Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Space heritage and the Dublin Principles for the Conservation of Industrial Heritage Sites, Structures, Areas and Landscapes

Last year, the 17th ICOMOS General Assembly approved the 'Dublin Principles' for the the Conservation of Industrial Heritage, Sites, Structures, Areas and Landscapes. The Principles are the joint work of the International Council on Monuments and Sites and the International Committee for the Conservation of the Industrial Heritage (TICCIH). This is naturally of interest since it covers the material culture of space exploration, which, despite the romance of rockets and astronauts, is about as industrial as you can get. You can find the final text here.

So what are the principles?  They start with a definition:
The industrial heritage consists of sites, structures, complexes, areas and landscapes as well as the related machinery, objects or documents that provide evidence of past or ongoing industrial processes of production, the extraction of raw materials, their transformation into goods, and the related energy and transport infrastructures.
This definition is both broad enough and precise enough to apply to space complexes consisting of terrestrial and orbital/planetary/interplanetary components. The interdependence of 'multiple site operations or systems' is emphasised in a few places in the Principles, and I think this is important, both as a feature of industry in a globalised capitalist world, and as a management principle - you can't just consider a site in isolation: the connections are part of its significance.

The definition does not mention time frame, but the introduction makes clear that the focus of the Principles is the heritage of the Industrial Revolution and the modern world.

Note also that documents are both sources of information, and part of the evidence: both artefact and research tool at the same time.
The significance and value of industrial heritage is intrinsic to the structures or sites themselves, their material fabric, components, machinery and setting, expressed in the industrial landscape, in written documentation, and also in the intangible records contained in memories, arts and customs.
A frequent question I get when I talk about space stuff to non-archaeologists is why we need to keep the actual material when we have (often) the maps, plans, photographs, documents, etc. The answer is simple. Words and drawings can lie. Well, they can be inaccurate, or represent something only from a particular perspective (both in the drawing sense or the point of view sense), or omit critical information. (These inaccuracies, perspectives and omissions are themselves interesting to study). And anyone who still thinks that a photograph in some way represents an objective reality needs to get with the programme. That's not to say that photographs are not incredibly important as historical documents; only that to see them as standing in for the actual object or place is very naive in a 19th century spiritualist kind of way. Yes, scientists, I'm talking to you, with my humanities hat on.

So the fabric, the physical stuff, is important. Where a document of any kind does not tell us what we need to know, or we want another perspective, we need to go back to the original thing. This statement also picks up on the importance of the setting (following the Burra Charter) and the intangibles. 

Here is the first action statement: I. Document and understand industrial heritage structures, sites, areas and landscapes and their values. This research and documentation should include human skills and knowledge, should be interdisciplinary, and should include consultation with stakeholders. All this is standard fare for heritage managers, but the following is perhaps a departure, and as a recommendation for practice, has all kinds of implications:
Research and preservation of documentary records, company archives, building plans, and specimens of industrial products should be encouraged. The evaluation and assessment of documents should be undertaken by an appropriate specialist in the industry to which they relate to determine their heritage significance.
This is about encouraging corporations and industries to value their own history and heritage, and preserve the company archives. I've certainly had the experience of contacting a manufacturer to enquire about particular documents or archives, only to find that someone has chucked them out just the week before because they were taking up space, or they've got lost in some building move, or a recent employee isn't even aware of the company's history or significance. The second part of the statement above acknowledges that modern industries are so complex and specialist that a heritage manager can't, by themselves, hope to gain a good understanding of what documents mean and why they might be significant: an industry specialist should not only be consulted, but should evaluate and assess these documents.

II. Ensure effective protection and conservation of the industrial heritage structures, sites, areas and landscapes.
This protection should occur through legal, policy and administrative measures, while remaining aware of the rules for corporations and investments, trades or intellectual property such as patents, and standards applicable to active industrial operations. In other words, the relationship of the heritage to the contemporary industry. Not something you really have to worry about with other kinds of heritage.

Are there legal measures for the protection of space heritage? It depends where you are. Some countries have heritage legislation that only covers things of a certain age, for example, over 100 years old. So contemporary industrial heritage may only be protected by legislation when enough time has passed, by which time sites may have been demolished and built over, vandalised, recycled, etc, and the knowledge, customs and memories associated with them have passed away with the people who worked there. (See below for more on time frames).

Heritage legislation may also not cover the extra-planetary components of a place or site, if we consider them to be connected, which we do. This is where heritage, which is usually legally protected at the national level, comes up against the Outer Space Treaty 1967, which makes it impossible for national jurisdiction to be extended into space. There is a legal, administrative and policy gap here.

This is a very practical bit: Integrated inventories and lists of structures, sites, areas, landscapes, their setting and associated objects, documents, drawings and archives or intangible heritage should be developed. So we need to know what's there, and we need to integrate the documents with the physical stuff and with the intangible stuff. This recognises the complexity and interconnectedness of industrial processes, as well as the distinct nature of the contemporary past: as Harrison and Schofield (2010) have pointed out, something that characterises the contemporary archaeological record is the superfluity and abundance of information and artefacts of all kinds. Because the passage of time has not yet removed massive chunks of the record through decay and destruction, we have so much stuff that needs to be understood; almost too much stuff. 

For ongoing industries, heritage management should be integrated with their operation and recognise that this operation may in fact carry heritage value.

The machinery, fittings and related objects are just as important as the actual buildings. This is crucial, as frequently such places are approached from an architectural perspective only, and the movable stuff gets sold, scrapped or recycled elsewhere. Not to say that these options might not sometimes be appropriate - there is something nice about the re-use of industrial materials - but losing them may diminish the significance of the buildings too.

Time frames are very important:
Legal and administrative frameworks should be developed to enable authorities to respond quickly to the closure of operating industrial heritage sites and complexes to prevent removal or destruction of significant elements such as machinery, industrial objects or related records.
I'm not sure quite how we would do this, but it is a kind of rescue archaeology or salvage at its most immediate. What is not explicit here is the assumption (for which we have plenty of evidence, however) of how little value people place on industrial heritage. If intervention is not performed, then the stuff will be lost to us, because industries will not of their own volition take care of their own heritage. So we need to be proactive: to have some idea beforehand of the likely value of a company's resources, and be at the ready when they go under and liquidate their assets. Heritage management through the financial news pages .......

The classic example of this is the Woomera launch site in South Australia. At the end of the Europa and Apollo programmes in the early 1970s, infrastructure was demolished, sold for scrap, reused by the Centre Nationale des Etudes Spatiales at the Kourou launch site in French Guiana, and sometimes destroyed in frustration and despair by those whose dreams of space had been sold down the river by the perfidious Brits.

III. Conserve and maintain the industrial heritage structures, sites, areas and landscapes.
Adaptive reuse is highlighted as a way to sustain an industrial place while respecting the fabric. Following the Burra Charter, physical interventions should be reversible and documented. If places or machinery have to be dismantled, they should be thoroughly documented and oral histories done.

IV. Present and communicate the heritage dimensions and values of industrial structures, sites, areas and landscapes to raise public and corporate awareness, and support training and research.
This also is standard fare - interpretation is an important part of heritage management, for many reasons: to justify the resources used in undertaking heritage work; to give a product back to the community; to engage the community in their own heritage. Here again we see the view that companies (corporations) do not value their own heritage and need to be supported in this.

Public awareness is, in the context of industrial heritage, of a different order to other kinds of heritage. The industrial is often constructed as opposed to some kind of generalised bucolic idyll that is unconsciously held to be more related to the 'natural' human spirit than the gritty, filthy, coal and disease-ridden industries that existed only to screw profit out of people and the earth. I think there are social memories of the industrial revolution that evoke negative responses to industry, even now. I guess I am articulating this for the first time in my head, so I haven't fully thought through what this means, but I think there is some kind of truth in it. Industry is the opposite of what many people consider heritage to be. And yet, in terms of working lives, industry engages and mobilises huge numbers of people who have knowledge, memories, practices, rituals, and frequently great pride in their work. They just don't necessarily think of it as having heritage value.

Finally, the principles conclude with this statement:
Programmes and facilities such as visits of active industrial heritage sites and the presentation of their operations as well as the stories and intangible heritage associated with their history, machinery and industrial processes, industrial or city museums and interpretation centres, exhibitions, publications, websites, regional or trans-boundary itineraries should be developed and sustained as means to raise awareness and appreciation for the industrial heritage in the full richness of its meaning for contemporary societies. These should ideally be located at the heritage sites itself where the process of industrialisation has taken place and can be best communicated. Wherever possible, national and international institutions in the field of research and conservation of heritage should be empowered to use them as educational facilities for the general public and the professional communities.
I couldn't have said it better myself.

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