Omnipresent heritage

Il Mulino 4/2020

In ‘Il Mulino’, the historian François Hartog describes the genealogy of the modern concept of heritage and argues that democratization has made heritage all about emotion. Also: how cities can be reinvented in response to the pandemic; and why Italy urgently needs a reform on property tax.

‘The pandemic remains – and will remain for long – the background of political choices at all levels’, write Il Mulino’s editors. In these exceptional times, we cannot simply focus on ‘how to best apply available remedies to known problems’. Instead, what is under discussion is ‘a whole heritage of rules and values’.

Care cities

Elena Granata investigates the radical changes that the pandemic has brought to the temporality and spatiality of our daily lives. We have been forced to ‘rediscover close relationships and to become more stationary’, she writes. Cities need to be rethought on a more human scale – as villes du quart d’heure, to use the phrase coined by the mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo. This ‘miniaturization of territory’ provides an opportunity for medium-sized cities to reinvent themselves as distinct from large metropolitan centres. These smaller urban centres could become ‘care cities’, whose hallmarks are social protection, inclusion, rights and equity.

Taxing property

The importance of having comfortable living space has become even more obvious during the lockdown, as families bear the strain of distance learning and working from home. But in Italy, where available housing has exceeded the number of households since the 1980s, building is not the solution to the housing problem. On the contrary, write Marianna Filandri and Giovanni Semi, ‘there are more and more families who own real estate that they do not use and do not rent’. What is needed is a tax reform that distinguishes between private persons who invest their savings in real estate and professional operators who extract profit from the housing market.

Omnipresent heritage

The modern meaning of ‘heritage’ emerged soon after the French Revolution, when iconoclastic fury was replaced by the desire to preserve the past in the name of France’s glory and the education of its people, writes historian François Hartog. Historical monuments became the highest expression of this idea.

However, since the 1970s, heritage has no longer been the sole prerogative of the state. A process of ‘patrimonialization’ has taken place, in which heritage is invented in order to provide cultural anchors. Now, ‘everything, or almost everything, is in danger of becoming heritage, and very quickly’. The result is an ‘omnipresent present’ where heritage has a value only if it produces an emotional response. ‘History is considered the auxiliary science of a memory (almost) entirely based on affect’, Hartog argues.

This article is part of the 18/2020 Eurozine review. Click here to subscribe to our weekly newsletter to get updates on reviews and our latest publishing.

Published 7 October 2020
Original in English
First published by Eurozine

Contributed by Il Mulino © Eurozine



Subscribe to know what’s worth thinking about.

Related Articles

Cover for: Don’t cry for me, Dostoevsky

In true Stalinist manner, Russian culture is being weaponized in the war against Ukraine. But instead of cancelling Russian writers, should we read them with a critical eye – just like other European classics?

Cover for: Cancel culture vs. execute culture

Cancel culture vs. execute culture

Why Russian manuscripts don’t burn, but Ukrainian manuscripts burn all too well

Rather than debating what to do with Russian culture, western intellectuals need to talk about how to prevent another Executed Renaissance. For Ukrainians, the Soviet-Russian purge of their national intelligentsia in the 1930s is more than just a memory.