Module: The Present Past: The Idea of Cultural Heritage

Module details

  • Module code

  • Module leader

    Dr Geraint Coles
  • Module Level

  • Module credits

  • Min study time

    150 hours
  • Contact hrs

    30 hours

Module content

This module examines the ways in which the past is part of our everyday experience. It explores the concepts of heritage and cultural heritage; how we encounter it, how we can attempt to understand it, and how our relationship with it shapes our own attitudes and the modern world. 

The first section enables participants to develop an appreciation of the nature of heritage and the heritage record and to consider the social, cultural, ethical, political, aesthetic, economic and environmental values, biases, assumptions and ascriptions that underpin and influence how we interpret and manage the historic environment and heritage.

In so doing the module emphasises the ethical issues surrounding heritage objects and sites; from questions of ownership to the narratives which are placed upon them.

The second part explores how narratives impact upon the interpretation and protection of the remains of the past. Critical consideration is given to the way in which the varied voices surrounding the past are heard – how they translate into interpretation (or propaganda), the role they play in conflict and how they can shape identity, sense of worth and place. The module concludes by considering how such narratives influence the creation of heritage protection legislation and the tensions which exist between international, national & local agencies and organisations in framing policies and legislation designed to protect the historic environment.

The module aims to foster critical thinking, analysis and debate and provides a philosophical and ethical context for the management of cultural heritage. 

The issues, themes and concepts of the course will be explored through the lens of regional case studies from which structured comparisons can be made with other countries.  

Module outcomes

On successful completion of this module a student should be able to:

  1. Critically evaluate the concepts of heritage and cultural heritage and the many settings and multiple ways in which they are employed
  2. Understand, explore and critically assess the complex, interlinked and changing social, cultural, ethical, political, aesthetic, economic and environmental factors, values, biases, assumptions and ascriptions that underpin and influence the study of cultural heritage
  3. Address and reflect on how such economic, cultural and social factors shape public and political perceptions of community and national heritage
  4. Demonstrate the critical application of the principles, philosophies and ethical concerns of heritage and cultural heritage to the conservation, preservation, management and stewardship of the heritage record in its widest sense


Assessment Description Weighting
Coursework Research Paper exploring a key issue in Cultural Heritage. The key issue will be developed from an initial seminar discussion of the nature and importance of heritage. 3000 words (excluding illustrations, tables and appendices) 100%

Assessments may differ in 2020/21 due to adjustments for Covid-19. Please check Gateway for the latest regulations.

Key texts

Essential resources:

  • Harrison, R. (Editor) (2010) Understanding the Politics of Heritage (Understanding Global Heritage). Manchester: Manchester University Press, 328 pages
  • Benton, T. (2010) Understanding Heritage and Memory (Understanding Global Heritage).  Manchester: Manchester University Press, 328 pages.
  • Lowenthal, D. (1985) The Past is a Foreign Country. Cambridge, CUP.
  • Urry, J. & Larsen, J.  (2011) (3rd Edition) The Tourist Gaze 3.0.  London: Sage.
  • West, S. (Editor) (2010) Understanding Heritage in Practice (Understanding Global Heritage).  Manchester: Manchester University Press, 328 pages.

Additional resources:

  • Ashworth, G. & Larkham, P. (editors) (2014) Building a New Heritage (Routledge Library Editions: Tourism).  London: Routledge, 294 pages
  • de Groot, J.  (2008)  Consuming History: Historians and Heritage in Contemporary Popular Culture.  London: Routledge, 304 pages.
  • Graham, B., Ashworth, G. & Tunbridge, J. (2000)  A Geography of Heritage: Power, Culture and Economy (Hodder Arnold Publication).  London: Routledge, Re-issue edition, 288 pages.
  • Hanks, Michele (2014) Haunted Heritage: The Cultural Politics of Ghost Tourism, Populism, and the Past (Heritage, Tourism and Community).  Walnut Creek: Left Coast Press Inc., 240 pages.
  • Jackson, A.T. (2012)  Speaking for the Enslaved: Heritage Interpretation at Antebellum Plantation Sites (Heritage, Tourism and Community).  Walnut Creek: Left Coast Press Inc., 216 pages.
  • La Follette, L. (2013) Negotiating culture: Heritage, Ownership, and Intellectual Property. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press.
  • Little, B.J. & Shackel, P.A. (2014) Archaeology, Heritage, and Civic Engagement:  Working toward the Public Good.  Walnut Grove: Left Coast Press.  172 pages.
  • Logan, W. & Reeves, K.  (2008) Places of Pain and Shame: Dealing with 'Difficult Heritage' (Key Issues in Cultural Heritage).  London:  Routledge, 304 pages.
  • Labadi, S. & Lang. C. (2010) Heritage and Globalisation.  London, Routledge.
  • Smith, L.  (2006)  Uses of Heritage. London: Routledge, 368 pages.
  • Smith, G., Messenger, P.M. & Soderland, H. (Editors) (2010) Heritage Values in Contemporary Society. Walnut Grove: Left Coast Press. 336 pages.
  • Waterton, E. &  Smith, L. (2009)  Taking Archaeology Out of Heritage.  Cambridge: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 250 pages.
  • Waterton, E. & Watson, S.  (2010) Culture, Heritage and Representation (Heritage, Culture and Identity).  London: Ashgate, 272 pages.