Modern historical consciousness

The period from the sixteenth to the nineteenth century marked a series of fundamental changes that founded the modern world, and together with it the modern concepts of history and cultural heritage. Many of these changes coincided in the second half of the eighteenth century, and had their roots in European cultural, scientific, political, and economic developments. Politically, the period was marked by absolutist rule, only superseded through drastic social and political changes, starting principally from the French Revolution and leading to the nation state. The period was also qualified as the Age of Enlightenment due to an intellectual movement of thought concerned with interrelated concepts of God, reason, nature, and man. There were important advances in scientific thought and technical knowledge providing the basis for new types of industrial development, agriculture, medicine, and leading to escalation in population growth in urban areas. Consequently, there developed new types of city administration, new communication systems at the world scale, and a new relationship of society with traditional buildings, settlements, and land-use.

In the same period, there were fundamental changes in the concepts of art, history, and heritage, as well as in the human relationship with nature and universe. Until the seventeenth century, the Platonic concept of mimesis had been the basis for the interpretation of visible and invisible things and their relationships. Now there was a fundamental change related to identities and differences in the universe. There began a search for scientific proof; rather than on similitude, this was based on discrimination. Mathematics and order became the fundamental references for knowledge as elaborated by Descartes and Leibniz. The abstract concepts of Descartes and the empirical thoughts of the Anglo-Saxons were synthesized by Immanuel Kant in his epoch-making Critique of Pure Reason, forming a fundamental reference for modern philosophy.11 The belief in absolute, divine values was contested, and history came to be interpreted as a collective, social experience, recognizing that cultures of different ages and regions could have their own style and guiding spirit.

Knowledge of the diversity of customs and attitudes formed a new basis for writing cultural history, particularly through the contribution of Giovanni Battista Vico (1668-1744), and Johann Gottfried Herder (1744-1803).12 This development led to cultural pluralism and the recognition of nations with different cultures and different values, not necessarily commensurate. The truth of sources had to be verified as the basis for the assessment of the real significance of past achievements; the classical concepts of a universal, 'ideal man' or an 'ideal society' were meaningless (Vico, 1725-1744). The new concept of historicity led to consideration of works of art and historic buildings as unique, and worthy of conservation as an expression of a particular culture and a reflection of national identity. The new concepts of history and aesthetics became a fundamental part of Western culture. The rediscovery of folklore strengthened the feeling of national identity, and gave birth to the revival of national traditions, including the rebirth of suppressed languages (Berlin, 1992; Jokilehto, 1995). In the nineteenth century, there was a tendency even to invent traditions, as was seen in Britain, India and Africa (Hobsbawm and Ranger, 1983).

In the history of the protection and conservation of cultural properties, the eighteenth century was important for the definition of concepts including the question of original vs. copy. There emerged a new, critical appreciation of antiquity, emphasizing the importance of antique sculptures as the highest achievement in the history of art, and urging the conservation of originals both for their artistic value, and as 'lessons' for contemporary artists. Parallel to the identification of the significance of a work of art as an original creation of a particular artist, there was a growing appreciation of the patina of age on old paintings and sculptures, as well as technical innovations to provide new support to damaged paintings. In England, through the appreciation of classical landscapes and the design of landscape gardens, attention was directed to the picturesque ruins of national antiquities, the ancient abbeys. Unlike in the classical Mediterranean, the mediaeval manner of building was here never extinct, and one can detect continuity from Gothic survival to Gothic revival and to modern conservation.

It has been said that 'the French Revolution was a bridge, over which people passed into a new age, continuing their old disputes on the way' (Brooks, 1981:37). In fact, it had a powerful and lasting impact on the life of people and nations; it sharpened historical consciousness, revealed the complexity of reality, and showed the force of passions, the insufficiency of theories, and the power of circumstances. The revolution was one of the forces that led to Romanticism at the end of the eighteenth century. This powerful movement, resulting initially from the rejection of the rococo, and lasting until the emergence of Realism in the mid-nineteenth century, was particularly important to arts and literature. While difficult to define, Hugh Honour has identified as the essential characteristic of Romanticism 'the supreme value placed by the Romantics on the artist's sensibility and emotional "authenticity" as the qualities which alone confer "validity" on his work. Instead of reflecting the timeless, universal values of classicism, every romantic work of art is unique - the expression of the artist's own personal living experience' (Honour, 1981:20).

During the French Revolution, the properties of the church and the monuments that represented former sovereigns were conceived as symbols of past oppression, becoming targets of destruction. At the same time, there emerged a consciousness of the value of these structures as a testimony of the past achievements of the people who now formed a nation. With the liberation from French occupation by 1815, the Prussian king commissioned a report on the condition of state properties in the Rhineland that initiated government control of the restoration of state-owned historic buildings. In France, protection of such inheritance was promoted by the new-born state already during the revolutionary years; the most representative examples were declared monuments of the nation ('national monuments'). It took several decades - and another revolution - however, before the proposed system of protection had a concrete form.

From the 1830s onward, the modern restoration movement was given new vigour in the policies of Ecclesiologists in England and in the governmental guidelines in France, strengthened by an all-penetrating historicism in the second half of the nineteenth century (in German: der Historismus, an overemphasis of history)13 (Foucault, 1994; Fillitz, 1996). This was felt especially in the arts, in historical painting, and the construction of architecture and 'monuments' in different revival styles, and it was felt in the work on historic buildings, which were forced to reach stylistic unity, or even stylistic purity, as the ultimate aim of 'restoration'. This emphasis on restoration was further strengthened by the success of positivism, and the development of sciences. Restoration of historic buildings and the emerging archaeology were conceived in relation to scientific methods and knowledge, based on objective logic and, therefore, beyond value judgements.14 Such 'restoration fury' dominated the scene from the second half of the nineteenth century, but gradually it faced increasing criticism that led to an 'anti-restoration movement' and modern conservation.

The key issue in modern conservation is the question of values. The notion of value itself has undergone a series of transformations, and as Michel Foucault has written: 'Value can no longer be defined, as in the Classical age, on the basis of a total system of equivalences, and of the capacity that commodities have of representing one another. Value has ceased to be a sign, it has become a product' (Foucault, 1994:254). In fact, with the definitions that emerged especially through development in the field of economics, the notion of value became one of the basic issues in the theory of Karl Marx. The need to consider values in interpreting history has been emphasized by Paolo Fancelli, when referring to recent theories of historiography (Fancelli, 1992). The conservation movement was based on the recognition of cultural diversity and the relativity of values, forming the basis for a definition of the concept of 'historic monument' as part of national heritage. In the initial phase this new consciousness was expressed in criticism against prevailing renovation tendencies to modify or even to destroy historic buildings; later, it developed parallel to stylistic restoration, emphasizing the irreversibility of time, the historicity and uniqueness of buildings and objects from the past.

The development of modern conservation theory has evolved especially as a thinking process; at the same time, different types of restoration have continued being practised in the field. The definition and care of cultural heritage, physical and non-physical, has been characterized by conflicting value judgements. As noted above, it has mainly developed through a debate where the different aspects have been compared and priorities assessed. Modern conservation has been necessarily preceded by a process of awareness-building through the efforts of humanists and artists. It has usually been accompanied by the collection of historical artefacts and works of art, by cultural tourism and by the establishment of museums. Progressively, this development has led to state control, to norms and protective legislation, as well as to the establishment of administrations with responsibilities for the care of public buildings. Only later, has protection been extended to privately owned properties and historic settlements.

During the twentieth century, and especially since the Second World War, protection of cultural heritage has grown to international dimensions, involving organizations such as UNESCO, ICCROM, ICOM and ICOMOS, the definition of charters, recommendations, guidelines, and conventions, as well as promoting awareness campaigns and developing specialized training activities. The concept of cultural heritage has been broadened from historic monuments and works of art to include ethnographic collections, historic gardens, towns, villages and landscapes. The increase in scale and the recognition of diversity in cultures and physical conditions have led to a new situation, where the meaning of cultural heritage itself, and the policies for its safeguard have required reassessment.

Such confrontation has become particularly critical when trying to apply conservation principles in communities still respecting pre-industrial traditions, but also in urban and rural areas in general, where the control of change and the regeneration of values have taken an important role with the preservation of physical remains. Against this new background, one can well ask if the conservation movement, as it evolved from the eighteenth century, cannot be considered as concluded, and whether modern conservation should not be redefined in reference to the environmental sustainability of social and economic development within the overall cultural and ecological situation on earth.

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