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09.00  Caring (or Not) about the Beamish Museum: The Co-Production and Co-Enactment of Affective Heritage

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The poetics of heritage co-production works as a connective tissue between heritage publics, practitioners and heritage objects through materiality and imagination. The process of co-producing, of making and negotiating heritage values, relies on more than verbal clues and sensory experiences that exceed the discursive and representational. For Hoskins (1993, 1998) “history objects” are inseparable from people in the telling of histories about the self and about their lives and their sense of the past. By touching a museum or heritage object “the hand of a visitor […] encounters the traces of the hand of the object’s creator and former owners. One seems to feel what others have felt and bodies seem to be lined to bodies through the medium of the materiality of the object they have shared” (Classen and Howes 2006). However, to what extent is this sensory connection applicable to replicas or reconstructions in a living history museum? As a case study we examine the role of autobiographies and the senses in the experience at Beamish Museum, in the North East of England. In understanding what goes on at the Beamish, we will take as a starting point Ricoeur’s (1996) notion of the ability to “reach out” to others (persons, things and places) via our stories using “imagination and sympathy,” for imagination and sympathy are powerful affects dictating our experience in every aspect of everyday lives. The redolent objects and staged reconstructions in the Beamish Museum also draw on a form of what Tolia-Kelly has defined re-memory (2004), which is a manifestation of memory stimulation through the senses, evoking scents, sounds, and textures of the everyday. The convergence (or clash) of autobiographies, sensory associations, and memories creates that certain spark of closeness, attachment, and connection at heritage sites and makes us care (or not) about the past, even if for a brief moment. We will explore how the reconstruction and display of “things” with history is experienced by the public and by researchers and curators through interviews and focus groups. We are interested in how the public’s personal and affective investment, imaginaries (and re-memory) interact with the sensorium of the museum to co-produce heritage stories.

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