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To What Extent Is Negative Heritage a Benefit to Society

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8-week Pre-sessional Research Essay

15th August 2012

To What Extent is Negative Heritage a Benefit to Society?

UCL Language Centre
Date: 16/08/2012
Word count: 1854 words


Cultural heritage, including monuments, groups of buildings and sites, which are of outstanding universal value from the point of view of history, art or science(1972, UNESCO Convention World Heritage), is inherited from past generations, maintained in the contemporary era and bestowed for the benefit of future generations. While seemingly uncontroversial and due to its significant position and profoundly influential value, human beings are exploring ancient civilization and preserving cultural heritage. However, we should recognize that not all heritage represents a positive memory , the uncritical interpretation of heritage is indeed omit negative factors of the past. In order to distinguish heritage more thoroughly, we use the term “negative heritage” which is defined as sites that may be interpreted by a group as commemorating conflict, trauma and disaster (Rico 2010), more specifically, Meskell deems that negative heritage is a conflicting site that becomes the repository of negative memory in the collective imaginary (Meskell 2002, 558). Unlike other heritage which can win widespread appreciation and permanent admiration, negative heritage refers to death, wars, religious conflicts and culture clashes. Controversies of negative heritage are often more salient than its values. This essay critically discusses to what degree negative heritage impacts society positively. First, the background of negative heritage will be demonstrated via introducing a famous example of negative heritage, then the reasons why negative heritage has a beneficial impact on society will be explored by analysing the example, finally the development of negative heritage in remote areas will be discussed.

The amount of negative heritage is very large, since the history of human beings is also the history of their conflict. It is widely spread in every country, for example The World Trade Centre site, which was built in the original site after destroying in the September by terrorists. It has now become a contemporary negative heritage which will be a reminiscent of intentional destruction, political issues and death. The Hiroshima Peace Memorial is the site which recorded wars weapons of mass destruction and identified as a permanent witness to the disaster that occurred when the atomic bomb was used as a weapon for the first time in the history of mankind by Japan (ICOMOS 1996). Obviously, negative heritage is generally associated with a significant historical event, which conveys great significance and influence. A site which witnessed one of the biggest disasters of human beings is the Auschwitz Concentration Camp.

Auschwitz was an small town with charming castles admired by visitors. However, it was gradually transformed into a slaughter field. In 1940, this village became the largest centre that suffered from mass extermination of European Jews. Moreover, prisoners and slave labours from different countries were imprisoned there. According to Hayes, it became the capital of holocaust and regarded as the biggest killing chamber among the long history of human beings. It is reported that, between 1940 and 1945, at least 1100000 Jews were sent to this camp by Nazi, including 150000Poles, 23000 Roma, 15000 Soviet prisoners of war, and an enormous number of people from other nations in Auschwitz.(Bialecka 13).

The Auschwitz Concentration Camp was listed on the World Heritage List by UNSECO in 1979, when the amount of heritage in 1979 on this list was only one thirtieth of the current amount. It is the only concentration camp on this list until now. Hence, with a purpose of emphasizing the significance and outstanding universal value of this site, the UN named the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz as Holocaust Remembrance Day, the name of this site has been linked with failure of humanity and described as one of the best example of extreme racism and become a special code in civilisation (Bialecka). No other heritage like Auschwitz has such a shocking meaning. Actually, compared with other historical heritage, the impact of Auschwitz just had started prior to the end of the Second World War. However, UNESCO was aware of the importance of a site which had a consecutive and tremendous impact. The value of Auschwitz does not merely present huge numbers of casualty, a period of Indelible past and various fields of education, it is also a new understanding of human beings' interpersonal relationship.

Arguments Admittedly, negative heritage is a symbol of sadness, hatred and error. To some extent, overemphasizing the importance of it is a repetition of our negative past. For the youths, they do not have the ability to distinguish the right from the wrong; neither do they know the memory that Auschwitz heritage conveys. In view of Bialecka, over one million people visit Auschwitz each year, and over 60% of which are school-aged youth, whose age are mainly between 14 to 16(Bialecka). Youths of this age group often lack basic knowledge and historical context of these events; therefore, they treat this learning experience superficially. They will just visit the camp alone without following expositors or joining a structured tour. Furthermore, it is quite hard for them to obtain some profound revelation, also they will have trouble in analysing the nightmare of Auschwitz intellectually. It is obvious that forcing the latter generation to accept negative information does not mean that they have identified the past mistakes human made and can benefit from it. Hence, it is believed that the educational value of negative like Auschwitz is overstated.

On the contrary, some believed that the educational value of negative heritage is underestimated. “Dark tourism”—tourism to sites related to death and disaster in negative heritage(Lennon and Foley, 2000) is not a new phenomenon, it has caught increasing attentions by researchers in recent years. In view of John cultural heritage is to warn people of those past tragedies and to prevent these events from recurring(John 2000). Nowadays, some scholars prefer to adventuring and imitating. Some good knowledge should be taught to these scholars so they can go on the right track.

Also, after visiting negative heritage, most people will become depressed basically due to dark atmosphere within the site. Besides, most negative heritage museums exhibit weapons, torture instruments, photos and relics of victims. On one side, it is the survivors in disasters that should be respected and avoid too much exposure. However, most survivors’ pictures or video interviews are often used for propaganda, which will increase the pain of the survivors. For example, a survivor once worked in Auschwitz and he was asked to talk about his experience to visitors, which some people think is not humane at all.

Bialecka once discussed about this issue in related to emotional response. In her opinion, few people, especially the young, are clear of what they are going to see and have a correct cognitive preparation. As a result, they tend to be more fearful beforehand and unwell after visiting. She also emphasized the importance of education to the young, she thinks that teachers’ help and explanation can help them alleviate and become more relax. New policy should be implemented in order to protect the privacy of the survivors, such as three dimensional method, which will the mainstream in the future (Lennon 2000). Negative heritage will not generally refer to death, the museums has now switched their focus on educating the youths and relief the survivors.

Descendants of the Jews will come every year and donate a staggering amount of money to help boost local community. There is no denying that Auschwitz has become only the economic pillar within this region.


Negative heritage embodies a contradiction between the desire to forget and the need to remember (Mills 2008:81). The drawbacks of negative heritage are the negative past; these sites witnessed racial conflict and elimination, religious strife, political persecution and wars. Forgetting the bad memory is an instinctive choice, because good things are more appealing to human, but human beings cannot develop correctly without past failures. The educational value of negative heritage is to warn mankind to avoid making the same mistakes. Most of negative heritage do not have a good look, but they are more helpful than other common sites, where people would directly ponder the past, instead of only a trip.

As mentioned before, the school-aged youth took up 60% of the total visitors and the educational value of the heritage to the young is to guide them to know about the past and bear their responsibilities and challenge anti-semitism, racism and prejudice within society, However, the fact is that many young individuals treat this learning experience superficially. As a result, there is delay to publish appropriate guidance and present educational value in negative heritage. Though guides in sites can help visitors recollect the past, historical preparation before visiting is still essential.

However, a case in point is that contemporary political issues seem to sway negative heritage. It is said that the United States wants to highlight the significant of the liberation and build a monument in Auschwitz. However, the Russia government thinks this action will damage the original site and a new monument does not convey the history of Auschwitz. Besides, China opposed that the Hiroshima Peace Memorial should be listed as heritage, since the nomination of Hiroshima was actually a strategic military base that represented the Japanese invasion and the war crimes committed in China (UNESCO 1996, Annex V; Utaka 2005). Many political factors influence the historical position of negative heritage, so take these factors into consideration will help us understand negative heritage more comprehensively.

Conclusion This essay has mainly discussed the drawbacks and benefits of negative heritage. The educational value which can make people fully understand history and cherish the peaceful age is widely recognized. However, the prosperity of negative heritage tourism proof economic value is still tremendous. Although there are multiple tough issues in negative heritage, humanity can tackle these issues and solve them by advanced technologies and conceptions in the future. Youngsters should be educated and guided when visiting these negative heritage. In spite of adventurous they are, some basic historical knowledge should be taught in advance to prevent their loss, depression and hatred after visiting these historical heritage. They should be taught that everything has two sides, those slaughter or murders are all the past time, nowadays, they should cherish peaceful and happy life. The most important thing is that people can benefit from these negative heritage and learn from them, reminding themselves of cherishing the current peaceful life that their ancestors gave.

To make a final conclusion, the benefits of negative heritage overwhelm its drawbacks, and negative heritage will get more and more attention and appreciation in the future. The main purpose of these negative museums should not pay too much focus on propagandizing its tragedy and bloody. More attention should be paid on emphasizing its educational value and the importance of our harmonious life.

Moreover, the aim of these negative heritage is to prove that all goodness will beat over evil at last. The evil will finally be criticized and looked down upon. The countries should pay more attention to their development instead of endless fighting or wars. It is human being's will to long for a peaceful and harmonious life. All human beings should unite as one, there is no enemies within one species. 1854 words

Reference List

Bialecka, A 2010, European pack for visiting Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and Museum: guidelines for teachers and educators, Council of Europe, Strasbourg.

Cohen, E 2011, ‘Educational dark tourism at an in populo site: The Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem’, Annals of Tourism Research, vol. 38, no.1, pp.193-209. Retrieved August 8, 2012, from University College London Library & Electronic Resources.

Dunkley, R, Morgan, N & Westwood, S 2011, ‘visiting the trenches: Exploring meanings andomtivations in battlefield the tourism’, Tourism Management, vol.32, no. 4, pp. 860-868. Retrieved August 8, 2012, from University College London Library & Electronic Resources.

Gilly, C 2010, ‘Shining a Light on Dark Tourism: German Bunkers in the British Channel Islands’,Public Archaeology, vol. 9, no. 2, pp64-84. Retrieved August 8, 2012, from University College London Library & Electronic Resources.

Lennon, J & Foley M, 2000, Dark tourism, Continuum, London.

Meskell, L 2002, ‘Negative Heritage and Past Mastering in Archaeology’, Anthropological Quarterly, Vol.75, no. 3, pp. 557-574. Retrieved August 8, 2012, from University College London Library & Electronic Resources.

Murray, WF, Zedeno, MN, Hollenback, KL, Grinnell, C & Breast, EC 2011, ‘The remaking of Lake Sakakawea: Locating cultural viability in negative heritage on the Missouri River’ American Ethnologist, vol. 38, no. 3, pp. 468-483. Retrieved August 8, 2012, from University College London Library & Electronic Resources.

Rico, T 2008 ‘Negative Heritage: The Place of Conflict in World Heritage’, Conservation and Management of Archaeological Sites, vol. 10, no. 4, pp.344-352. Retrieved August 8, 2012, from University College London Library & Electronic Resources.…...

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