The Global Political Economy of Cultural Heritage

UNESCO World Heritage in Urban Contexts: Istanbul, Melaka and Xi'an

Researchers:

Pierpaolo De Giosa
Ph.D Candidate
Melaka

Vivienne Marquart
Ph.D Candidate
Istanbul

Leah Cheung Ah Li
Ph.D Candidate IMPRS ANARCHIE
Xi'an


Complementing the focus on the transnational arena, three research projects study the interaction between global, national, and local-level forces at specific World Heritage sites. All three are urban sites with impressive imperial pedigrees and major hubs of past – in Istanbul, also present – globalisation, as reflected in the built fabric and its multi-ethnic and multi-religious provenance. None of them is a capital today but all are their country's premier historical cities (an honour that Xi'an shares with Beijing) and main destinations for cultural tourism. Correspondingly, they also were and among their nation's first-listed cultural World Heritage properties. Cultural heritage in these places comprises a large range of both elite and commoner buildings (from mosques and palaces to merchant quarters and vernacular houses), distributed over vast areas. It therefore has an impact on a broad range of people and institutions, and these are engaged in a lively debate about the costs and benefits of heritage status when modern development is an equally pressing need. In contrast to many previous ethnographic studies, our projects will treat the UNESCO designation not just as a side aspect but as a key research problem, and they will build on the insights and contacts developed through the other research focus of the group on the transnational level of the World Heritage institutions. Fieldwork is currently ongoing in Melaka and Istanbul and planned for 2013—14 in Xi'an.

Istanbul

Vivienne Marquart
Doktorandin

The historic peninsula of Istanbul – imperial capital for almost two millenia – was inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List already in 1985. But according to critics, preservation measures have not been effective, with sustainable strategies, the coordination of responsibilities and a management plan for the property lacking. While tourist promotion focuses on a few representative buildings, such as Hagia Sophia, Süleymaniye Mosque and Topkapı Palace, the vernacular houses of the historic neighbourhoods are in decline or being demolished for urban modernisation projects, resulting in deteriorating living conditions and the displacement of many inhabitants.

Since the early 2000s, local NGOs have addressed these problems. The World Heritage Committee too has criticised the developments, to the point of debating Istanbul's entry on the List of World Heritage in Danger, which has prompted local reactions and an intense public debate. Controversy centres on a number of huge infrastructural projects (such as Haliç Metro Bridge, Marmaray Railway Tunnel, and Yenikapı Station) and private high-rise developments which could affect the historic peninsula's famous skyline. Fieldwork will explore these urban transformation projects and examine the interplay of the various global, national and local powers in a contested and politically charged urban terrain, against the backdrop of current massive investments in a global boom town.

Melaka

Pierpaolo De Giosa
Ph.D Candidate

In 2008, Melaka was inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage property, in tandem with another Malaysian historical city in the Straits of Malacca, George Town. This has been the crowning achievement in a strategy of remaking Melaka as the Bandar Raya Bersejarah (Historical City) of the nation, emphasizing continuity with the grandiose past of the first sultanate of the peninsula and the urban fabric left by Portuguese, Dutch, and British colonial overlords. National, federal-state, and municipal agencies have cooperated in promoting the 'universal' characteristics of the city, embracing also the contributions of Chinese, Indian, and mixed-descent communities. The purportedly harmonious coexistence of traditional townhouses and shophouses, temples of diverse faiths, urban festivals, and several ethnic neighborhoods or kampung has been supported by revitalisation projects, and Malaysia has shown particular World Heritage commitment by adopting a national law and successfully running for a World Heritage Committee seat in 2011. Along with the protection of the historic core, however, modern construction development is ongoing.

Research on the ground will focus on the urban heritage of Melaka between conservation plans and real estate development. Intangible aspects such as urban rituals and parades or 'new' urban performances will be significant too for analysing re-imaginations of the past, projections toward the future, and discourses on tradition between invention and creativity. Ethnographic fieldwork will explore a broad range of actors: transnational agencies, nation and nation-state, local bureaucrats and experts, NGO's, ordinary Melakans, and the tourist industry.

Xi'an

Leah Cheung Ah Li
Ph.D Candidate IMPRS ANARCHIE

Xi'an, the former Chang'an – 3100 years old and capital to 13 dynasties of Chinese emperors – experienced World Heritage fame in 1987 when the mausoleum of the first Qin emperor with the stunning terracotta army was listed. The city centre too is full of famous heritage buildings of which, for instance, the Wild Goose Pagoda, the Tang dynasty palaces, the ancient city wall, or the Forest of Steles are World Heritage candidates. The glorious history characterises the city and dominates the mindset of its inhabitants. However, here as well, due to rapid modernisation, the cityscape is as much shaped by high rises as by historical buildings today. Based on a review of the literature, archival studies, participant observation, and interviews, this project intends to explore the interaction between modern development and historical preservation in the city.

Both modernisation and the advance of heritage and heritage tourism have a strong impact on the social life of the residents. The project therefore seeks to understand how historical and archaeological sites are displayed and in what ways this has changed in recent years along with the general social and economic transformation of Xi'an. How do different social actors understand heritage, perceive their own history and remember their past, and how do they react, negotiate, or compromise in situations when modernity, history and heritage cannot be reconciled so easily?

 
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