The Cultural Politics of Heritage

Module code: HS2801

Module co-ordinator: Dr James Moore

Module Outline

What is heritage? Who defines our heritage?  What rights do we have over it? What is the relationship between heritage and public memory? Does the heritage industry produce a commodified version of history and reproduce a neo-liberal capitalist world view? Or can heritage represent a more ‘democratic’ form of history? If so, how can ordinary people save the heritage that is important to them? This course will help students to investigate some of these complex controversies, drawing on contemporary social and cultural theory. The module will provide students with a critical understanding of different concepts of heritage and the politics of heritage performance and presentation. It will ask analytical questions about how heritage is constructed, how heritage practitioners conceptualise their purpose and how heritage-related activities can shape the way we view ourselves and our social relationships.

Topics covered

The module will begin by considering how heritage is understood through its audiences, contexts and activities, before considering the major critical objections to heritage practice. The programme will move on to examining the different techniques of heritage performance and then examine case studies where heritage has shaped our understanding of our world. We will consider heritage in the broadest sense and examine how exhibitions, memorials, landscapes, films and creative writing are curated, produced and performed to create a ‘experience’ of the past. Over the course of the module you will be introduced to a number of different theoretical models, including the work of historians, sociologists and critical theorists influenced by the approaches of Marx, Weber, Jauss, Foucault and Habermas.  The module will focus on the heritage of the late modern period (1789-present) but examples from other eras where it may aid our wider understanding of the theoretical and conceptual subject matter.


Coursework (50%) and an exam (50%).


G. Ashworth, B. Graham, and J. Tunbridge, Pluralizing Pasts: Heritage, Identity.

H. Keane, P. Martin and S. Morgan (eds), Seeing History: Public History in Britain now (London 2000).

R Harrison, Understanding the Politics of Heritage (Manchester 2010).

R. Hewitson, The Heritage Industry: Britain in a Climate of Decline (London 1987).

D. Lowenthal, The Heritage Crusade and the Spoils of History (Cambridge 1998).

R. Samuel, Theatres of Memory, volume 1: Past and Present in Contemporary Culture (London 1994).

L. Smith, The Uses of Heritage (London 2006). 

P. Wright, On Living in an Old Country: The national past in contemporary Britain (London 1985).