Empire, War and Nation: Heritage Management Perspectives from Canada and Malta

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John Tunbridge


This article offers recent insights on contested heritage from Canada and Malta. These contrasting geographical extremes span a range of heritage dissonances but share a common historical identity as successor states to the British Empire, entailing familiar postcolonial heritage equivocations. Dissonances between colonial and indigenous heritage meanings are discussed. The principal focus of the paper is the Empire at war, as an issue of heritage management in Ottawa, the capital of Canada, and in Malta; comparative insights are generated with resonance for other imperial successor states such as Australia, New Zealand and Singapore. In Ottawa the National Capital Commission is engaged in a delicate management of heritage evolution from the imperial past to the multicultural present, involving adjustment and diversification of heritage meanings in which the indigenous peoples and Canada's wartime/military history figure prominently. Malta's time-depth generates an embarrassment of heritage resources, necessitating choices as it moves from 'blue' seacoast to 'grey' heritage tourism; while earlier eras are favoured, the British imperial and military heritage is inescapable, especially the heroic shared defence of 1940-3, generating management issues over recency, postcoloniality, the naval legacy and the problem of marketing to the former enemy populations. Questions of whose heritage, using which resources of what period, for whose benefit and how managed, elicit a different range of answers in the two cases: British colonial heritage is too diverse to be value-generalised, and there is no single, immutable colonial template for postcolonial identity. However, the particular legacy of the Empire at war is notably formative in the evolution of succeeding national identities.

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Author Biography

John Tunbridge, Carleton University, Ottawa

John Tunbridge is Professor of Geography and Environmental Studies at Carleton University, Ottawa, Canada. He studied at Cambridge and Bristol, came by way of Sheffield, and has also taught at the universities of Portsmouth, New England (Armidale, Australia) and Natal (Pietermaritzburg, South Africa). He has written extensively on heritage and related issues for thirty years, including pioneer recognition of conflict in heritage.


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