History - Memory - Heritage

History, memory, and heritage are mutually constitutive and connected with aspects of place and (local) identity. They combine to a dynamic socio-spatial process that includes aspects of (re)naming, such as the persistence and change of German place names in the American Midwest, and commodification, for instance by using a town’s German background for ethno-tourism. The concept of heritage as a cultural, sociopolitical, and economic resource encompasses multiple aspects of commemoration and is characterized by socio-cultural power and the selective nature of tradition to establish a meaningful sense of self and place through time.

The Heritage Process
This graph illustrates the heritage process

Design: Stephan Fuchs

The past in the form of history and memory represents a crucial element in the social construction of places providing the (in)tangible base of people’s life and identities in the present. In contemporary western societies, history as an authoritative but incomplete and secular (re)presentation, and memory, understood as a dynamic and affective bond of individuals and groups, mutually foster our identification with the past. They thus represent a powerful socio-cultural construct and dynamic mix of various interests and cultures. Individuals, groups, and societies hereby aggregate myths, narratives/stories, and cultural values into a system of inheritance and “selective tradition” such as an authentic German or Native-American legacy. Powerful images and certain meanings of the past especially surface in symbolic materializations and inscriptions such as the design, name, and location of public memorials, e.g., “Hermann the German” at New Ulm or the Fish Memorial at Eudora, that express and foster local heritage.

Further Reading

Fuchs, S. (2015): History and Heritage of two Midwestern Towns: A Toponymic-Material Approach. Journal of Historical Geography 48, 11-25

Graham, B.; Ashworth, G.J.; Turnbridge, J. (2000): A Geography of Heritage: Power, Culture, and Economy. London: Arnold.

Graham B. & Howard, P. (2008, Eds): The Ashgate Research Companion to Heritage and Identity. Aldershot: Ashgate.

Hoelscher, S. & Alderman, D.H. (2004): Memory and Place: Geographies of a Critical Relationship. Social & Cultural Geography 5(3), 347-355.

Nora, P. (1989): Between Memory and History: Les Lieux de Mémoire. Representations 26, 7-24.

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