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John Carman

United Kingdom

John Carman is an archaeologist who gained his PhD from Cambridge University in 1993. He was until September 2021 Senior Lecturer in Heritage Valuation in the Ironbridge International Institute for Cultural Heritage, University of Birmingham, UK, where he specialised in theoretical approaches to heritage management. His authored works in the field of archaeological resource management include Valuing Ancient Things: Archaeology and Law (1996), Archaeology and Heritage (2002), Against Cultural Property (2005) and Archaeological Resource Management: an international perspective (2015). He has co-authored Archaeological Practice in Great Britain (2011) and co-edited Managing Archaeology (1995), World Heritage: Global Challenges, Local Solutions (2007), Heritage Studies: Methods and Approaches (2009) and The Oxford Handbook of Public Archaeology (2012). Today he holds the post of Honorary Associate Professor in the Department of History, University of Birmingham, and his main interests in the field of heritage continue to concern issues of value and property.


Loud and Silent Discourses of Heritage: Issues of Value and Ownership

Ideas of value lie at the heart of heritage discourses. It underpins claims of State ownership and control over heritage sites and places, since they are deemed to represent resources of value to national identity, and ideas of the inherent value of heritage provide the basis for what Smith (2006) calls the ‘authorised heritage discourse’. Discourses of value are therefore quite loud in heritage circles but theories of value are rarely addressed directly. Instead, we tend to focus on listing the types of value heritage may have.

But heritage practitioners do not claim ownership of the resources they manage. Instead, they claim to act as stewards and custodians of heritage on behalf of the wider community – usually national – that they serve. There is very little engagement with ideas of ownership in heritage discourse, except to assert its ownership by communities or to oppose claims of private ownership by individuals. Discourses of property and ownership are therefore rare in heritage circles and we never admit that our claims of stewardship and custodianship are claims of ownership in disguise.

This lecture will address ideas about value and how they relate to questions of ownership very directly. Instead of asserting a claim to value or ownership, it will expose some of the hypocrisy of the heritage field and offer alternative ways of thinking about and addressing these issues with a view to opening up debate on them.


On value:
Chapter 6 in Carman, J. (2002) Archaeology & Heritage: an introduction. London & New York, Continuum.

Carver, M. (1996) On archaeological value. Antiquity 70, 45-56.

Darvill, T. (1995) Value systems in archaeology. In Managing Archaeology, edited by M. A. Cooper, A. Firth, J. Carman & D. Wheatley (eds). London, Routledge.

Lipe, W. (1984) Value and meaning in cultural resources. In Approaches to the Archaeological Heritage, edited by H. F. Cleere. Cambridge, University Press.

On property:

Boyd, W.E., Cotter, M. M., Gardiner, J. and Taylor, G. (2005) ‘Rigidity and a changing order… disorder, degeneracy and daemonic repetition’: fluidity of cultural values and cultural heritage management. In Heritage of Value, Archaeology of Renown: reshaping archaeological assessment and significance, edited by C. Mathers, T Darvill, and B.J.Little. Pp. 43-57. Gainesville: University Press of Florida.

Chapters 4, 5, 6 and 7 in Carman, J. (2005) Against Cultural Property: archaeology, heritage and ownership. London, Duckworth