Emotional Heritage: Visitor Engagement at Museums and Heritage Sites, 1st Edition (Paperback) book cover

Emotional Heritage

Visitor Engagement at Museums and Heritage Sites, 1st Edition

By Laurajane Smith


368 pages | 5 B/W Illus.

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Emotional Heritage brings the issues of affect and power in the theorisation of heritage to the fore, whilst also highlighting the affective and political consequences of heritage-making.

Drawing on interviews with visitors to museums and heritage sites in the United States, Australia and England, Smith argues that obtaining insights into how visitors use such sites enables us to understand the impact and consequences of professional heritage and museological practices. The concept of registers of engagement is introduced to assess variations in how visitors use museums and sites that address national or dissonant histories, and the political consequences of their use. Visitors are revealed as agents in the roles cultural institutions play in maintaining or challenging the political and social status quo. Heritage is, Smith argues, about people and their social situatedness, and the meaning they, alongside or in concert with cultural institutions, make and mobilise to help them address social problems and expressions of identity and sense of place in and for the present.

Academics, students and practitioners interested in theories of power and affect in museums and heritage sites will find Emotional Heritage to be an invaluable resource. Helping professionals to understand the potential impact of their practice, the book also provides insights into the role visitors play in the interplay between heritage and politics.


‘Based on a massive amount of empirical research – conducted across continents and years – this ambitious book is a major contribution to heritage debates. Written with verve and clarity, its importance goes far beyond its crucial message that we need to take the emotional dimensions of heritage seriously. In Emotional Heritage, Laurajane Smith not only presents this groundbreaking project but also robustly sets out her analytical stall and manifesto for heritage studies.’ – Sharon Macdonald, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, Germany

Table of Contents

List of figures

List of tables


List of abbreviations


Part I: Heritage, Politics and Emotion

  1. Critical realist heritage studies: Agency, reflexivity and materiality
  2. Reconsidering heritage and identity: The politics of recognition and the affective practices of heritage.
  3. Registers of engagement

    Part II: Methods and Quantitative Findings

  4. Methods
  5. Overall findings and national comparisons
  6. Genres of museums and heritage sites: Comparisons
  7. Demographic variables and visitor responses
  8. Part III: Emotional Heritage: Themes and Performances

  9. Reassessing learning: Changing views and deepening understanding
  10. Performing reinforcement and affirmation: ‘It just reinforces a lot of the stuff I think’
  11. Emotional banality and heritage-making: The banality of grandiloquence revisited
  12. Intergenerational communication and connection
  13. Heritage and the politics of recognition
  14. Heritage, privilege and the politics of misrecognition


About the Author

Laurajane Smith is Director of the Centre for Heritage and Museum Studies, at the Australian National University, Canberra. She is founding president of the Association of Critical Heritage Studies, editor of the International Journal of Heritage Studies and co-general editor of Routledge’s Key Issues in Cultural Heritage, and is best known for her previous book Uses of Heritage (2006, Routledge).

Subject Categories

BISAC Subject Codes/Headings:
SOCIAL SCIENCE / Archaeology