Economic Incentive and Misrepresentation

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 an example of a heritage site making money.

Monticello, the home of Thomas Jefferson

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.

Hidden Heritage of Colonial Williamsburg

Hidden Heritage of Colonial Williamsburg

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.

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6 Responses to Economic Incentive and Misrepresentation

  1. acontreras26 says:

    What do you guys think? The economy is really important, especially to individuals in the communities surrounding world heritage sites. I could definitely be wrong in the position I take.

  2. rolmos3 says:

    I agree that for some sites, and maybe actually most, money is really important. From what we have learned tourism is heavily involved with heritage sites, but if I remember correctly one or two places have been removed from the world heritage list, so technically if it was seen that money was too big of a factor or overshadowed actual heritage it could be removed, possibly.

  3. tgonz22 says:

    I agree that sometimes the management of places is highly influenced by the money being made! Just want to let the people hear and see what they want, as long as they’re paying.

  4. storres27 says:

    i agree that leaving out a large part of the history is wrong slavery is what built that place to begin with.. also were you part of the group that presented on this site? seems like it lol..

  5. rhenke2014 says:

    I also agree that the misrepresentation is wrong but it is also true that the site is a crucial part of the economy. There needs to be some sort of balance between the two issues but a balance between any two things is hard to find….

  6. rdiaz29 says:

    Yeah, the misinterpretation sucks, but these sites have to make the money to live. And sometimes the truth isn’t enough.

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