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Orthodox vs. Heterodox: interesting read on heritage theory and practice today

Jeremy C. Wells, an assistant professor of historic preservation at the School of Art, Architecture, and Historic Preservation, Roger Williams University, wrote on the division between orthodox and heterodox pertaining to heritage theory and practices today. At a glace, he exposes the differences of both appraoches in the 22 points below.

"Orthodox theory can be understood through the following characteristics:

1. Its value system is defined through preservation doctrine

2. Law is used to enforce this preservation doctrine

3. Heritage is rare and unique

4. The identification and treatment of heritage is the domain of experts

5. Its ontological/epistemological orientation is empiricist-positivist

6. Historical significance is based on a positivistic view of history

7. Significance lies in the past, not the present

8. Reason, rather than evidence, is used to substantiate practice

9. Historical authenticity is dependent on the tangible presence of fabric that has “experienced” past events and people

10.The treatment of built heritage seeks to reveal the “true nature or condition” of a building or place by avoiding a “false sense of history”

11. Heritage values are assumed to be immutable and are fixed through the use of lists

Heterodox theory can be understood through the following characteristics:

1. Its value system is based on the contemporary social, cultural, and personal beliefs, perceptions, and feelings of a wide range of stakeholders

2. Social science research methods are used to understand these values

3. Heritage can be found everywhere

4. Everyone is a heritage expert

5. Heritage bridges natural and cultural divides

6. Its ontological/epistemological orientation is informed by post-colonial, post-structuralist, and post-modern theory

7. Significance is multidimensional and consists of cultural practices, person-place relationships, and emotional bonds with place

8. Significance lies in the present, not the past

9. It has had little effect on the actual practice of built heritage conservation, but emphasizes that evidence should used to substantiate changes to practice

10. Authenticity is pluralistic, not controlled by any one entity, and defined by social, cultural, or personal values and may have no direct relationship to physical fabric; ideas can be “authentic”

11. Heritage values are not fixed, and are best understood as processes that are in constant flux"

To read the entire article by Wells, visit:

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