A section of Trading Places was dedicated to the early presence of Asians in Britain, with a focus on cultural influences such as language and early Indian eating houses. These fascinating exhibits with thoughtful illuminating text did disrupt the view that Asian faces in Britain were a post-war phenomenon. The point above would seem to negate the arguments and criticisms I and others in this collection have levelled at established heritage practices.
While they increasingly propose stimulating takes on this history one is still often left with a deep dissatisfaction and no framework in which to discuss it. It may be that after many years of fighting against liberal erasure of Never mind the buzzwords: 'race', heritage and the liberal agenda 39 difference, we are once again back in a situation where we have to ask what differences are being foregrounded, and why? To include, for example, British Asians, into a narrative of national belonging requires a move beyond the signalling of accepted signifiers of difference.
One needs to ask whether there is a preference for invoking easily visible manifestations of ethnic communities. For example, although it is important to produce language-sensitive leaflets, is this sometimes perceived as the only necessary challenge to our heritage landscape? As I have said there are numerous radical individuals and projects working to undermine such trenchant views and representations, but while there are so many that continue to approach ethnicity and community as though they were finite categories, we must air these concerns.
The binary opposition derived from the Enlightenment—Particularism vs Universalism, or Tradition vs Modernity—produces a certain way of understanding culture. There are the distinctive, homogenous, selfcontained, strongly bounded cultures of so-called traditional societies. In this anthropological definition, cultural tradition saturates whole communities, subordinating individuals to a communallysanctioned form of life. However, it is still approached with too little attention paid to its shifting, negotiated and partial character.
The question of who or what is a community has preoccupied academics, policy-makers, practitioners, artists and The politics of heritage 40 writers, but is often skipped over, again, as an annoying theoretical hurdle. However, without proper debate about this, attempts to reach out to marginalised communities can be self-defeating. The liberal face of a heritage project can meet the reactionary face of a community and little progress is made. Surely it is better to make some progress, have some visibility of a black and Asian Britain?
After all it is very hard to get every project to stand up to such intense political scrutiny. New nation A few years ago, I took a group of undergraduates on S. Those who have been on this illuminating excursion are struck by how the history of black London is simply the story of London—of riots, of political confrontations, of boozy night-spots, of intellectuals, traders and abolitionists, all shaping the city—a history of London without it is partial and meaningless.
At the end of the walk Martin explains to the company that eighteenth-century London had a significant black population which had dwindled by the early twentieth century. Where did they go? The power of this should not be underestimated in a country where every day non-white people are still asked where they come from. The research around Robert Wedderburn similarly brings into view ways of being British which are neither racially exclusive nor politically conservative McCalman Wedderburn, of Caribbean and Scottish parentage, was a radical intellectual and activist in the early nineteenth century whose abolitionist writings made links between the treatment of West Indian slaves and the working classes in Britain.
He is also part of a rich black Scottish history which has been written out of the national story at the Museum of Scotland. Being British is as much about being a black radical firebrand as it is about being a white Admiral of the fleet.
Gundara and Duffield One could quite easily make a connection between figures such as Wedderburn and political activists of all kinds who have shaped labour history. For example, the Asian women who stood on the picket lines in Grunwick in the s provide an interesting take on how one can approach a British Asian history without recourse to Asian dress, food or language, and one which could make connections between, for example, Asian women in the suffrage movement, serving in the Second World War, and participating in anti-colonial struggles in Asia and Africa Wilson To hear that an institution or organisation wants to explore British Asian culture via Bollywood, for example, must arouse our suspicions.
This is not to denigrate this aspect of Asian culture, but too often the multitude of ways of being Asian in Britain are condensed around particular oversimplified and retrograde signifiers. Diasporic people also demonstrate that cultural The politics of heritage 42 identifications have always been selected from world-wide resources, long before the planet was imagined as globalised and post-national. Perhaps we should take our cue from the royal family which, primarily through the House of Windsor, has, in a relatively short historical period, turned the British royal family from a signifier of a European, internationalised upper class to one of a domesticated, semibourgeois British entity with long and established traditions see Wilson It has done this through the invention of ceremonies for the investiture of the Prince of Wales and through a shrewd understanding of the importance of television during the Coronation in This shows how easy it is, in one sense, to write new national myths.
As museums look around desperately for where they can find black and Asian history it is usually under their noses. Moira Simpson says: National Trust properties often epitomise the British upper classes and show little indication of their multicultural heritage. Like the Geffrye Museum, collections which seem to be the epitome of white British upper-class culture, taste and history, can be utilised to draw out a wealth of cross-cultural connections relating to matters such as design, social trends, trading activities, and so forth.
Guides to the properties rarely give any indication of the heritage of black people yet the histories of many of them are frequently incontrovertibly entangled with that of the black British population. Wealth derived directly or indirectly from the slave trade funded the building of numerous stately homes while many of them had black servants, yet such histories remain hidden.
If focus was shifted away from doing something for a community to one which approaches these marginalised histories as something for the museum and all its audiences, many of the pitfalls discussed here could be avoided. We all need to make a profound ideological shift in our understanding of national history. Only then can heritage be a useful tool against the exclusive xenophobia which has traditionally been associated with the concept of Britishness.
It should be possible to write a new story of Britain anchored in a different set Never mind the buzzwords: 'race', heritage and the liberal agenda 43 of facts and of myths. A very different national culture is ready and available. The creation of a new, national, ritual—even one ostensibly about a past event— is not just an outcome of a mounting impetus to remember: it also speaks of, and to, the time and place of which it is part.
Among other things, I argue, Holocaust Memorial Day articulates a reconfigured vision of national identity, legitimated through reference to the past and the iconic evil of modern times. My interest in Holocaust commemoration in Britain, and Holocaust Memorial Day in particular, stemmed from having spent the academic year — researching representations of the Nazi past in Germany, where I was surprised by the considerable number of acts of commemoration and museumisation in relation to the Second World War and the Holocaust. Increased levels of public commemoration of the Holocaust are also evident in other countries: Sweden and Italy have begun Holocaust memorial days in recent years; Rachel Whiteread was commissioned to create a Holocaust memorial for Vienna; and across Europe synagogues have been restored and Holocaust exhibitions opened.
The United States has witnessed particularly extensive Holocaust commemoration, with a flurry of Holocaust museums and memorials opened in the s and s e. Flanzbaum ; Novick Returning from Germany to Britain, I was struck by a new level of public activity in relation to the Holocaust. The new Holocaust Memorial Day included a major ceremony, attended by numerous dignitaries, televised on prime-time television, and thousands of smaller commemorations and events across the country.
In Britain, as in Germany, the early years of the new millennium have also seen fairly relentless screening of television programmes and production of publications about the Holocaust and World War II. Looking at the German case, I had already come to the conclusion that this new level of public Holocaust commemoration could not be explained in entirely the same way as the US—at least as in the arguments advanced by Peter Novick Novick and less convincingly Norman Finkelstein Finkelstein Kushner —seemed to require another strand to the argument again.
At the same time, the very fact that the Holocaust had become such a focus of public memorialisation and museumisation internationally called for explanation which would cut across the national differences. Holocaust heritage To some extent, the new level of public marking of the Holocaust could be seen as part of a more general public preoccupation—often dubbed an obsession—with the past that seems to have grown up especially since the s Huyssen ; Lowenthal Yet many of the arguments typically used to try to explain this do not seem to work for the case of Holocaust remembrance.
This is clearly no nostalgic looking back to a time of tradition, community or greater stability. More than anything the Holocaust clearly highlights precariousness, even—and indeed especially—in the midst of modernity and rationalisation Bauman Nevertheless, cutting across all of the many debates about the late twentieth-century heritage and history preoccupation—and indeed situating those debates themselves—is a casting of the past as a subject through which to debate moral and political concerns.
In other words, it has become a moral forum, perhaps even the pre-eminent moral forum of our times.
While the past may to some extent have long played something of this role, a more widespread The politics of heritage 46 public acknowledgement of differences among historians, historical revisionism, debates about school curricula, identity politics, public controversies over matters such as commemoration, and the spreading of a conception of history as potentially regressive rather than progressive Wright , have all contributed to history being publicly debatable, and to its centring as a site for political and ethical contemplation today.
The reasons why it has become so are partly shared across those nations in which the Holocaust is commemorated and to some extent are nation-specific, as I explore for the case of Britain below. British identity and World War II In order to understand the course of Holocaust commemoration in Britain, it is worth looking at why the Holocaust was not the subject of such memorialising and interest earlier.
It was too precious, it must be argued, to have been brought into question by the experiences of another people whose suffering and losses made British sacrifices pale into insignificance. Moreover, the history of the Jews in the war was particularly problematic; it was a story with no redemptive ending, which contrasted markedly with the British case. VE Day, in a European Jewish context, fitted very uneasily with the reality of the war.
While this day could be said to serve to remember all those who lost their lives in these wars as some who opposed establishing a Holocaust Memorial Day have argued , it was, from its initiation and in terms of how it has come to be seen and performed, primarily focused upon the heroism and loss of soldiers, and specifically on providing a funeral substitute for the military dead who were not repatriated Moriarty They were accompanied too by the more directly celebratory Battle of Britain and VE Day events, which also helped to shape British war memory.
Public acknowledgement of the enormous and particular sufferings of Jews in the war does not seem to have become at all widespread until the s Kushner , Kushner ; Hartman , though there was plenty of evidence available, not least from the war trials e. Cesarani ; Frei Historian Peter Novick, looking at the US, notes how different this is from many other cases.
Professor Duncan Wheeler | School of Languages, Cultures and Societies | University of Leeds
Why should this be so? Immediately after the war, he writes, the Holocaust was historidzed—thought about and talked about as a terrible feature of the period that had ended with the defeat of Nazi Germany. The Holocaust had not, in the post-war years, attained transcendent status as the bearer of eternal truths or lessons that could be derived from contemplating it. Novick In Britain this was also the case, feeding in to the redemptive allegory of Britain having overcome this evil.
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It also included the rise of identity politics—of groups which self-identified as having suffered discrimination making political claims on the basis of, and on behalf of, their shared ethnic, gendered, sexual or other identities. On the individual level, the cultural icon of the strong, silent hero is replaced by the vulnerable and verbose antihero. Stoicism is replaced as a prime value by sensitivity. Instead of enduring in silence, one lets it all hang out. Novick Leaving aside the question of whether articulating pain does or does not in fact alleviate it, this alleged shift is worth considering further, not least because in the British context it would jar with the celebratory heroism of much British war commemoration.
If the rise of Holocaust remembrance in the US was bound up with identity politics and the motif of individual survival, it was so in a particular way. One dimension of this was what in crude terms was almost a competition over suffering in which the black experience of slavery was the main contender Thomas ; with the Holocaust in Europe sometimes even seeming to be being turned into an icon of past horror shared by all white Americans, to vie with the historical experience of slavery shared by blacks.
Thus, black and white identities might, for example, be relationally constructed in opposition to one another, and experiences such as slavery be made symbolic of difference. With regard to national identities, two oppositional processes in particular seem to go on. One is externally oriented: self-definition in relation to other nations, e. British versus French. Gilroy But the very overt and stateperpetrated way in which this process occurred in Germany should not obscure the fact that the same basic process has been at work in identity formation in other nation-states too.
Even in the s, for example, Jews were not allowed to be members of various sporting organisations in Britain such as the English Golf Union Kushner Another feature of the construction of nineteenth-century national identities was the relating of positive, heroic narratives which depicted the nation as an active and successful entity.