An example of the first reading was enacted by the French National Library in 2016: On its website, in its special Bibliothèques d’Orient, the library made available digitized documents that illustrate relationships between France and the rest of the world. This digital approach also implied that the use and research of tangible heritage was no longer necessarily linked to the place of origin. At the same time, the worldwide access to the documents by users from different research cultures was expected to provide new contexts and perspectives on a shared cultural history.
With this digitization, the National Library was implementing a demand of UNESCO and the declaration “Les droits culturels. Fribourg declaration” (1998/2007): Everyone, alone or in
community with others, has the right: to access, notably through the enjoyment of the rights to education and information, cultural heritages that the expression of different cultures as well as resources for both present and future generations. (Art. 3, Par. c.)
Since then, the concept has been used for other mobile material cultural assets—such as objects and works of art—and immobile when a transcultural self-understanding was taken as the basis for cooperation or collaboration between cultural institutions like museums or archives.
Global perspectives on art and history
PHOTOS: Deutsche Digitale Bibliothek, Berlin / Bibliothèque d’Orient, National Library, Paris (Screenshots)
Transnational perspectives on art and history
In 2018, the European Union also used the terminus “sharing heritage” as a motto for its European Year, which has taken place since 1983. The aim of the European Cultural Heritage Year 2018 was to understand cultural heritage on European soil as a common heritage and to rethink often nationally-oriented narratives that have been used to mediate heritage in the past. Instead of emphasizing divisions, the historical and cultural interconnectedness of the member states’ heritage should be used to create a new dialogue. In this context, “Sharing Heritage” means a dynamic process that needs to be continually realized and that is created through communication, reflection, and the reformulation of attributions.
In this sense, the European Cultural Heritage Year served to promote the political objectives expressed in the Framework Convention on the Value of Cultural Heritage for Society (Faro-Convention, 2005) which defines cultural heritage as a human right and peace work: The parties agree to promote an understanding
of the common heritage of Europe, which consists of a) all forms of cultural heritage in Europe which together constitute a shared source of remembrance, understanding, identity, cohesion and creativity, and b) the ideals, principles and values, derived from the experience gained through progress and past conflicts, which
foster the development of a peaceful and stable society,
founded on respect for human rights, democracy and the rule
of law. (Art. 3)
Inspired by the concept of a transnational Shared Heritage, some European countries and civil societies began to examine their national narratives, to deal with old myths, and to integrate previously neglected perspectives. National projects of this kind are taking place in the Netherlands and in Great Britain and, at the level of civil society, in Poland, where the foundation “Forum for dialogue” serves as a platform for a dialogue on Polish Jewish history.
PHOTOS: Historial Hartmannswillerkopf, France / Forum for Dialogue, Poland (© Memorial hwk-eu / M. Halaczek)
Social perspectives on art and living culture
The concept of shared heritage has also found its way into the civil societies of single nations. The reason for this is worldwide migration and, as a result, the increasing reconfiguration of nations as multicultural civil societies, within which cultural majorities and minorities have to negotiate new narratives that create a shared culture of remembrance for their material and immaterial cultural heritage. It is apparent that immigrant minorities are increasingly asserting their claim to participate in an (often monocultural) historiography. Both the cultural policies of states and of cultural heritage agencies such as museums, theatres, orchestras, or publishing houses must, therefore, deal with how they can broaden their views and, with regard to the process of canon formation, take into account the heritage of their multicultural societies.
Through the revision of national collective memory and identity narratives, the concept of shared heritage becomes not only a solution for migration societies, but also a catalyst for conflicts. An example of this is where in so-called majority societies, so-called minorities create their own cultural institutions in order to tell their story from their perspective. In this case, while the ensuing diversity of museums and theatres reflect the diversity of society, it is also an indication that minorities have no confidence in the narratives of the majority nor in being represented by them. shared heritage is therefore not only a matter of positive diversity, dialogue, and new narratives, but it can also expose conflicts and contradictions of segregated cultural memories and heritage concepts within a single country.
PHOTOS: Zamir Shatz: Habibti: A State of all citizens, 2014/15, Tel Aviv Museum / West-Eastern Divan Orchestra at Salzburg 2020: Daniel Barenboim (Conductor), West-Eastern Divan Orchestra (© Christiane Dätsch / Marco Borrelli)
Conflicts over material cultural heritage
In ethnological contexts, the concept often implies a controversial dialogue about the concrete material heritage and its ownership. Here, Mark Terkessidis speaks of heritage in once overlapping territories (Terkessidis 2019: 77). For example, many objects that came to European countries from non-European communities in the course of colonialism and imperialism are today the subject of restitution debates and legal clarification cases. This question of correct ownership – who is the owner? – makes a transcultural discussion about a “shared inheritance” and the mode of cooperation difficult, even impossible, at times.
An example of this discourse in Germany is the Humboldt Forum in the heart of Berlin, opened in October 2020, which is intended to represent the “cultures of the world” without going into detail about the asymmetrical distribution of the world’s cultural heritage in Europe and the acquisition contexts of the objects in question. In France, the Musée du Quai Branly is another example of this conflict.
Cf. Mark Terkessidis (2019): Wessen Erinnerung zählt? Koloniale Vergangenheit und Rassismus, Hamburg.