“Heritage”, as Kirshenblatt-Gimblett argues, “produces something new in the present that has recourse to the past.” This perspective nicely fits with one main aim of this conference, namely to bring historiographical studies on heritage into a fruitful dialogue with those studies that look at the (ab)uses of the past for contemporary life – in short, at the politics of heritage in contemporary societies. While heritage studies and conferences on heritage issues abound these days, justifiably reflecting the importance that heritage plays today, heritage in the Indian Ocean World is seldom addressed as such. Yet, looking at this macro-region will provide some specific insights. In the Indian Ocean world, with its long history of migrations and maritime exchanges, the pasts which people encounter, remember, imagine, glorify, celebrate, perform, politicize and commercialize (as in tourism), but sometimes also seek to forget and overcome, often have their origins and continuing roots elsewhere. These pasts, then, travelled not only through time but through space as well. They have travelled the seas and have (had) to be translated into, and adapted for, new geographical, socio-cultural, economic and political settings. On the one hand, then, the material and intangible manifestations of heritage which specific individuals, communities and nations of the Indian Ocean world encounter in their daily lives or which they experience in special commemorative events are not their own; they explicitly belong to another neighbouring group, or they are colonial in origin, pointing to a past which one competes with, seeks to nostrify, or strives to forget. On the other hand, one’s own cherished past, and material as well as ideational markers of it, do not stem from the place in which one lives now. In these cases, the past is not just a foreign country, to paraphrase a much-used saying, but it is in and has travelled from a foreign country.
This conference seeks to address manifestations of cultural heritage and the politics of heritage-ization in the Indian Ocean world, especially in port cities and littoral societies, which dynamically connect people to their distant pasts of and in a place in which they no longer live, or which force people to encounter and deal with a past (and heritage) which is not their own. Within the intellectual aims of the Max Planck Fellowship program on “Connectivity in Motion”, special emphasis will be given to the particular mobilities, performative modes, political uses and economic benefits in which these temporal and at the same time spatial translations of the “there and then” into a “here and now” take place or took place. (The conference seeks to include studies of those uses of the past for contemporary purposes which were lying in the past.)
Source: Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology, Link (1 May 2017)