Anne Eriksen. From Antiquities to Heritage: Transformations of Cultural Memory. New York: Berghahn Books, 2014. VII, 179 S. (paper), ISBN 978-1-78238-299-7; ISBN 978-1-306-87781-7.
Reviewed by Laura Demeter
Published on H-Soz-u-Kult (September, 2016)
A. Eriksen: From Antiquities to Heritage
Anne Eriksen in her book “From Antiquities to Heritage. Transformation of Cultural Memory” is providing an insightful analysis of the emergence and evolution of ‘antiquarianism’, ‘monuments preservation’ and ‘cultural heritage’ in the Nordic culture, as an expression of the various ways of engaging with the past and its material legacy. Following she emphasises differences between these concepts starting from the 18th century, and processes of change that generated a different understanding of the relation with the past. As the author argues it is relevant to “undo the equation between the contemporary interest in heritage and the nineteenth-century interest in historic monuments and see them as cultural expressions of more specific concerns, relevant to their respective periods” (p. 9).
Hence Eriksen is questioning how heritage came in general use encompassing all prior concepts in the field of material preservation, such as “antiquities, vestiges and relics, historical monuments, historical or archaeological artefacts” (p. 2). Therefore, the aim of the author is to better understand to what extent the increasing interest in different categories of objects is representative for changing ideas about why and in what ways the past is important to the present? Moreover the author is questioning if the shift of terminology reflects also a change or perspective on the relation with the past. Hence a detailed historical analysis is delivered by the author when questioning if the word ‘antiquities’ really “inscribe cherished objects into the same fields of values and evaluation as does heritage?” (p. 3).
Starting with an introductory chapter to heritage studies and memory studies, the author is bringing in discussion theoretical contributions of David Lowenthal on history, heritage and memory; of Aleida Assman on ‘cultural memory’; of Pierre Nora on ‘lieux de memoire’, and on ‘collective memory’ of Maurice Halbwachs. Such an overview is aimed at emphasising various directions of research that have been employed in the contemporary research that studied the past and its relation to the present and future. Finally, the author adopts the ‘regimes of historicity’ introduced by French historian Francois Hartog as analytical framework for the book, and successfully delivers an alternative perspective on the relation with the past (p. 2). By quoting Hartog the author is questioning to what extent “heritage and the present interest in memory represent a historically new way of relating to the past, a new regime of historicity?” (Hartog, in: Eriksen, p. 23). The author is therefore focusing on the experience of ‘temporality’ and on the cultural expressions of this experience in different historic epochs starting form the 18th century. “The way artefacts from the past are spoken about, assessed and valued, the reasons that are expressed for preserving them, all reflect modes of relating to the past and ways of experiencing temporality.” (p. 26)
In her third chapter the author is detailing the contribution of the main scholar Gerhard Schøning to antiquarianism as a knowledge production research field in the Nordic culture in the 18th century. His major contribution is attributed to considering history and antiquarianism as two separate fields of knowledge production that question the past. The difference consisting in the adopted epistemologies and methodologies such as the systematic approach, participative observation and the epistemological value of the materiality attributed to antiquarianism, in comparison to the narrative form of history. However, despite differences, history and antiquarianism share the common experience of temporality. The forth chapter is addressing the relationship between time and ruins. The authors is hence delivering an analysis on the emergence of the concept of ‘ruin’ by highlighting the conditions of the shift from the Latin ‘rudera’. As the author argues this shift emerged gradually in the Scandinavian countries only from the 19th century onwards, and it reflects a new ‘experience of time’. Hence it is now when the ruin becomes an “autonomous aesthetic object and a topic of independent aesthetic reflections.” (p. 70)
The 19th century stood under the evolution and development of the concept ‘historic monument’, and it is subject of analysis of the 5th chapter. The author is focusing, in particular, on the growing interest for the preservation and restoration of the built constructions, and the increasing appreciation of the medieval architecture. Implicitly the institutionalisation and professionalization of knowledge production are considered as a relevant step in the shift towards the modern approach to historic monuments. On the background of the emergence of the European nation states, the author is addressing the emergence of the monuments preservation awareness in Norway, and its relationship to the European developments. Also the major change that triggered the shift from antiquity to historic monuments during the 19th century is attributed to the transformation of the temporal experience and approach towards history.
The following chapter is discussing museums and their role in preservation in 19th century Norway. By analysing the new museums shift the author is highlighting the emergence of a systematic approach based on the historic and cultural difference. The purpose of the newly established museums was to contributing to the construction of a new civil society and a modern public, while highlighting processes of continuities and change. Hence knowledge and erudition were not required for the new public instead museums become now projects of identity formation, national culture and active expressions of the modern historicity regime (p. 108).
Public monuments and memorials emerging in Norway are addressed in the 7th chapter. A particular attention is dedicated to those reflecting the cultural memory of the World War II, commemoration of sacrifices during the war, and the German occupation. The author considers these historic events as the most significant for the development of monuments in Norway. The author is highlighting the change of actors being subjected to the commemoration processes, and of the aesthetic choices. However the author is critically questioning the problematic role and the discourse that such developments are employing, in particular concerning the occupation and resistance movement.
On the background of international developments, in particular considering the role of UNESCO, the author is introducing in the following chapter the means and uses of the concepts ‘cultural heritage’ and ‘cultural property’. Eriksen is addressing in particular the aspects of value and temporality as fundamental components to the notion of ‘cultural heritage’, which in the Nordic culture has been only recently introduced. The role of significance and meaning for the present become now central in the patrimonial practices. Again the regimes of historicity is employed to explain what the author calls the regime of our times, meaning ‘the presentism’, as an expression of the experience of temporality “distinctive to our own time” (p. 142).
The relationship between ‘heritage’ and ‘presentism’ are detailed in the last chapter. The author concludes that old objects have made subject of inquiry starting the 18th century as a reflection of the change of experiences of time and temporality. Also the terminological developments from the 18th century dominated by antiquarianism, historic monument in the 19th century and early 20th century, and the contemporary cultural heritage are the expression of various and different ‘regimes of historicity’. Also the author demonstrated how the various concepts were in strong connection with political legitimacy of power, yet cultural heritage brings another dimension which goes beyond the nation state, instead it becomes a global issue addressing common global political concerns and priorities.
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Laura Demeter. Review of Eriksen, Anne, From Antiquities to Heritage: Transformations of Cultural Memory.
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