New PDF release: Assessing the Values of Cultural Heritage

By Marta de la Torre

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Individually and as a group it can be asked, Do these policies meet the tests of sustainability? Each decision can be evaluated (informally, or with formal indicators) against each of the principles. The same tests can be applied to the actions as they are being formulated. In this way, the sustainability principles play the role of guidelines. The fact that sustainability principles are a flexible, negotiable set of standards could be seen as a weakness. In the environmental field, a distinction is made between “strong” versus “weak” sustainability in the environmental sphere.

From a conservation perspective, historical approaches are very important for architectural historians, archaeologists, and others, because they can provide insight into past values of the site and how perceptions and significance have changed over time. Conservators, however, have to bring into consideration the values of current users as well as those of other communities (such as experts) and past users. While historical approaches address past users and the study of material culture and its evolution, they do not address the current users of the site, who are best understood through ethnographic approaches.

These two versions of sustainability parallel the notion of distinguishing “sacred” versus “tradable” heritage27 and the a priori privileging of cultural values over economic values by preservationists (or vice versa by investors or policy makers). Whereas it is easy to insist on the total protection of things deemed sacred, in light of practical considerations, this is not possible and becomes mere rhetoric. A more pragmatic strategy recognizes the need for trade-offs and recognizes that some heritage is in fact tradable or convertible to other forms of capital.

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Assessing the Values of Cultural Heritage by Marta de la Torre


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