Disney, dinosaurs, DNA and druids

International Journal of Heritage Studies (four times a year)
February 21, 1997

All at once Heritage is everywhere," David Lowenthal begins his latest book, Possessed by the Past: the Heritage Crusade and the Spoils of History. In 1995 The Times and Sunday Times ran 1,567 stories containing the word. What are we to make of such a protean concept embracing Disney and dinosaurs, DNA and druids?

Heritage studies, or "public history" as it is more helpfully known in the United States and Australia, addresses ways in which the past has been preserved, presented and consumed in previous and contemporary societies. It involves cultural historians, archaeologists, urban planners, environmental managers, conservators and museum curators. Such a multidisciplinary subject requires a forum and the advent of this journal is to be welcomed.

Articles in the first four issues range geographically from Sydney to Scandinavia and thematically from books to Bentleys. As editor Peter Howard notes in his inaugural editorial, heritage studies must embrace issues of communication, interpretation, management and theory as well as the longer established concerns of curatorship. For example, in one issue a useful discussion of interactive displays in museums provides a much-needed historical context to what is a very topical (and expensive) matter; a call for the integration of biological evidence with landscape management (in Scandinavia); and the setting out of an agenda "for developing a coherent research approach towards the everyday context of the motor car and motoring". There is also a 20-page review of recent (and not so recent) publications on topics often only tangential to heritage studies - however defined. They include Wessex to ad1000, Venice's medieval Ca d'Oro, 18th-century visual display and the search for modernism in American landscape. Many of these books have been reviewed elsewhere, so their inclusion here is difficult to justify.

There is something for everyone but not very much for individuals with specific interests. Given the multidisciplinary nature of heritage studies, this is unavoidable. But care must be taken not to sacrifice intellectual cohesion and clarity.

Simon Ditchfield is lecturer in history, University of York.

International Journal of Heritage Studies (four times a year)

Editor - Peter Howard
ISBN - ISSN 1352 7258
Publisher - Intellect
Price - £40.00 (indiv.) £80.00 (inst.)
Pages - -

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