Heritage and history

Raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens was never my thing. My thing was the past and plenty of it please.  I was the child who tried to make a astrolabe, who dug clay out of the garden and who lit a stick fire in an effort to produce a coil pot.
This same child, who used to cut herself while attempting  to knap flint into a useable tool (actually I still do that),  grew up into the adult who dresses up as a Tudor merchant and tries to infect other people with a love of sixteenth century through the prism of historical recreations.
 I’ve spent hours sewing historical costumes by hand, researching the tools, the methods, and the materials of my trade as a felt maker and glover. I’ve learnt the momentous events, (and some of the mundane occurences) of the 1500’s, in order to sound convincing in my role.

 I’ve even been known to talk a form of Tudor-ese, which is painful and comic all at the same time (I'm pretty sure Shakespeare would leap out of his grave and flee at my "thee's and thou's").  Then I sat down to write this blog post and realised that I hadn’t thought about the differences between the history that I study and the heritage I’ve been given.
For someone who likes books (old ones, leather bound and musty smelling for preference) and large libraries, this is slightly shameful. Casually lumping history and heritage together, what was I thinking? They may be similar, but they are not necessarily  the same.
History gives us an account of a perspective. It is inherently flawed (understandably so), because it can present itself as several versions. History involves a lot of unpicking, but even then you can never be entirely sure that you’re reached the truth. It is written by those who shout the loudest and is complicated by perception, prejudice and interpretation. History causes arguments about who is right and who is wrong: in short is it adversarial.

Spend a day in the company of other Tudor enthusiasts working out how you are going to present a station at a recreation and you'll soon learn that you have to step carefully. The "historically accurate" becomes increasingly hazy the closer you look at it. If you don't tread carefully, cherished historical opinions are likely go up in flames, and we all know how much wood smoke stings when it gets in your eyes (even if you are right).
Heritage on the other hand is an expression of custom, practice, artistic expression and value. It builds, not divides. Heritage is tangible in the form of buildings, places and artefacts as well as intangible, as a cultural construct. Heritage’s tragedy is that it isn’t given the same weight as history is, indeed it is often disguised as history and not formally studied until post compulsory education.

 We mostly achieve our heritage by osmosis, and once acquired, it becomes part of us and is passed on by us. See what I mean? Similar but different. I’m not saying that heritage doesn’t have a lot to do with history though. Heritage and history are clearly married. Heritage enjoys history’s embrace; but not all of history makes its way into heritage’s treasure chamber.
Now tangible heritage is a delicate structure which rests on precarious foundations. It is in need of protection from planners and governments.  A perfect case in point is the recent announcement that English Heritage will be divided, presumably to assist in the conquering  and undermining of the planning and environmental side of the organisation.  But if you allow the builders to remove our heritage then you start to dismantle the better parts of our collective identity.
I worry about this. The works of art, the architecture, the place, the cultural idiosyncrasies and the traditions that we inherit provide an opportunity to share experience. It gives a historical counterbalance against a fast paced world where then next best thing has to be purchased yesterday.  Without heritage we become less resilient, more mouldable, and more lost.
I don't expect anyone will listen to me, any more than they are going to listen this long dead old testament prophet I'm about to quote in order to illustrate my point of view.  Jeremiah (17:4)understood the value of culture when he delivered the following words...
“And thou, even thyself, shall discontinue from thine heritage that I gave thee and I will cause thee to serve thine enemies in the land which thou knowest not: for you have kindled a fire in mine anger which will burn forever”
Here heritage is presented as a gift, which can be detrimentally lost or removed. History is full of thugs and thieves that have wreaked havoc with places of learning and culture for their own agenda.  Do you trust this administration with the best pasts of yourself and your heritage?