- Relevance and Application of Heritage in Contemporary Society ed. by Pei-Lin Yu, Chen Shen, and George S. Smith
This edited volume is the outcome of a Wenner-Gren funded workshop by the same name that took place at Toronto's Royal Ontario Museum in October 2016. In many ways it is a continuation of coeditor George Smith's dedication to examining heritage in contemporary society from global perspectives, which has generated two edited volumes over the past decade (Smith, Messenger, and Soderland 2009; Messenger and Smith 2010). Many of the same experts gathered in Toronto to discuss growing areas of concern and relevance for heritage work. The workshop culminated in the promulgation of the Toronto Declaration. While the role of the declaration remains uncertain, it is a mandate for the relevance and inclusion of heritage in planning and decision-making across a wide range of urgent contexts, many of them explored in depth in the volume.
The volume starts from the premise that cultural heritage is relevant and important in contemporary society. This may be obvious to people involved in heritage work, but it is a case that still needs to be made in arenas such as development, urban planning, disaster relief, war, immigration, and climate change. The contributors are heritage experts who work in varied national and international settings, from United Nations agencies and the World Bank to indigenous groups and university training programs, with the welcome addition of perspectives from China and Egypt. They argue that the application of heritage values and practices can make for better policy and outcomes and work in support of human rights and well-being.
An introductory chapter by coeditors Yu, Chen, and Smith presents "heritage" rather vaguely as a global human right, leaving it to the rest of the volume to wrestle with what that might mean. How can we possibly "balance the past" with other agendas? They also call for greater inclusiveness of different values and stakeholders, acknowledging that the heritage community has fallen short in this regard. It is unclear whether they recognize that the authorship represented in the volume mirrors this shortfall.
In Chapter 2, Peter Stone lays out arguments for the protection of cultural property in times of war and conflict and looks at recent steps in that direction, with the caveat that much more needs to happen. Stone provides an overview on protocols of the 1954 Hague Convention and recent activities of the International Committee of the Blue Shield, which has managed to do amazing work despite lack of funding or paid staff. The chapter is a plea to the international community to support ongoing efforts aimed at the implementation of protocols to protect heritage during armed conflict.
Next, David Pokotylo addresses public opinion about archaeology and heritage issues, a topic that deserves wider attention and application. Here he looks at comments on news articles related to Grace Islet, a contentious case of heritage protection in the wake of residential development in British Columbia. Even these limited observations offer a stark reality check on how some members of the public—whom Pokotylo calls "heritage skeptics"—view aspects of heritage that archaeologists or descendant communities may value highly. Data from public opinion studies not only provide valuable feedback [End Page 394] to heritage managers but can inform and influence legislation and policy-making (see also Tang, Chapter 6).
Chen Shen of Toronto's Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) discusses the role of objects in museums and the stories they tell that connect people to the past. Shen traces the remarkable social history of a jade disk from China to illustrate how heritage objects can act as springboards for communication about the past. While the ROM is a large, well-funded institution, there are many examples of the vibrant roles that small local museums play in fostering...