoring of countless heritage professionals throughout the world

Barbara Little For her tireless professional activities and influential publications emphasizing the public value and importance of heritage in general and public archaeology in particular

David Lowenthal For his path-breaking theoretical and philosophical work, which has transformed the contemporary understanding of heritage and its enormous impact on contemporary society.

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More Information

Download the program

Register

View the preliminary schedule

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Center for Heritage and Society, 215 Machmer Hall, University of Massachusetts Amherst, MA 01003 phone: 413.545.2221  fax: 413.545.9494