The heritage field has long been plagued by threats of irrelevance, cast as outside the real business of society. But in a growing number of countries around the world, heritage is now being heralded as critical to contemporary civic life. A string of societies from Morocco to Chile to Canada have come to believe that confronting past conflicts and repressions is essential for their ability to move forward—and that preserving places where these conflicts took place is a cornerstone of social reconstruction. These projects provide a great opportunity for the rejuvenation of the international heritage field.
This essay will explore examples of sites that are being preserved as part of official state reparations, a package of measures that can include financial compensation to victims; prosecutions of perpetrators; and the reform of political, judicial, and law enforcement systems. It will focus on the work of Sites of Conscience—heritage sites that have made a commitment to open dialogue across differences on the connections between the past and present social questions their sites raise. It will explore some of the strategies these sites use to engage divided communities, the challenges they face, and the opportunities they represent for the heritage field.