My preconceived notion of heritage was that the term embodied the culture and historical significance of an area to the descendant and stakeholders of that culture to that area, today. Ideally, heritage should be presented in accordance with this definition, and passed down with this in mind. This is not always the case. There are various perceptions of heritage, and many are twisted by the economic interests of the heritage institution. I have learned while taking this course that heritage is unique to everyone, but the presentation of some sites that represent a group’s heritage are similar in that they prioritize the economic aspects over the public responsibilities they have.
Monticello is one such site that misrepresents the narrative of its heritage for economic gain. Monticello benefits the economy tremendously in Charlottesville, Virginia. The overall count amounts to over 30 million dollars of added revenue to the city. The problem with this is that it will not motivate the management of Monticello to reconsider its false representation. One of the reasons that Monticello is so significant to American history is because of the role slavery had in Jefferson’s day. Slavery, however, is not an integrated narrative at Monticello. There is a completely separate tour for slavery, but the group tour, which gives a brief overview of Monticello in general, omits slavery as a whole. Why would they change the narrative? It has served there economic interests well, so there would be no need to alter the story that is being told there.
Colonial Williamsburg is presented in similar fashion as Monticello. The town depicts Colonial life, and all the workers act as if they were actually from the time. The site is elaborate and well thought out, but it is an idealized version of the town. Today, there is no depiction of slavery and the slavery trade, or of disgusting practices that took place, like throwing bodily wastes out on the streets. These aspects of the history are not being told there, but like Monticello, there is no reason for it to change. Colonial Williamsburg is highly profitable to its community and these economic interests are what guide its presentation.
Many other sites that claim to present heritage and act in the interest of its stakeholders will also bend its presentation to fit economic needs. We need to ask ourselves what needs to be prioritized; economy or public responsibility. Admittedly, this is not an easy question to answer. Some would ask why both can’t be achieved, but, like in Monticello and Colonial Williamsburg, adding the dark past to the sites’ narrative may repel tourist rather than attract them. In which case, one will have to be sacrificed over the other. Though the economy benefits the community of these sites, I believe that the responsibility that Heritage sites have to the public need to be prioritized. Every unique narrative that is being told at each site serves to educate the public of a culture or the significance that site had in history. If we sacrifice that, then we forfeit the significance of World Heritage sites.
Any site that holds the title of World Heritage has to live up to that title. The ultimate resolution to this problem is to force all sites on the World Heritage list to present the story in a complete and fulfilling manner. This may hinder the economic capabilities of the site, but that is a sacrifice that is necessary for education; which is what these sites need to serve.