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13.30  Perspectives on Past and Future in Present Tyneside

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11:00, Saturday 4 Jun 2016 (30 minutes)

This paper will explore the outlook on the present and future provided by contemporary community heritage projects in Tyneside, UK. It will ask how the past is understood in the present, the different ways in which it is used, and whether these uses open social and political debates or consolidate one particular view of heritage, history, and society. This will entail an investigation into different modes of engagement in the past—from engagements that raise questions and alternatives, to those that aim to confirm the status quo. 

Through case studies in the North East of England, it will examine how community heritage projects utilize the past. These are projects, which aim to promote the heritage of Black, Asian, and Minority Ethnic communities in the area. One focuses on the role of ethnic minority women of the past four generations, the other aims to show the complexity of heritage by focusing on men and women of mixed Yemeni heritage. Both seek to challenge the stories that are told about the North East by providing new images, stories, and heritages, which propose changes to the conception of the regional heritage. This paper will investigate what the aims of these projects are, do they have utopian visions for heritage? What sort of challenges do they provide—do they put forward a new, perfect image of the past, or is this image understood to be temporary and ever changing? Is there a utopian future, where all heritages are equally valorized, or is this utopian vision a critical tool to test the present and effect change, however small? How do heritage funding bodies shape the structures of heritage projects and what reflections about the past do these allow and what might they obstruct? 

This will engage in debates concerning nostalgia, and the idea that engagements in the past can also be future-oriented. It will compare the critical heritage studies approach with ideas from historical researchers, which focus on critical examinations of the past to provide practical guides for concrete present actions. The paper will investigate the assumptions about the connection between past, present, and future these ways of thinking provide. Utilizing these approaches, it will further explore how heritage projects focusing on diversity add to understandings of British identity—are they based on fixed and rigid or fluid and historically constructed conceptions of identity? This will question how these projects can add narratives as well as provide structural critique. 

Are heritage and the past about giving us roots, or about unsettling us? Which provides us with a better understanding and preparation for change? Or perhaps we need both? Ideas in the past are different from what people now want. This means acknowledging that heritage is not necessarily continuous, but can be disruptive. This engages in points of view that might celebrate the achievements of past actors, while also exploring the light their actions might shed on present challenges. Are these aspirations and visions for the future, which activists held achieved, or might they be employed to critically engage in the present and future? Do their visions and utopias hold up? Can utopias change or are they rigid, because they project a perfect, and thus perhaps definite, image? What space do past ideas leave for actors now and in the future?

Leonie Wieser


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