Making Heritage

Module code: MU7522

Module co-ordinator: Dr Sheila Watson

This module is concerned with heritage objects and subjects and the political, practical and conceptual issues that arise in reflecting on the making and performance of heritage. By ‘heritage objects’ we partly mean the physical things that fill our world and comprise collections; but we also mean things like landscape, buildings, the body, and digital images. The module explores what these things have in common when they become the object of an interpretive process in a heritage setting and examines the issues they raise. What are objects? Why are they as they are? And in what ways do we experience, respond to and interpret them? On what wider frameworks do our responses to objects – and the meanings and values we give them – depend, and to what ends? By ‘heritage subjects’, on the other hand, we refer to the people who are in some way connected with what is being interpreted, even if they themselves are not directly discussed or represented. This might mean ‘source communities’ or ‘originating communities’, themselves far from either homogenous or powerless; but, as the module explores, it also means other kinds of communities with a connection to or interest in what heritage is being made and interpreted.

Topics covered

Unit 1 - Heritage as a Community Development Tool

We will begin by linking ideas of the social role and responsibility of heritage organisations and the politics of representation to ideas about social inclusion and access. We explore how heritage organisations have been, and have been perceived to be, exclusive organisations, and consider the challenges and opportunities in breaking down existing barriers to access, engaging with wider issues, agendas and agencies, and becoming more socially inclusive.

Unit 2 - The Materiality of Heritage

This unit looks into the objects of heritage, exploring what they might be and how they might be characterised. It also looks at the idea of materiality and how this might generate a useful approach to heritage. The unit then examines the relationships between heritage objects and their contexts, critically examining the idea of context and asking whether or not objects have anything to say without it.

Unit 3 - Heritage as Experience and Encounter

This unit takes you through an examination of the experience of heritage and heritage objects, beginning with an exploration of the senses and sensory experience – including a critical look at how far sensory experience is determined by the culture, society and historical moment in which one lives. The unit then goes on to look at the idea of encounter – of various kinds – with heritage: a notion that can help to shed light not only on how people might engage with heritage sometimes, but also on how interpretations might be (not always well) received.

Unit 4 - Reconstructions and Authenticity

Unit 4 explores the notion and cultural constitution of ‘authenticity’. It will briefly outline aesthetic value, before analysing the relationship between authenticity, reconstruction and digital reproduction. Different examples from a range of cultural contexts will enable you to see how ideas of authenticity, truth and aesthetic value, are culturally – and historically – specific.

Unit 5 - Heritage meanings and value

This unit examines some of the ways in which in heritage objects, sites and knowledge are attributed with particular values and meanings. It explores how these values and meanings are subjective, and contingent on a range of socio-cultural, historical, personal and other factors. You will be introduced to the idea that heritage objects have biographies and social lives, and to the range of different sorts of value, as well to the ways in which values are constructed.

Unit 6 - Claiming Heritage

Unit 6 is concerned with the range of different and often highly contested histories and identities involved in heritage. It considers who has agency and power in the interpretation of heritage objects, sites and knowledge. It looks specifically at the relationships between local and invested communities and heritage practitioners, the sharing of interpretive authority and the challenges that may arise as a result.

Unit 7 - Oral History, Memory and Reminiscence

In this unit, we review some key terms, before looking at the ways in which oral histories and reminiscence work can contribute ‘added value’ to heritage objects and sites, while reflecting on the social ‘constructedness’ of oral testimony. We explore how techniques can be used in collaborative community engagement work as effective stimuli for memory work and the sharing of experiences, for the benefit of both the organisation and the participants.

Unit 8 - Poetics, Memory and Feeling

This unit explores nostalgia and the personal, collective, and highly emotive feelings and memories generated by and reflected in interpretive practice in heritage. In the process it considers the ways we think about and understand ourselves, others and the past.

Unit 9 - Sacred Objects and Sites

Unit 9 focuses on the challenges of managing and interpreting the ‘sacred’, an area of interpretive practice which necessitates particular sensitivity in negotiating the different meanings that users and visitors bring to such heritage sites and objects.

Unit 10 - Negotiating Controversial, contested and difficult or dark heritage

This unit explores, through international case studies, some contested and controversial issues that can be found in heritage. It explores the role of the professional and how this has been challenged. It considers how heritage sites appear more prepared than ever before to explore potentially controversial topics but, nevertheless, often attempt to present one perspective on heritage rather than many. It shows how politically implicated heritage is and how it is not neutral, though it often claims to be.


  • 225 hours of guided independent study


  • Essay, 2,000-2,500 words (50%)
  • Report, 2,000-2,500 words (50%)