Author Archives: Christine Boyle

Concepts of Time and UNESCO World Heritage

Dr Andrea Rehling
Leibniz-Institute of European History (IEG) Mainz
Project: Knowledge of the World – Heritage of Mankind: The History of UNESCO World Heritage

In March 2013, the travel agent Hurlingham Travel in London unveiled the “most expensive and craziest” package holiday ever. The holiday is nearly two years in duration, costs around 1.2 million euros for two people, and includes visits to all of the then 981 UNESCO World Heritage sites in 160 states around the world. As its focus is on architectural remains and monuments, it has the character of a visit to an open air museum. To this extent, the journey offered also includes a kind of time travel that follows one specific narrative of time and history. The World Heritage list features the remnants of a cultural and natural history canonized by UNESCO and its advisory organizationsfuture past highway sign gettyThis canon is based on a scientific concept of time which has emerged since the 1960s. It replaced the idea of the arrow of time, which was the temporal concept upon which the idea of linear successive stages of development had been based. The latter was replaced by a broader, pluralized, but nevertheless scientific, synchronized and naturalized understanding of time.

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International Committee of the Red Cross – Opening Records from 1966-1975

Dr Jean-Luc Blondel
Head of the Archives and Information Management Division

International Committee of the Red Cross
Cross-posted with University of Exeter Centre for Imperial and Global History

Nigeria. Biafra conflict. M'Baise province (team 16). Arrival of relief supplies. Public 1969 © CICR / WITH, R.

Nigeria. Biafra conflict. M’Baise province (team 16). Arrival of relief supplies. Public 1969 © CICR / WITH, R.

Since its founding in 1863, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has been aware of the importance of keeping a record of its work and of its legacy – in the form of paper and audiovisual archives – to preserve the memories and knowledge of its past and to lay the foundation for its current and future work. Over time, the organization has amassed an outstanding and unique collection that encompasses its own history as well as the history of international humanitarian law and humanitarian action in general.

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In Search of British Values

Rumana Begum and Andrew Thompson
Email Rumana Begum, or Andrew Thompson,

Last week Michael Gove rekindled the debate on British values by demanding that they should be taught in Britain’s schools. Gove’s broadside against the dangers of Islamic extremism taking a hold of our education system was backed by the Prime Minister, who rallied to his Education Secretary’s side, claiming that the incorporation of British values into the school curriculum was likely to have the “overwhelming support” of the country. The Prime Minister went on to give his own view of what these values are, citing freedom, tolerance, respect for the rule of law, belief in personal and social responsibility, and a respect for British institutions.

This is not the first and doubtless it won’t be the last time that the question of “core British values” has hit the media headlines. In 2001, in the wake of riots in Bradford, Burnley and Oldham, the failure to identify and inculcate British values was widely thought to be the biggest stumbling block to community cohesion and a shared sense of national identity. Continue reading

Teaching, Learning and Remembrance

Dr Catriona Pennell, Senior Lecturer in History, University of Exeter
(with Dr Ann-Marie Einhaus, Lecturer in Modern and Contemporary Literature, Northumbria University)catriona_pennell

The passing of time as societies move further away from a moment of historical significance is traditionally marked by an anniversary. The nature of the remembrance ritual varies massively depending on the event being commemorated (and where), at what level (official or otherwise) the remembrance takes place, and the contemporary purpose (political, educational, ideological) such rituals serve. Commemoration is complex; as the eminent historian of war and memory, Professor Jay Winter says, ‘there is an overwhelming difficulty about trying to establish what is the purpose of commemoration’ exacerbated by the fact that remembering one memory often involves the ‘forgetting’ of others. Furthermore, as time evolves so does the meaning of each commemoration.

In 2014, it feels like we are surrounded by anniversaries. Already, at the time of writing, the calendar has marked the 25th anniversaries of the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan (February) and the massacre at Tiananmen Square (June), Shakespeare’s 450th birthday (April), as well as the 70th anniversary of the D-Day landings that marked the beginning of the invasion of Europe during the Second World War. Continue reading

Ghost Children in London, Walking in New Orleans

Cross-posted from After Katrina: A View From the Outside, 18//4/14

Dr Anna Hartnell, Lecturer in Contemporary Literature, Birkbeck College, University of London

Anna HartnellA series of reports this week are showing that many UK school children and their teachers are exhausted, over-worked by an economy and political context that fails to support workers, families, or the flourishing of those little people who are already born into a world over-shadowed by the carelessness, greed and the general over-reaching of a generation who showed little regard for the future of the next. No doubt like many parents, I watched these reports feeling vaguely complicit, totting up the weekly hours that my not-yet-three year old currently spends in childcare: 32. Not quite a full-time job but nearly there. As an academic I have the luxury of flexible working hours that means I can see a little more of my child if I am prepared to work most evenings and sometimes long hours into the night. This arrangement can make me feel a little ghostly at times, but I am privileged to have a choice not open to most.Exploring New Orleans' magical City Park

Some irritating TV reporting wanted to turn this bold and important statement by the Association of Teachers and Lecturers into ‘another way to make parents feel guilty’. But as representatives of the teachers’ union repeatedly stated, this report is an indictment not of over-worked parents but rather the social and political context that shapes the conditions of precarity that govern most working families’ lives, wherein wages are decreasing in real terms while the cost of food and rents rise. Redundancies loom on the horizon. And the rich get richer. Continue reading

The Value of Heritage in our Homes

Cross-posted from Heritage Calling: An English Heritage Blog

George Clarke, architect and Creative Director of architectural practice George Clarke + Partners; writer, lecturer and TV presenter.

Britain faces a number of critical housing issues. There is a series of difficult and complicated problems that needs to be addressed so that we can have a clear and long-term housing plan that is not only sensible, but also achievable. Short-term reactions don’t work, but with cross-party approval a long-term strategy can be consistently implemented by whichever government is in power. If we don’t have that long-term plan then the crisis will never be solved. I sometimes wonder whether the scale of the crisis is so large and the decisions that have to be made are so difficult that elected politicians aren’t quite sure how to deal with it and are even afraid to do the right thing. But doing nothing is not an option.The government and the country as a whole need to act – and they need to act now.

George Clarke present The Restoration Man. Photo: Channel 4

Good buildings not only improve the lives of those that use them and live in them, but also make significant, positive contributions to the built environment. They enhance the villages, towns and cities in which we live. Good architecture has a powerful effect on all of us and can add value in so many ways. Continue reading

Of Time and Mountains

Dr. Abbie Garrington, Lecturer in 19th & 20th Century Literature, Newcastle UniversityAbbie and Friend in the Cordillera Blanca

Writing a literary history of mountaineering for the modernist period, I’ve been struck by the peculiar and multifaceted relationship that both mountains and mountaineering practice have with issues of temporality. Part of the strange allure of a mountain, whether or not one is liable to climb it, is its endurance. Not only does its summit provide an expansive geographical purview, but its geology gives us a long view of a different order: one back in time. Across cultures, mountains might be venerated for their beauty, the power they confer upon those who access them, in intended abeyance of evil spirits, or for the challenge they pose for potential climbers or pilgrims. Continue reading

Morality and Time: Some Puzzles

Prof David Archard, Queen’s University Belfast School of Politics, International Studies and Philosophy; QUB Centre for Children’s Rightsdave_archard

Morality and time stand in an awkward relation to one another. It seems obvious that we are morally responsible for what we did and also for what we will do. Thus we are rightly blamed (or praised) for our immediate past actions and we, rightly, ought to think about how we can make a difference in the near future. Yet if – as philosophy has done – you look harder at the relation between morality and time there are really intriguing, and extremely puzzling, complications.

Consider, first, the question of how far back or forward you might choose to go. Popular history loves the kind of thinking exemplified in the ‘for want of a nail’ rhyme. This is intended to illustrate how small actions can have a huge impact when spelled out across a chain of causes. Yet we can also use these kinds of example to explore causal chains that extend across long periods of time, and do so in terms both of what actually happened and what might have happened. Continue reading

Creationism, Pasts and Futures

Prof David Zeitlyn, University of Oxford, Institute of Social and Cultural Anthropology and Fellow, Wolfson CollegeDavid Zeitlyn

A common typo (for bad typists such as myself) for Pasts is Pasta. Which suggests a potent range of metaphor: I’m not sure if this is a lasagne, rigatoni or perhaps a pasta dish: putanesca.

Bishop James Ussher did arithmetic and came up with an answer, Bishop James Ussher4004 BC. Anything before then is null. If I have understood it correctly, in Ussher’s account a creator (that some might see as malign or mischievous) produced fossils and rocks in the process of radioactive decay (nb radioactive decay only identified post-Ussher) amenable to the interpretation as being older, as if processes were continuous (which on Ussher’s account they are now but were created midway, as it were).

A different form of creationism is social construction – our understanding of pasts (and futures) is the result of work done by authors in their own presents. So pasts, futures are entangled in our presents, in what could be called presences of pasts and futures… But what then when (Ussher excepted), we start to think in the long term, in geological time scales such as 1 million years BC? This was the title of a Hollywood film famous in some circles for its anachronisms such as Raquel Welch wearing a fur bikini.  But if Raquel Welch were not constructed then what?

I can imagine Woolgar or Latour’s accounts about the use of evidence to construct an understanding, detailing the uncertainties and the politics at arriving at a consensus. But such accounts fall or duck the realist projection motivating the actors (a move I am sure they would trumpet as a positive), yet it strikes me as being worrying like Bishop Ussher.

Geological timeThe geological assertion is that even if all these accounts are wrong, there was a planet here in which stuff was happening, so there is/was something to be wrong about. Similarly if we pick a date far into the future but before the sun explodes, there will be a planet even if unpopulated by large or medium-sized mammals. This is dangerous ground. It invites us to think of independent existences and to take the view from nowhere and nowhen.
My middling approach is to accept both independent existences and that there are no godly perspectives (accessible to humans). So we may have to accept that our access to (or our knowledge of) distant pasts and futures is weak, patchy, incomplete – or frankly, nugatory.


History and Heritage: A Troubled Rapport

Prof Andrew Thompson, Leadership Fellow of AHRC Care for the Future: Thinking Forward through the Past. andrewthompson_pageCross-Posted from the Imperial & Global Forum

In 1913, government passed a long forgotten piece of legislation – the Ancient Monuments Consolidation and Amendment Act. The title of the act may have been commonplace but the results were certainly not, for it paved the way for the creation of the historic environment we know and enjoy today. 

Fast forward a century. In 2013, government is poised to take less, not more responsibility for preserving our historic monuments and buildings. The answer to this retreat is widely felt to lie in the built heritage sector redefining its relationship with the public. But what would that entail?

Ancient Monuments Act 1913 plaqueImagine a Britain without Stonehenge or Hadrian’s Wall. Imagine our historic landscape no longer embellished by great castles, cathedrals or country houses. This imagined present could easily have been a reality had it not been for the 1913 Ancient Monuments Consolidation and Amendment Act.

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