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The Australian National University

Recognition and emotional distancing at Indigenous Heritage Sites: Findings of visitor interviews

Presented by

Laurajane Smith


Haydon Allen G052 (Quadrangle, near ANU Union), Australian National University


Wednesday, 9 October 2013
12.30 - 2.00pm

The Future Fellowship project, ‘Cultural heritage and the mediation of identity, memory and historical narratives’, 2010-2014, aims to examine the memory and identity work that visitors undertake at museums and other heritage sites in Australia, USA and England. One of the genres of heritage sites that the project has examined has been Indigenous sites and museums. This presentation will outline the findings of visitor interviews at Uluṟu-Kata Tjuṯa National Park, the First Australians Gallery at the National Museum of Australia, Pequot Museum USA and Yellowstone National Park. Non-Indigenous visitor responses to these sites tend to follow three themes.  The first is centred on the positive recognition and memory work in which the visit may be identified as an embodied performance of acknowledgement and political recognition. The second theme centres on the issue of emotional disengagement. The presentation will outline the various ways in which other visitors disengage from Indigenous history and culture to emotionally distance themselves and close down the possibilities of recognition and acknowledgement. Tied into this latter response is a reluctance to engage in recognition of the visitor’s own identity as an inheritor of colonial legacies. The third response centres on the embodied performance of cultural and ‘spiritual’ appropriation.

Laurajane Smith is an ARC Future Fellow at the School of Archaeology & Anthropology, Research School of Humanities & the Arts, ANU.

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