Ken Taylor on the human side of heritage conservation

Ken Taylor, co-editor of Conserving Cultural Landscapes: Challenges and New Directions, discusses the interdependence between people, their social structures and ecosystems, and landscape conservation.

Over the last thirty-five years or so there has emerged the idea of historic cultural landscapes being worthy of heritage conservation action. It is a movement that embraces an extraordinary array of landscapes from everyday landscapes to the international level of World Heritage landscapes. This rethinking is linked to criticism of a heritage focus on monuments and famous sites. It has seen a shift away from what Richard Engelhardt(1) pithily refers to as concentrating wholly on the three ‘Ps’ of Princes, Priests, and Politicians to include PEOPLE. Linked to this has been the question of whose values are we addressing in heritage conservation, particularly those of people – the fourth P – who inhabit the places in which we are interested.

Inextricably linked to a cultural concept of landscape is the understanding that one of our deepest needs is for a sense of identity and belonging and that a common denominator in this is human attachment to landscape and how we find identity in landscape and place. Cultural landscape study has also been coincidental with a widening interest in the public history movement and everyday landscapes. It underpins the notion that landscapes reflecting everyday ways of life, the ideologies that compel people to create places, and the sequence or rhythm of life over time tell the story of people, events and places through time, offering a sense of continuity: a sense of the stream of time. They also offer the context for broader concepts and understandings of cultural heritage than monuments and sites. It fits with Cosgrove’s dictum that landscape is not what we see, but a way of seeing.(2) In this sense landscape is not simply or overwhelmingly a product, it is a process in which humans create landscapes – cultural landscapes ¬– where ‘our human landscape is our unwitting biography, reflecting our tastes, our values, our aspirations, and even our fears in tangible visible form.'(3)

The cultural landscape concept is therefore intended to increase awareness that heritage places are not isolated islands and that there is interdependence between people, their social structures and ecosystems, and landscape conservation. Additionally increasing attention is now being focused on urban cultural landscapes particularly under the Historic Landscape Paradigm (HUL) paradigm. This is an approach to historic urban conservation which sees towns and cities as consisting of layers as in the cultural landscape concept It marks a shift away from the preoccupation with the historic city as visual object with a focus on famous buildings or groups of building divorced from their cultural setting to an interest in the historic environment as a space for ritual and human experience.

(1) Comment in his keynote presentation (unpublished) to Heritage and Development, 12th International Conference of National Trust, INTACH, New Delhi 3-5 December 2007.

(2) Cosgrove, D. E. (1984) Social formation and Symbolic Landscape, London & Sydney: Croom Helm.

(3) Lewis, P. (1979) ‘Axioms for Reading the Landscape. Some Guides to the American Scene’ p.12 in D. W. Meinig (ed), The Interpretation of Ordinary Landscapes. Geographical Essays, New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Ken Taylor is Professor Emeritus in the Research School of Humanities & Arts at the Australian National University and Visiting Professor in the International Program in Architectural Heritage Management and Tourism, Faculty of Architecture at Silpakorn University, Thailand, and Tongji University, China. He has been a member of the ICOMOS International Scientific Committee on Cultural Landscapes since 2005. Recent publications include Managing Cultural Landscapes (Routledge, 2013) and New Cultural Landscapes (Routledge, 2013).