Imagine standing before an awe-inspiring ancient relic, such as the Borobudur temple compound in Indonesia or the Parthenon of Greece. These astonishing landmarks hold centuries of captivating stories within their dented walls.
For some, these sites symbolise sacred places, while for others, it represents symbols of power. Some might even appreciate it for its architectural splendor or enchanting tails they embody. This means that different people can interpret their significance differently.
Negotiating the meanings of these sites is a juggling act, acknowledging the diverse perspectives while preserving their historical integrity. It is not a versatile approach, as visitors bring varied motivations, perspectives, beliefs, experiences, and values. Even museums are not neutral spaces, they play an important role in shaping our understanding of history and heritage (Sandell, 2007). The curators and exhibit designers choose which stories to highlight, which artefacts to display, and how to present them. This is where negotiation comes into play which should be treated in a delicate balance.
Negotiating meanings in heritage sites involves creating platforms for dialogue and recognising power dynamics. Through negotiation, we can overcome the disparity between conflicting viewpoints, seeking common ground while respecting and embracing the diversity of interpretations. Museums and tourist attractions should be inclusive spaces that embrace multiple narratives and challenge dominant perspectives. It is crucial to give voice to marginalised communities, acknowledge historical injustices, and foster a shared sense of ownership over our heritage (Iervolino & Sergi, 2022).
Across the UK, museums are undertaking the processes of negotiating meanings, encouraging visitors to reinterpret the stories behind their collections from multiple perspectives. One example is found at Kelvingrove Art Gallery Museum in Glasgow, Scotland. Recognising the imbalance in perspectives and interpretations, the museum has introduced new display labels that explore legacies and prompt discussions on slavery. The goal is to uncover multiple histories associated with the displayed objects and bring attention to untold stories. By engaging with diverse voices and narratives, this museum becomes a powerful platform for negotiating the meaning of heritage interpretation (Museum and Heritage, 2022).
So, next time you embark on your own heritage exploration, remember to engage in meaningful dialogue, embrace different perspectives, and contribute to the ongoing negotiation of meanings as part of our collective human experience.
Iervolino, S. and Sergi, D. (2022). Museums, Class and the Pandemic: An investigation into the lived experiences of working-class Londoners. London: Museum of London.
Museum and Heritage (2022). Glasgow Museum Explores Colonial Interpretation Labels with Visitors. Available at: https://advisor.museumsandheritage.com/news/glasgow-museum-explores-colonial-interpretation-labels-visitors/, Accessed: 31 May 2023
Sandell, R. (2006). Museums, Prejudice and the Reframing of Difference (1st ed.). Routledge. https://doi.org/10.4324/9780203020036