Forgetting to remember, remembering to forget: late modern heritage practices, sustainability and the ‘crisis’ of accumulation of the past


This paper considers the implications for cultural heritage of observations regarding individual and collective memory which suggest that the process of forgetting is in fact integral to remembering – that one cannot properly form new memories and attach value to them without also selecting some things to forget. Remembering is an active process of cultivating and pruning, and not one of complete archiving and total recall, which would overwhelm and cause us to be unable to make confident decisions about which memories are valuable and which are not. I argue that the same is true of heritage; that as a result of its increasingly broad definition, and the exponential growth of listed objects, places and practices of heritage in the contemporary world, we hazard becoming overwhelmed by memory and in the process rendering heritage ineffective and worthless. I refer to the consequence of this heterogeneous piling up of disparate and conflicting pasts in the present as a ‘crisis’ of accumulation of the past. To deal with this crisis adequately, we must pay increased attention to the management of heritage. This should not only refer to processes of preservation and conservation, but also to active decisions to delist or cease to conserve particular forms of heritage once their significance to contemporary and future societies can no longer be demonstrated. Deaccessioning and disposal must become a key area of attention for critical heritage studies in the coming decades if heritage is to remain sustainable and uphold its claims to relevance in contemporary global societies.

Source: Harrison, Rodney (2013). Forgetting to remember, remembering to forget: late modern heritage practices, sustainability and the ‘crisis’ of accumulation. International Journal of Heritage Studies, 19(6) pp. 579–595