Conservation Conversation: Heritage Sites and Identity, A Review of Theoretical Approaches
I recently read an intriguing article from 1994, written by Rghei and Nelson, entitled “The Conservation and use of the walled city of Triopli”. In this article, Rghei and Nelson argue that a change in a conservator’s theoretical perspective can help save heritage sites which are slowly decaying because of cultural change (in this example, Tripoli), and can also give structures a productive use-life in order to boost cultural connection to the site.
In the past, the Madina ofTripoli was the center of cultural events and had an incredible amount of historical and social significance. However, as Rghei and Nelson explain, businesses have recently shifted away from using heritage sites as event centers, and many structures have become part of low-income housing which do not have the resources to keep the site in repair. In fact, many of these historic areas do not have proper drainage or sewage; this has largely taken place since the wealthy have stopped patronizing cultural centers, and moved outwards to larger cities.
Rghei and Nelson explain that when North American and European historic sites are in danger of becoming isolated, policies are created to conserve and preserve historic areas. However, most sites in North America and Europe are truly saved by what Rghei and Nelson call a “culture-dependent approach”. This perspective sees heritage sites not as museum exhibits, but as actual living entities, which should be completely incorporated within a culture’s identity. Rghei and Nelson offer solutions to the “selective approaches” some traditional Islamic cities have taken, in which sites are seen as part of a distant past, not as an integral piece to present cultural affiliations. These solutions range from economic incentives to live and work in historic sites to efforts from the government to encourage conservation and conservation education.
I personally commend the culture-dependent approach, in which sites become more than just objects and a presentation of the past. I believe archaeological and historical sites in North America can be much more than just exhibits; they can be teaching tools, connections with the distinct cultures and social groups essential to American history, and as sites for future research questions. I think Rghei and Nelson were a bit premature in praising North America and Europe for using cultural heritage sites as more than exhibits, but recognizing the need for growth and development is not always negative. America should embrace the idea of truly interactive site-conservation, in which even subregions can find a deeper connection with the artifacts that form a major part of their identity.
Courtesy of Nader Al-Gadi
Rghei, Amer S. and J.G. Nelson. 1994. The Conservation and use of the walled city of Tripoli. The Geogrpahical Journal 160(2): 143-158